From re-rider... to rider - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 230 Old 04-13-2018, 07:55 PM Thread Starter
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From re-rider... to rider

At some point I'll get into a bit more detailed background on myself, but for now I wanted to take the plunge and get a journal thread started here! I've actually been journalling privately, just to keep track of my progress, but it's weird to just... type into the void. Sharing stories with people and getting the odd bit of feedback sounds lovely!

A bit about myself: I'm currently in my mid-30s, but the horse thing for me started waaaaay back. As a very small child, I used to go on public trail rides once or twice a year with my family. And by "as a small child," I mean I was teeny enough that I would ride double, in front of my dad on the saddle, for the first few years. This graduated to me being big enough for my own horse on the rides, then doing their summer day camp, and eventually wanting more out of the experience than a nose-to-butt public trail ride.

My first lessons were from a place that advertised on local tv. HORSES? Near ME?? LESSONS??? So, I was of course all over having my parents sign me up for THAT. I think I was 10 or 11 at the time. The (very few) good things I'll say about it are that I tried English riding there for the first time and loved it, and that I met two girls who would later be good friends of mine in my teens (and one of whom I'm still in contact with). At some point I'll do an entry about my, er, "adventures" at this place. I'll just say that I didn't even finish out one season there before my dad pulled me out in a rage in the middle of a lesson. (The rage was directed at the instructor, not me, and with good reason.)

At this point, being 11 and having had maybe 3 months of (bad) lessons (and having saved my own chore and birthday money for my entire life up to that point), I was of COURSE ready to start horse shopping. So I started religiously browsing the local classifieds. For whatever reason, I bought a saddle BEFORE buying a horse, and the people who sold me the saddle told me about a "WONDERFUL" horse they knew of, up for sale. Again, more stories about that purchase, but I bought TOO MUCH horse for me.

After a traumatizing year with him, that I swear I still have PTSD from, I sold him and bought a talented, wonderful, spunky yet bombproof finished Western horse... and proceeded to convert her to English which in hindsight feels like such a waste of her beautiful neck reining training, but I digress. She was a fun, solid partner for a year before developing bad arthritis in one hock, and while we managed it reasonably well and still had great adventures, eventually she went back to her old owners as a pet, as she got worse instead of fusing.

I was pretty depressed after that, and I wasn't sure what was next for me, until a flyer showed up at the vet clinic where I worked. A new lesson place was starting up! I immediately called and booked something, and my first lesson there was better than even any clinic I'd ridden in up to that point. The instructor was young but experienced, and I rode a lovely, experienced, push button A Circuit horse who was better than anything I'd ever ridden. Even though the horse and I had a spectacular wipeout in the mud during my very first lesson, I loved it and came back! I had three seasons of hunter lessons at this place, and they were some of the best times I've ever had riding. I learned so much!

Then... life happened. I finished high school, I started dating, I moved to a big city to attend university... and somehow late teens became early 30s with little to no riding in there at all. Sure, I went on a public trail ride every couple of years with friends, and at one point I took a semi-private lesson with two friends (and then couldn't walk right for over a week because I tried to ride "like I used to")... I would go to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair every year and my heart would pitter patter at all the horses and I'd imagine myself riding again, but I never acted on it because money and time were always so tight, and I had no vehicle.

Three years ago, though, a business opportunity in a more rural place opened up, and I decided to leave the city and go for it. My partner said to me, "Hey, you could start riding again once we've moved up there!" and I was like "Hmm, yeah, I suppose I could. Yeah, I might do that," but the move was so stressful, and so was the new business, that I didn't act on it for about the first month and a half. He actually pushed me to finally pull the cord on that!

I thought to myself, "I don't want to take lessons or anything. I'm rusty but I'm sure with practice I could just pick it up again. All I want is access to a nice easygoing horse that I can partboard to ride down some quiet roads or trails."

And so I searched around for a partboard and found a new riding facility that was opening up here, and some of the available horses sounded great. Well... they weren't. I wound up "accidentally" taking lessons every week, trying different horses at this same place to see if any were the right fit, and none of them were. They were either so poorly schooled that they wouldn't even go forward, or they were so dead to the leg and whip that even mustering a trot was a workout. When the situation actually worsened, I started losing sleep and decided to get the heck on out of there.

