I had my weekly riding lesson this morning, which is usually myself and a young girl, maybe in her early 20's, who has been riding at my barn for years. She rides Landie, my instructor's Hanoverian mare, and I have been riding Promise, one of the boarder's Thoroughbred mares. Being horseless means you ride whatever is available, which can be a great thing, because it teaches you to adjust to many different horses and their way of going. After a twelve year hiatus in my own riding, I've been back at it once a week since early July.
My riding fitness is definitely improving; I'm not crippled by muscle soreness for days afterward anymore, and things that used to exhaust me (endless 20m trot circles) don't anymore. Adapting to a difference in riding instructors is taking a little more time. I like and enjoy my riding instructor a whole lot, she is fantastic as an instructor and as a person, and I am SO glad she is teaching me and my children to ride and develop their horsemanship. But my physical self is significantly different than the last time I rode consistently, and I am having a hard time translating what she tells me into actions that produce the desired result in the horse I am on. I am trying, so very hard, to ride with lighter hands and a lighter seat, and to give the correct aids and to be balanced and stable in the saddle. But this 42 year old body just doesn't seem to work the way it used to (I know, shocking). For one thing, I have discovered that I have absolutely no stomach muscles anymore. I think that a couple of things are at play -- one is the fact that I am older, and less muscular overall, two is the lack of 'real' work my abs have had in the past few years, and three is my last pregnancy which resulted in a c-section. I did some research on the aftereffects and lo and behold, the slicing into of a muscle results in reduced effectiveness and strength once the muscle is healed. Joy.
I'm having trouble with my seat -- allowing myself to ride like a hunter, more forward and not sitting on my 'sit bones' with my weight over my hips and ankles. My low back kills me after each ride because the counter muscles -- abs -- are not working together for my postural stability. This results in stiffness when I'm in the saddle, which translates to decreased dynamic balance and strength, which increased the compression and concussive effects on my joints. I know this, and yet, I can't seem to get past it.
Also, I have never had weak ankles, ever in my life. But I can't ride at more than a walk for more than ten minutes without ankle support for BOTH ankles! My left one just plain quits working and rolls to the outside in the stirrup if I don't wrap it well before I get my boots on.
I have found that the old ghosts of past fears seem to be still haunting my mind. I am afraid of being run away with -- of being on a horse who is cantering or galloping, and who is not listening to my demands for a decrease in speed or change in direction. And I am scared to jump because I am scared to fall off, even though I have been successful at 2'6" fences in the (far away) past. I hate not feeling in control, and in both of these situations, I really have always had to fight to maintain a sense of calm and not panic. Freaking out on the back of a galloping animal does nothing good.
Today's lesson took place on a beautiful morning, although it was a bit windy. Promise was apparently in a particular mood, or else I was doing or NOT doing something that annoyed her because most of the time I spent on her back involved me dealing with her incessant head-flipping, head-tossing, ignoring-the-bit ways. Oh, there were a few beautiful moments of her looking fantastic and going beautifully, but for the most part, I could not ride her worth a damn. I wanted to feel fearless and determined and get the job done with her and NOT let her get away with anything, but I don't think I got there. I wanted to get off. Getting corrected for a number of things I was pretty sure I was doing correctly, or didn't understand I wasn't supposed to do, wasn't fun either.
Plus I am having real difficulty changing the way I ride. I've always been taught certain things, like half-halts to get the horse to submit to the bit and not allowing them to rein back with their head in the air, and to use an opening rein to help an inside bend, not lifting the inside rein to get the bend. I don't remember riding with my hands so low and buried in my lap, but that's the way the horses I ride now seem to go. I spent so much time in a dressage seat before -- looong stirrups, lots of bending, lots of leg-yielding, and lots of work at the walk and the trot, with and without stirrups. I love dressage. If I never jumped another fence, but could ride on the flat forever, I'd be okay with that.
I'm also having difficulty cutting myself some slack and accepting things as they are. I can't do better than I can do, once a week. I'm better than I was in early July, but not where I wish I was. I'm not even sure I have *time* to ride more often, particularly if it involves at least a half-hour ride out to the barn and a half hour back. It's just frustrating, that's all. And I am so very grateful that things have worked out to where I can ride AT ALL, than I can't complain. But I needed to write this all down so I could get it out of my head and stop being upset by my perceived failures today.
Riding makes me feel so powerful and so peaceful, and I just want to feel that way all the time.