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! Wow.....am 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…??