Monday, December 21, 2009

Those Darn Birds

LA showed me how to lunge Gem. I have to say it was wonderful to see him moving W-T-C. He reacted immediately to voice commands! I couldn’t believe it. Now it was my turn. OK, I am supposed to hold the lunge line in this hand, the lunge whip in this hand and I am to walk in a square sort of towards him while queuing him with the voice command and the whip. Seems simple enough. Ready, set…. Gem would look at me and walk towards me. I would set him up again, he would wait until I got into position and then walk towards me. Eventually, I got him going. This was hard work! But it was fabulous that he responded to my voice commands. Our lunging sessions were not long. I would end up dizzy and walking around like I had had one too many vodka sodas. A little more work required in this area. :-)

LA suggested that if I could manage it, to lunge him regularly. It would help build a bond and reinforce manners. No problem. One day, I was having a hard time shifting the stick shift of my car. It was painful. By the end of the day, my elbow was aching. I couldn’t figure out what the heck was going on. Jean had to drive me to lesson that night. The next time I went to lunge Gem, I realized why I was having problems with my arm. His constant tugging on the line and the movement of the lunge whip had strained my elbow. I needed to learn to relax and have a soft supple hand!

By the time I had my 3rd lesson on Gem, I only had about 500 butterflies in my stomach instead of 1000. I still wasn't used to his size, but I was starting to get used to his large movement when he was walking. It was time to get it up to a trot. I cued him. Nothing. Again. Nothing. He was totally blowing me off. “You cannot hurt this guy. Give him a kick to get his attention”, LA said. I kicked! He turned his head and looked at me and when I queued him again, he trotted.

LA: “Loosen your grip. You are hanging on to those reins way too tightly. Relax. Soften your hands and your shoulders.”
Me: “Oh, OK. I need to have the birds in my hands.” (see Winter)
LA: “You have birds in your hands???”
Me: “Yes, I have to pretend I have birds in my hands to stop my death grip.”
LA: “OK, then. I’m telling you, you are killing those birds.”
Me: “I will work harder not to.”

His trot was big and every once and a while, he would do this little “skip” that would throw me off balance. His pace was uneven and I was bouncing all over the place. Sometimes my legs would have contact, sometimes not. He would start to bend away from the wall while we were trotting. I was just trying to stay calm and stay on.

“Sit back. You are leaning forward. Head up and look where you are going. And, stop hurting those birds!”

While driving to work the next day, I went through the lesson in my mind and noticed that I had a death grip on the steering wheel. I started pretending that I had birds in my hands when I was driving. Over time, I realized that my shoulders would relax and I could “feel” the car as I was driving. It was a good exercise for me and Gem benefited from it. My hands were more relaxed when I rode Gem and I started feeling when he “released” and stopped resisting the bit (not sure if that’s the right terminology!). My lunging improved. I wasn't being jerked or tugged off balance because I wasn't resisting. Once again I was grateful for the birds.

I had been taking lessons for a month or so and was still working hard at trying to maintain my balance while Gem and I trotted around the arena. One particular time, I gathered up my reins and queued him. He started off, but tripped over his own two feet, stumbled and went right down to his knees. I actually relaxed my body and let the reins slide through my hands as he stretched his neck going down, but I did not let go of them completely. I leaned back as he went down. Gem righted himself (he was not hurt) and I gathered up the reins. "You must have a natural survival instinct!" LA said. "Most people would have gone right over their horse's neck in that situation." I thanked her and started Gem off on a trot again. In reality, the birds played a big part in the outcome of this incident. If my hands had not been so much more relaxed, the reins may not have slid through my hands as easily as they did. If they hadn't slid through my hands as easily as they did, my death grip on the reins would have ensured that I would have been pulled forward and catapulted over his head as he went down. Thank goodness for those birds.

Wait a sec.....did she say I almost fell?????

What was I thinking….?


  1. You have a good sense of humor in the telling of this story. Glad you didn't kill the birds and didn't get catapulted over his head with a death grip. The bird analogy is a good one to keep your hands light and giving on the reins. One thing I've learned to do to relax me is to breathe. Believe it or not in stressful situations sometimes riders hold their breath. So while I'm walking around I may take some nice deep breaths and relax my whole body and sink into the saddle. Sort of let my body melt like a lit candle with the wax dripping down. Melting into a relaxed riding position will stop you from gripping to hard with your legs and bracing. Hope my trick helps you as much as it helps me.

    Have a great holiday and have fun riding!

  2. You know, my instructor has said the same thing about breathing! Apparently, I am not doing such a good job of it. :-) I am going to try "melting" into my saddle when I ride this week. I will let you know how it goes. Thanks!!

    Have a great holiday!

  3. Just found your blog while reading Behind the Bit. Love the way you write! I didn't start riding until I was 49 and bought my horse "Boo" when I was 51. We are a work in progress and it looks like we always will be but that's okay because I love what I'm doing. I can tell from the "birds in the hand" analogy that you've been studying off the horse too. Gotta love Sally Swift.

  4. Hi wilsonc! Thanks for stopping by. I don't know if it was the same for you, but since I started my riding adventure at this stage in my life, I feel 20 years younger....well, emotionally not physically! :-) I think Gem and I will also be a work in progress, but I too am OK with that. The "birds in the hand" analogy was actually taught by one of my first instructors (see "Winter" post). I didn't know it was from Sally Swift - thanks!

    Happy holidays!