Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Memories: Lessons

Since I'm not getting any actual riding in, I thought I'd take a little trip down memory lane and read through a lesson journal I kept back when I actually was able to take lessons.

I grew up with horses - my mom taught me to ride... and some of my earliest memories are of wriggling onto my pony bareback because I was too little to lift the saddle and tighten the cinch myself.

It wasn't until I was in college that I had the opportunity to take formal riding lessons. I couldn't afford to board my own horse - the cost of tuition was cheaper than boarding a horse on the East coast, at least back then. But no way was I going to go 9 months without horses.

So I scrimped and saved all my waitressing tips and had just enough left over after I bought all my books to afford riding lessons, took the placement test:
"Can you canter in a circle?"
Me: Yes
"Show us."
"Can you find your left diagonal?"
Me: What's that?
Imagine my surprise (and horror) when I discovered that not only was I going to have to ride English, but that they'd put me in a jumping class.

I spent a lot of lessons terrified. But I learned a lot. A normal week contained a flat lesson and a jump lesson. Horses were luck of the draw - well, the instructors assigned them, but if you rode slightly better than the rest of your class you either got the tough horses with bad habits, or the new horses that needed work.
Riding Percy 1994

Percy was a good horse to get, and we all liked him. His bad habits were few, consisting of corner-balking, being consistently heavy on the forehand, and needing LOTS of leg. All problems I was quite comfortable dealing with.

Darryl, (Remember the Bob Newhart show? "This is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl" - well, that's how Darin got his name.) on the other hand, was a nice boy, but his experience prior to being purchased for lessons was all trail work. He was FLAT, FLAT, FLAT in the corners - no bend either direction. Cantering him was an experience in steady acceleration, because he compensated for lack of bend by going faster. He liked speed, and he loved to jump. And he jumped BIG over the little jumps, which was... interesting. For some reason I ended up with Darin a lot. Eventually I learned to rate him fairly well.

The barn had, as most barns do, dogs. Two small, ancient Jack Russell Terriers. Too old to be much trouble, they were almost blind and pretty tottery. The barn had sub-floor conveyor belt that ran along in front of the stalls. Each stall was fronted by a metal grate that could be flipped open and stall waste shoveled in. The conveyor - when it was working - dumped the manure outside, saving lots of steps with a wheel barrow.

Neither dog could see very well - at one point one of them stumbled in to an open hatch. The conveyor was on at the time, and the sound of "Yelp! Yelp! Y-elp!" echoed out from underfoot as the dog passed under our feet on its impromptu amusement ride. Someone ran for the switch, and someone else ran for the hatches, and eventually the dog was convinced to come to a point where it could be lifted out no worse for wear. It was seriously hysterically funny.

More later....