I looked around online for another facility, somewhere with partboards. And I found one that looked nicer, better, actually more affordable, and with a coach with actual accreditation! Woohoo! I called her up to ask about partboarding, told her about my riding history, and she suggested I come out and do a lesson to see if one of her horses might be right for me to partboard.

I did and it was WONDERFUL. The coach was incredibly knowledgeable. It was one of, if not THE, best lessons I'd had up to that point. And the horse... I think a chorus of angels started singing when I put my leg on to move her over AND IT WORKED.

Me, on the other hand... Let's just say it wasn't pretty. Especially not at the canter. There was a lot of... thumping. And bumping. And a big realization of just how fit I WAS NOT, and that fifteen years without regular riding might as well be a life time, and how long this road might be!

Tactfully, neither the coach nor I ever mentioned the independent part board idea again, and I went straight into weekly lessons. And thus began my journey as... AN ADULT RE-RIDER!

A LOT has changed since that point, of course, but I've been with the same coach and on the same horse ever since, with a few lessons here and there on different horses and/or with different coaches just to shake things up! More stories to come!

Last edited by SteadyOn; 04-13-2018 at 08:11 PM.
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post #2 of 230 Old 04-13-2018, 09:06 PM
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Subbing. I enjoyed your first entry very much!

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post #3 of 230 Old 04-13-2018, 09:24 PM
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Subbing! You have a very nice way of writing!

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post #4 of 230 Old 04-13-2018, 10:15 PM
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Tell us more!
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post #5 of 230 Old 04-14-2018, 05:03 AM
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Love this!
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post #6 of 230 Old 04-14-2018, 08:45 AM Thread Starter
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The Bad Place: a rather rough reintroduction to horsing

My first lesson back after my 15 year hiatus, in July of 2015, was at the "bad place" that I later left. As my first time in years actually *riding* a horse rather than sitting on one, following the one ahead of it in a public trail string, it was actually pretty decent. I had inquired about partboarding a horse that was billed as calm, quiet, capable, able to jump, trail ride, go English or Western. Basically a calm all-rounder, which sounded great. What I got was a big marshmallow, with the colour and speed to match. Dead to leg, dead to lateral aids (if he ever knew any to begin with), shuffling along with his nose poked out a mile ahead of himself. I will say for him that I got an amazing leg workout that night, but I digress. Highlights include being told to weave him between a set of cones at a walk and trot, and him ignoring all my turning and bending aids and trampling straight over them. I decided to brave some canter, but wisely asked to try it on the lunge. His canter was surprisingly BIG for something half asleep, and I clutched the mane and saddle pad for dear life while making this face Clearly I had a lot of work ahead of me to get my seat back.

The next week I tried a half blind horse with a club foot who could only be ridden soundly in one direction and on one posting diagonal. Next. Then it was a really capable, nice little horse who actually had been trained both western and English, but who kept throwing BIG fake spooks to test me and try to get out of work. So that was... relaxing. I tried him for a couple of weeks before switching to a large pony who was five and still green, but had a calm brain and was a nice, fun, relatively easy ride, though he was only going walk trot and I wasn't allowed to try cantering him yet as he was known to buck and get sloppy due to his greenness. Unfortunately, over the two months I rode there, he soured VERY quickly from having little kids on him before he was ready, and I was crushed to see his attitude and behaviour deteriorate. It got to a point where he wouldn't even walk nicely along the rail and I had to get after him. If I tried to school him in any other way than to kick and hit him, such as circling him and redirecting him back where I wanted to go, I got yelled at for "letting him win."

A new horse came and I tried him once, liked him, and booked him specifically for my next ride, only to show up and see the girl in the lesson ahead of me was using him and be told that I should just go tack of the pony for my ride. Grrr. There weren't many straws left, but this place was quickly coming down to my last one.

