The stables were located 15 minutes from my home. You couldn’t get more convenient than that. Thirty years ago, the location was considered “out in the country”, but suburban sprawl now had it situated in the middle of a huge residential community.
Thank goodness there was an indoor arena. It was quite well insulated and it was great to be able to take lessons out of the wind and cold. As it got cooler, The Instructor started to combine lesson groups so he would cut down the number of lessons he had to teach in the cold. He reminded us regularly that he was looking forward to the warmth of his Caribbean condo after Xmas.
At one point, we had 8 in our lessons. In addition, there were some boarders who joined our lessons so that they could get arena time to exercise their horses. The advantage of having so many packed into the arena was the warmth that was generated from body heat. It was very comfortable. The disadvantage was that I was nervous of all the activity going on around me and I couldn't hear The Instructor. GM did not cope well with the additional activity.
As the horses started to sweat, steam would come off their bodies creating a haze in the arena. When lessons were done, they would be wrapped up in their wool blankets to cool down.
As the holiday season approached, it was suggested that we should coordinate a synchronized drill to show at the little Xmas party The Instructor was going to host in the observation lounge. He explained that it was a pot luck and it was usually well attended by the boarders and their families. Sounded like fun.
Organizing the drill was painful. Everyone had their own idea of what the drill should be and it was pandemonium. Strangely, The Instructor was not participating. He felt that the drill should be a reflection of what the beginners had learned over the last few months, so it was up to us to come up with a routine. The result was lots of yelling, disagreements and horses bucking and kicking. There were 12 of us participating. With all of the drama going on, I was starting to loose interest. The horses could certainly feel the tension. It was during a "pile up" at one end of the arena during a practice that my riding buddy, Jean, ate dirt. Unfortunately for Jean, GM acted out against Jean's horse and to avoid being kicked, her horse zigged and Jean zagged. Two other riders ate dirt during the warm up, prior to our performance. I almost ate dirt, but discovered that, even though I was still round, my thighs could now grip like a vise and I managed to stay on. Our performance was certainly not perfect and it was a little embarrassing. But, we did it and we had a good laugh. I found out later from The Instructor that this drill was put on every year by beginners as a sort of comedy show for the guests. I wasn't sure how to take that.
The Instructor left for his Caribbean hideway a couple of weeks later. We continued our lessons through the winter months with another instructor. Her style was much more of a teacher than a trainer.
During the winter months, I learned two valuable lessons from our new instructor. "Don't kill the birds!" and "Milk the cow!" I had a tendency to really grip the reins and hang on to them for dear life. My new instructor told me to imagine holding birds in my hands to soften my grip. This was a great visual for me, and it worked most of the time. Every once and a while she would yell down the arena to me "Don't kill the birds! You are killing the birds!" Classmates who didn't know what was going on would give me dagger looks - "What?! You're killing birds?!"
When I was riding Abby for some of my lessons, I was having a really hard time keeping her in check. The new instructor gave me a new exercise to try with her; milking the cow. I was to hold the birds in my hands, and at the same time gently pull up on one rein and then the other while trotting; milking the cow. When the new instructor saw Abby starting to get away from me, she would yell "Don't kill the birds!! Milk the cow!! Now!" Again, the strange looks from my classmates. However, this movement really worked on slowing Abby down most of the time. I took lessons on Abby for about a month, but eventually went back to riding GM for both of my weekly lessons.
I survived winter. The horrible driving conditions, the darkness, the snow and ice on the walkways and parking lot, the freezing temperatures, and snow piled high. I learned how to Milk the Cow and how not to the Kill the Birds. For the first time ever, I dressed for the function and not for the look...well, my outfits were still colour coordinated, of course! I wore 5 layers of clothing that made my round body look square...and I didn’t care! If I had fallen on the ice, I wouldn’t have felt a thing with all the padding I had on. I forced myself out the warmth of my home each lesson day, just so I could spend time at the stables with a horse that really didn’t care if she ever saw me again.
What was I thinking….?