Saturday, January 14, 2017

Sitting Tall and Pretty

. . . And sweating my butt off doing it!  In below freezing temperatures!  In a turtleneck and fleece vest, no coat!

Non-horse people, I know you're probably wondering what was I doing, sitting still in those temperatures and that 'lightly' dressed, that was making me sweat.

Horse people, you might have an inkling.

I was taking a riding lesson this morning, on T, the horse I've been offered to use for lessons.  The temperature in the indoor arena was still in the 20's after the cold spell we've had most of this week, and I was dressed down because I always get warm when I'm riding. Of course as soon as I get off the horse I have to throw my big heavy coat back on, but in the saddle usually a sweatshirt or a vest keep me warm enough.

Now, T's had it easy most of last year, not being ridden regularly by his owner (which was one huge reason why she said I could ride him; it will help get him back in shape sooner than her sporadic riding schedule will).  He's an honest horse, but he's also kind of fat and grumpy.  So he does his best to do just the bare minimum of what he's asked, without really putting a whole lot of energy into it.

Since he's trying to put forth the absolute least acceptable amount of effort, I really have to work hard to get him on the bit, in rhythm and with some sort of impulsion. Add to this that my trainer is trying to refine me into a more effective yet quiet rider, and she has pretty much disallowed me from using my hands as much as I'm used to and wants me to do pretty much everything with my seat now.  So in the first ten minutes of the lesson I have a horse who wants to alternately be pokey or charge ahead like a freight train. And without pulling or bracing on the reins when he wants to pound forward around the arena, I have to keep him at a steady tempo, in contact, with just my glutes, hips, and thighs. Oh, and my core.  This is really a huge core strength workout for me.

My butt and thigh muscles feel like they are being stretched and pulled like taffy.  My brain is repeating a mantra of "don't pull on the reins, don't lock my elbows, but don't drop the contact!"  My trainer is reminding me to half-halt every other stride when T is being a bully, and to use my hips to keep him going when he wants to slow down.

And then, about twenty minutes in, I'm in a sweat, but am also sitting the most lovely trot ever. A glance in the mirror as we go down the long wall confirms what I feel:  T is round and trotting, I am sitting tall and pretty and graceful, and it all looks effortless.  My brain and muscles tell me it sure isn't effortless, and my damp shirt and breeches prove it, but to the casual observer, we look like we're just floating around with no exertion at all.

That, Dear Reader, is the addiction of dressage.  To make it look so easy, so effortless, so beautiful, takes a combination of mental and physical output and a whole lot of sweat.  Every ride you start off feeling awkward and uncoordinated, but pretty soon everything clicks and for a few minutes you are art in motion.

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