The horses weren't schooled.
The only people riding the horses, ever, were beginner students.
The owner shocked me one day by saying "Oh, I have NO interest in riding the *lesson horses*." She didn't actually try any of the horses she bought or ever get on them to tune them up. That explained... a lot.
She claimed to give "lessons" but had no accreditation, and no CLUE. She would get after me for picking up ANY contact whatsoever on the reins, and claim I was "pulling on his face" or "balancing off the reins." (I can assure you I haven't balanced off the reins in any way since I was maybe 11 and still learning and likely did so accidentally. I will hit the dirt rather than try to hold myself on by the reins if things go sideways.)
She would sit on her butt eating upstairs or chatting with friends when I showed up for a lesson, and be of zero assistance whatsoever even though I never knew what horse I was riding or which tack was being used on whatever horse during a given week.
"Lessons" consisted of bad advice, and her sitting in a corner on a lawnchair playing with her phone for about 40% of the time. (Eventually I gave up on them being "lessons" and paid for "free rides" instead -- which were the same price but I was happier without her input!)
The pony got bad enough that one night he pinned his ears and actually ran at the other horse in the ring while I was on him.

The final straw came one night when I was on the pony, and the owner's dog came BLASTING into the ring out of nowhere, crunching a plastic water bottle in its mouth and terrifying both horses in the ring. The pony I was on shied and spooked, but I sat it, thankfully. The horse the OTHER person in the ring was on took off, ran through the open gate into the barn, nearly taking off the rider's head (fortunately he ducked in time). Accidents happen, I suppose, but I looked over and the owner and her teen barn "volunteer" were LAUGHING THEIR BUTTS OFF.

And I never went back again!

Last edited by SteadyOn; 04-14-2018 at 08:56 AM.
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post #7 of 230 Old 04-16-2018, 12:15 PM Thread Starter
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Gonna fast forward form the past up to this morning.

This morning I drove to the barn to feed and turn out and, as we've been hit by over a foot of snow over the weekend, conditions were not... great. To make this far, far, far worse, it's warm this morning and everything is melting fast and becoming THICK and HEAVY. The main roads have been plowed, but when I got to the driveway to the barn, that had NOT been plowed, and I couldn't even make it up the first hill. Well, the barn is actually a mile in from that first hill, so... I tried a couple of times, with no success, and figured I'd have to back down and out the drive and park on the main road and start my fun fun hike in. But my car had other ideas, and slipped off to one side on the slippery hill and I wound up in the ditch.

So I called around, got ahold of the groundskeeper for the property. Waited about 50 minutes for him to come out with a tow rope, and felt very, very sheepish. I made a snowman while I waited.

The car wasn't even that *badly* stuck, but stuck is stuck. It came out on the first try, and by then the plow had down the driveway (so I suppose it was convenient that I had slipped off to one side, as he was able to squeeze past me), so I made it in to the barn! Woohoo!!! The horses were ANGRY and ANXIOUS at their breakfast showing up over an hour later than usual, but I got them fed and blanketed. (Blanketing was fun, especially on the one who was most worked up and spun in circles in her stall. Was like putting toddlers in snowsuits.)

Turnout was also a joy, as they were all ramped up. I put a helmet on just in case as I didn't enjoy the prospect of getting kicked in the head if one of them decided to make a too-enthusiastic break for it before I was clear. Which one of them DID try to do, but I still had the lead line clipped to her halter when she went for it, so she got a rude awakening when she hit the end of that line HARD. I held her and made her stand nicely to be unclipped, but she still TORE off the second I had her undone. RUDE. Sometimes you can only do so much.

I did all the stalls and the morning chores, although the snow was like concrete and I couldn't get the wheelbarrow of poop past the doorway, and the snow was impossible to shovel. I had to dump the wheelbarrow right there and get into the poop with my big boots and try to kick it around to spread it out. Ugh. Then I found the water trough was completely dry, so that was another fun extra chore.

And by that point, as my morning was already more than an hour and a half behind schedule and the horse I had intended to ride was the one being the biggest butthead, I gave up on the idea of getting any riding time in. What a bummer. Then I found a big bottle of Cuban rum that one of the other barn ladies had left as a gift for me, and my morning got immediately better.

(No I didn't drink it right away but would anyone have blamed me?)
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post #8 of 230 Old 04-18-2018, 11:40 AM Thread Starter
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Back to the past now... WOOOOOOOSSHHHHH

I'm going to talk a bit about what I found difficult when I started riding again after a 15 year hiatus. And I won't just say "Everything" even though that would be fairly accurate.

