Friday, September 4, 2009
Posted by Jeff Lipshaw
This wasn't my rationale for taking lessons in riding a horse this past summer, and continuing now that we are back in the Boston area, but what has occurred to me is the benefit to a teacher of being a student in a discipline as to which the teacher-student is an utter neophyte. (I'm not sure I had any rationale - I've tended to a midlife crisis every five years or so since I was 35, and if I can get through this one just by riding a horse I will have done pretty well.) Suffice it to say that other than a pony ride when I was five years old, and sitting on a merry-go-round, I had never gotten up on one. I've now had six hours of lessons with four different instructors (all excellent, by the way) at two different stables, and here are some random thoughts not so much about riding as about my reactions to be taught something.
1. I am incredibly insecure. Tell me every once in a while that I'm not a complete disaster. Indeed, it's encouraging to get at least as much praise for what I'm doing right as the corrections I need.
2. I feel pretty stable up there, but every once in a while the horse does something I've not experienced before, and it is a little scary (e.g., steps on a stone, bucks her head a little and sneezes, etc.). It helps to say something to the instructor and be reassured that nothing unusual or wrong is going on.
3. I'm not a natural athlete - I'm analytical to a fault and can be affected by what is known as "paralysis by analysis." I'm trying to translate what is a matter of athletic feel into my own sensory and linguistic images, and I can only absorb small bites at a time. And it helps to keep repeating the point over and over.
4. Sometimes we miscommunicate, or I interpolate an instruction from earlier into a new lesson. For example, you steer the horse both with how you move the reins and the pressure you apply with your legs. When I am trying to ride on the very outside of the ring, I have to press a little with the leg away from the fence to keep the horse from moving toward the center of the ring. We then started steering in figure 8s around cones, and now I want to apply pressure with the leg in the direction I actually want the horse to turn. But that was opposite to the previous instruction where I was using counter pressure to keep the horse in a line. I just didn't hear it well. The solution was to recognize that I was confused, stop, and say "I'm confused."
5. I'm also not a naturally relaxed athlete (something that keeps my handicap in golf high), and my inclination is to try too hard, get real tense, and create resistance to what I'm actually trying to do. A friend with whom I played golf over the summer (he's 67 and a 4-handicap, as well as a first rate tennis player) said, "in these sports, we always have a lot more time than we think we do." Take a deep breath. Don't panic. Sit tall. Don't overthink the problem.
6. Posting is the process of raising and lowering your lower body in the same rhythm as the horse's walk or trot (I assume canter as well, but I've not cantered yet). It is a physical movement not natural, I think, to men (and I can't say for women). The closest analog is to Pilates - small moves that engage your abs, inner thigh, and butt (sorry!). You know it when you do it, but it's not easy. It really helped one day when another rider was in the ring, and I could watch her.
My current instructor is Meg Howes at Verrill Farm Stable in Concord, Massachusetts, and she's a really good teacher!