Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mounting and Dismounting

Getting on and off GM was a real challenge for me. The Instructor always had to hold GM because she would smirk and walk off otherwise. You would think mounting and dismounting would be the easiest part of the lessons. Not for me. Mounting GM was a chore. I envisioned a fluid motion of stepping into the stirrup and then swinging my right leg high over her rump and gently placing myself into the saddle. This never happened. I always ended up taking a hunk of hair out of her mane as I tried to pull myself up. My right leg did not swing clearly over her body. Instead, it was more like I was kneeling on her back and then dropping my leg over her side while the rest of my body collapsed on to her shoulders and neck. Not a pretty sight.

Dismounting was the same challenge in reverse. However, there was the added component of slipping your left foot out of the stirrup before you hit the ground. “Remain upright and turn!” Fail. “Swing your right leg over, clearing her body!” Fail. “Lean your stomach against the saddle!” OK, I could actually do this part. “Kick your left foot out of the stirrup and gently slide down!” In trying to kick my left foot out of the stirrup, I pitched myself forward, tipping myself over the top of the saddle. My head was fast approaching the ground, my arms flailing about and my legs were sticking up in the air. Fortunately, The Instructor was able to grab my arse and pull me back into position before I did a head plant on the opposite side of GM. I stood in front of him and my classmates, pulled up my breeches.... and then started to laugh.

I soon realized that wearing oversized T-shirts was not the best fashion statement for someone who was mount/dismount challenged. My T-shirt would become entangled in straps and stirrups as I slid down GM's body, exposing my blue/white belly and super duper sports bra to anyone looking my way.

What was I thinking…..?

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Instructor

The Instructor was loud and very dramatic. His preferred mode of communication was yelling. He yelled when he was mad, he yelled when he was happy, he yelled instructions. A lot of arm movement accentuated his yelling. Most times it was quite comical. His mode of communicating with horses was completely the opposite.

The Instructor taught, but was also a business man who owned the facility. Just about everything had some sort of service charge, if you were a boarder. Except his coffee! He made delicious coffee and would generously offer it to everyone after lesson.

The Instructor had a good reputation with horses. He understood them and they understood him. I admired the ease in which he was able to communicate what he wanted from them. I discovered that 95% of the boarders owned horses that he had purchased for them. Not one person I spoke to were actually involved with the purchase of their horse; The Instructor did everything. I couldn’t believe it. They had complete faith in The Instructor to make the right decision for them and believed that having him find their horse and handle the purchase took the stress out of it.

My lessons were progressing (slowly), but I was committed and signed up for winter lessons. The Instructor was getting frustrated with me. My body weight and shape were always mentioned and I was told regularly that I should be more committed to getting into shape. These comments bothered me. I kept reminding him that I was NEVER going to jump and I was NEVER going to compete; I just wanted to stay on the horse, be safe, and go out on the trail. I didn't need to be tall, slim and blonde! He never quite got that. A friend, who knew him, explained that he was a trainer not a teacher. That explained a lot. He was really good with riders that were already trained and needed to get ready for a competition, but not so good with teaching the basics.

Despite some of the body image negativity, I had a good time and enjoyed my lessons. I was captivated by his stories about the horses he had ridden and the horse people in the area. It was obvious that horses were his life and he was a gentle and caring owner. He romanticized the bond with a horse. I wanted some of that magic, that feeling of delight and connection.

What was I thinking…..?

Friday, October 16, 2009


I will not go out of the house without eyeliner and lipstick on. As a matter of fact, I have said to my bosses over the years that if I could get my eyeliner on, I would be in the office; if I couldn’t, then I wouldn’t be in. I think Billy Crystal’s Fernando character says it best: “It’s better to look good than to feel good!” Didn’t matter how sore or tired I was from my lessons, my eyeliner and lipstick were on, hair fluffed, outfit coordinated. You sweat a lot when you ride and the barn is hot in the summer. Thank goodness for waterproof eyeliner and mascara!

I couldn’t wait to get to the stables. There is a certain child-like freedom in stepping in muck and getting dirty. The smell of the hay and manure as I pulled into the parking lot would get my heart racing. It’s unfortunate that the smell permeated my clothing, my hair, my car. Febreeze became my new best friend.

After a month or so of private lessons, I was allowed to join a group lesson. I think my instructor was getting a bit fed up with my lack of progress and needed other distractions. I loved being in the adult group lesson! I got to meet other people who were beginners like me. I was the oldest “beginner”, with the average age around 30. Needless to say, they were in much better shape than I.

My introduction to the group was memorable. “Hello! Hello! I am new!” My classmates were already mounted, warming up. They were courteous but cautious. I led GM into the paddock and stood with her, feeling like an idiot, while everyone else walked or trotted around me. I was waiting for my instructor to hold GM, as she had a tendency to move when you mounted. My impatience got the better of me and I positioned the mounting block next to her, got on it and put my foot in the stirrup. True to form, GM took two steps forward before I could complete getting on her. I got off the block, repositioned it, stepped back up and put my foot in the stirrup. Again, GM walked two steps forward before I had a chance to fully engage the stirrup and mount. I swear I could see her smirking at me. Well, I was not going to be outsmarted by her Highness! So, I positioned the mounting block a little AHEAD of the normal position, stepped up on the block and basically catapulted myself into the stirrup and saddle as she started walking away. So close…..

My plan would have worked except for one minor detail. The damn girth. Tack 101 – check the girth before you mount!!! The saddle slowly slipped down GM’s side as the full weight of my body was applied to the stirrup. It came to rest pretty well under her belly. Excruciating pain ripping through my right leg as I tried to avoid tripping on the mounting block. GM was walking away with me hopping beside her, my foot still in the stirrup, my arms flailing around. Nice. A classmate did eventually come to my rescue, got me untangled, repositioned the saddle and got me on GM before my instructor came out. Whew!