I'll start with what was still good:
I still had a nice straight back and didn't hunch my shoulders or slouch
I always looked where I was going, instead of down
I had no problems keeping my heels down, and if anything I was jamming them down too far
My brain remembered most of my training and I felt a lot more mentally competent than physically capable

The bad:
My hips were very tight
My toes stuck out SIDEWAYS when I rode, and the only strength in my lower legs was in the backs of them, which exacerbated the problem
Putting my leg on meant digging in the back of my heel, and my heel tended to pop up in the process, and my leg and side would shorten up
I was in a chair seat -- not a terrible one, but one nonetheless
I could baaaaarely put a leg back to ask for canter, and definitely couldn't keep it there! My right leg, especially, would creep forward and wind up sticking out ahead of the girth on a left lead canter, like it had a mind of its own
One leg was much stronger than the other
I had a tendency to tip forward and put slack in the reins when I wanted an upwards transition
Canter was THUMP BOUNCE THUMP BOUNCE THUMP BOUNCE with the reins going slack-tight-slack-tight-slack-tight every stride because I apparently had lost all muscle memory for following the motion. Sorry, horse!
My right shoulder wanted to pop up and forward, and my torso tended to twist to the right
My right side would shorten up and I'd collapse my right oblique so I was tipped a bit that way
I had NO sitting trot
My hands tended to bob with the motion when I posted. Eeeeeek.
Core strength? What's a core strength?
FORGET two point, not happening
I didn't know or remember seat and leg aids for slowing and stopping, and what I was doing, I was doing wrong

The funny thing about all this is that I was actually in decent shape when I started riding again. I could run a 5k... but I was definitely NOT in riding shape!

Once I found the GOOD coach, things gradually started to improve. Unfortunately there is no substitute for time in the saddle, so no matter how good my instruction was, all my "hiccups" took a long time to improve. And by a long time I mean YEARS. Nothing changed overnight, but seeing photos and videos of my riding doesn't make me cringe... as much... these days. It's satisfying to see and feel the hard work paying off with steady improvement.

There's that chart about progress, (attached) that is very, very, very true. Some things got better for a while. Sometimes for just ONE ride. And then they'd get worse again. I'd improve one thing, but something else would backslide. It still feels like I'm balancing a bunch of spinning plates on the ends of bamboo sticks, like that classic Chinese circus act, and some days more plates stay up than on other days.
Attached Images
File Type: jpg progress.jpg (15.7 KB, 81 views)
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post #9 of 230 Old 04-19-2018, 05:10 PM Thread Starter
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Guys, despite my car-stuck-in-the-snow incident on Monday, I have to tell you, I am having a good week in horsing!

I had a much smoother morning heading up to the barn on Tuesday, and was able to got in a nice, roughly half hour ride in before finishing up the chores and putting everyone outside.

Now, I know I haven't filled in the gaps from past to present -- please expect a VERY wandering, time-jumpy narrative in this journal -- but I did want to describe how great my week has been so far!

I've been riding alone at an indoor all winter. Which is great because this winter has been a DOOZY. It's just a private little barn on a remote property in the woods. Most people in the area don't even know it exists, which is how we like it! We've had a handful of horses there since November, and in exchange for doing the morning chores, I've been getting unlimited free riding days and one lesson per week. Aside from one lesson on a different horse, I've been riding my usual, smart and talented been-there-done-that senior horse (not one I own, but the one I ride in my lessons), who is smart, sensitive, yet forgiving. The perfect learning mount because she'll give you what you're looking for -- but ONLY if you ask for it right! And she doesn't do anything completely wackadoo. Okay, well, 99.87% of the time she won't, anyhow, which is all we can really ask of any horse.

I have never had so much concentrated riding time available to me, and it's been absolutely amazing. I was starting to get some breakthroughs in my riding last summer and fall, but all the time to myself in a quiet, contained environment, with complete focus and all my own decision making in deciding what to work on, on any given day, has done wonders for me. My coach had heaps of praise for me this week, which felt fantastic because she isn't one to say it if she doesn't mean it, and it was so good to hear that the hard work is really showing.