My right leg was killing me. I could not put any pressure on it. I managed to fake my way though the class, always positioning myself behind my instructor so he couldn’t see me. By the time I got home, my leg was quite swollen. I iced it and elevated it for a couple of days, but realized that I needed to see a professional. Physio for a month and no riding! Crap.

What was I thinking…..?

Thursday, October 8, 2009


I found a place that would give a round, middle aged person private lessons. I was soooo excited!!! I signed up for 8 weekly lessons and went out and bought paddock boots, a helmet that made my head look like a mushroom, and breeches (looked for a tummy control version but they have not been invented yet).

I arrived early for my first session, looking very professional decked out in my new attire. My instructor introduced me to GM, the horse I would be riding. She was a soft brown colour with black mane and tail and, thankfully, very sturdy looking. GM and I checked each other out and, you know, I could tell right away that she was not fussy about having to work; it was beneath her. She demonstrated her disdain over and over again in the coming months.

First, we led GM out of her stall and put her in cross-ties. She was beautiful. My instructor showed me how to brush her. I have dogs and thought this would be a piece of cake. I placed my hand on her side and felt the strength underneath. Wow. I lightly ran my hand down her shoulder, breathing in her smell. What was that? What the heck??! She tried to bite me... several times! "Is that normal?" I asked. "Use your elbows to discourage her. She's testing you," was the response. As I did my interpretation of the Chicken Dance while brushing her, I was left wondering when the test would end. It never did.

Our relationship was a strained one. She would turn her back to me when I entered her stall, she would try to bite me when I put the saddle on her, she would struggle with me when I tried to put the bridle on her. The snapping of her teeth as I moved around her would cause me to jump. If there was food in her stall, she would become possessive (I swear I could hear her growling when I entered!!). Sometimes she would start to encroach on my space while we were in the stall until I was eventually pushed up against the wall. For someone who suffers with claustrophobia, it was not an ideal situation! The bridle always made me particularly nervous. GM had to be coaxed to take the bit and I was terrified that she was going turn carnivorous and snack on one of my fingers. Over time, I was able to incorporate the saddle and bridle into my Chicken Dance routine.

The equipment, or tack as it's called by those in the biz, was pretty basic; saddle with stirrups, girth, and bridle. You know, an English saddle is basically a little piece of leather that sits on the horse’s back and held in place by a strap. I was seriously concerned that my butt was not going to fit on this little piece of leather. Strangely, for a little piece of leather it seemed to weigh about 50 lbs. when I tried to lift it up and on to GM's back.

My instructor assured me that I would not have to try and lift my leg up to ear level to reach the stirrups; there was a mounting block. Whew! I stepped into the stirrup from the mounting block, swung my leg over (kicking GM in the process) and I was up and on her. What a thrill to finally sit on a horse! How wonderful! How exciting! I ever high off the ground. I didn’t realize it was so high. “How tall is this horse?” “She’s 15.0 or 15.1.” OK, breathe. It’s not that far to the ground if you fall. Fall? Am I going to fall???! Breathe!!!

My lessons were a mixture of excitement and terror. GM tolerated them, at best. I became used to her nastiness when tacking up; at least she was consistent. Because it was getting busier at the stables, I actually tacked up in her stall, which allowed me to do my Chicken Dance without the humiliation of others seeing me. She was a big draft cross and was actually a very smooth ride. She was so used to the routine of the lessons, that the instructor just had to yell the command and she obeyed. Walk on! TA-rot! Every once and a while she would give me attitude, just to remind me who was boss (she was, of course). She knew EXACTLY when 45 minutes were up and would not cooperate a minute longer other than walk for a few minutes to cool down before going back to her stall. Our relationship was quite simple. She gave me attitude, allowed me sit on her, gave me more attitude and I rewarded her bad behaviour by giving her carrots.

Something that I was not prepared for was the actual physical part of the riding experience and the reluctant awakening of muscles that I did not know existed in my body. Anyone who thinks you just sit on a horse has never really ridden. Even with GM responding to verbal commands, I still had to use my legs and "core" muscles (which were very teeny tiny) to stay on and steer. When I was on GM, I felt like my body was being pulled apart. I ached from one week to the next.

What was I thinking…??

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The beginning of an addiction.....

A couple of years ago, after my husband and I were talking about our future retirement plans, I realized that I didn’t have anything to keep myself busy once I stopped working. Apparently, shopping and beautification doesn’t count. So, I started looking for an activity that would be social and keep me active until I was carted out in a pine box.

Cooking? Hubby already has that area covered and I have the waist line to prove how good he is! Gardening? Sure, but it gets boring after Spring. Already enjoy a monthly Book Club and already belong to a Ladies Club that meets every couple of months. Tried activities with my dogs, but I found it very competitive, which I am not.

I tried golfing, thinking that I could spend time with my husband. Hated it. What’s with all that walking, sweating, and suffering the heat? And shorts are not a good look for me. Although, I have to say, I didn’t mind sipping a nice cool alcoholic beverage on the patio of the clubhouse afterwards. But sitting on a patio, sipping a vodka soda and watching others golf was not quite what I had in mind as my activity.

What about learning how to play Bridge? My parents love Bridge and have had some great Bridge weekend parties. The only card game I know is Crazy 8’s, but I thought “how difficult could it be?” Well, it’s difficult. Way too difficult for me.

Just when I thought I may have to resort to taking up quilting, some friends were talking about horseback riding camp for their kids. Horseback riding? Why not?! Galloping on a great steed, the wind blowing through my hair…..SOLD!

What was I thinking….???