The hard work is showing in the horse, too. She's looking very fit and has put on some nice new muscle. She's carrying herself very well and is much more nimble and a lot less stiff.

The sitting trot practice has started to pay off, and my coach described it as "already better than a lot of people's" which while not super effusive does sound like an honest assessment and over all a positive one. I need to keep my hands low, wide, and soft to follow it better, but everything else about it is starting to click. It frequently UNclicks, but, so does everything else... See above chart re: progress! ^

The sitting trot practice has also helped to strengthen and deepen my canter seat. It was pretty funny: when I rode on Tuesday, I was following smoothly on the left lead, but feeling a bit rigid and bouncy to the right. In my lesson yesterday, it was the opposite! Today... both were good! Sweeeeeeet.

My seatbones feel very connected and plugged in. I'm using my leg aids more correctly and a lot more intuitively. My crookedness is mostly gone, though my left shoulder wants to come up and ahead and doesn't move as much as it should on my left turns. My legs are back under me in proper alignment (I've always fought a bit of a chair seat, though often riding in jumping saddles despite only riding on the flat hadn't helped with that) and my toes are almost straight ahead. (I'm not forcing them in -- they've turned on their own as my hips have opened and my legs have gotten stronger.)

Another cool development: last week I tried grabbing the back of my thigh on each side and pulling it out to open my hip and get my thigh flat against the saddle. Only... it was already turned all the way on its own. Whaaaaaaaaaaaat!!!! Amazing!

I find that if I take my whole legs off the saddle, from the hip, at the beginning of the ride, and turn my heels out and really think about opening my hips and letting my thigh be as long as possible, my leg is "rolled" exactly the right way when it lies back against the saddle. I now do this periodically and it keeps my position in a good place.

My coach has said that, my shoulder quirk aside, my riding is generally without *major* things to fix right now, and we can start getting into more advanced work this season! I'm excited and a little bit scared.
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post #10 of 230 Old 04-20-2018, 08:17 PM Thread Starter
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I had another lesson today, and my coach wasn't kidding last time when she said we'd start getting into more advanced stuff. We did some canter work, including some flying changes across the diagonal. This horse and I haven't been doing the greatest flying changes, exactly, but they're starting to improve. Part of the initial problem was stiffness and a lack of fitness on the horse's part, but she's started getting much more fit and balanced in the canter, and is looking and feeling great, so we're going to be incorporating more work like this as her and my fitness progress.

Our changes weren't going very smoothly, as I'm still not used to them and find them kind of rough. Unfortunately I exacerbate the problem by anticipating it being uncomfortable, and bracing my body, while also trying to turn her too sharply to force the change and get it over with. Oh boy! So for experiment's sake, my coach had me also go across the diagonal but try to stay on the same lead and proceed in counter canter. Well! I got much nicer, smoother flying changes when I didn't even want them. *facepalm* But it was a great lesson in asking more subtly and just LETTING them happen when I DO ask for them!!

Trying to maintain counter canter itself was a crazy mindgame. Well, mind-and-body game. I haven't practiced it in a year and a half, and the ring we're riding in right now is REALLY small so it's extra challenging to maintain it in such a tight space. But, trying to maintain outside flexion while turning to the inside?? Bwuhhhhh. My muscle memory betrayed me over and over and I would either accidentally ask for a change, or end up holding her too tightly and fall into trot. Definitely going to need to practice this! It's good to have a new thing to be baffled by, though. Haaa.

Hang on a minute there SteadyOn, I though this was a re-rider journal! You were just talking about what your body sucked at doing when you started back. And how you couldn't even canter confidently off a lunge line. How are we now on flying changes and counter canter??

Well, imaginary reader, I'm glad you asked. Re-rider me was indeed initially thumping, bouncing, and careening around the arena just a few strides of canter at a time, before puttering out on the forehand and breaking into superfasttrot. And at some point I'll dedicate some entries to filling in the long, crazy, comi-tragic learning process that has gotten me to this point. But I also want to journal things as they happen, too!

The short answer for now though is... I got better! I got a lot better. And if you're struggling as a beginner or adult re-rider, you can and will too! But it took two and a half years of practice and solid coaching, and there are a lot of blanks to fill in and stories to tell!
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