Riding lessons, after all

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Back to Husö – and my first jumps!

After the dressage school experiences in the beginning of my equestrian career I was not sure if I’d ever be seen on riding lessons again. But, because horses and riding are addictive also in the sense that they intensify ones desire to improve oneself in equestrian skills and knowledge, I have since then proved myself wrong on several occasions. One of these occasions was the horseback riding camp in June 2013, which took place in the very same place where I started “riding for real”, namely Husö Riding Center in eastern Helsinki. Not only did I attend the riding camp there, but also enrolled on a four-day course about “active and passive seat” after the two daily lessons that were included in the 5-day camp programme.

I had been told that there would be other seniors on this particular camp, but on arriving to Husö on Sunday evening to sign up, all I could see was a horde of teenage girls. Now, I don’t mind teenage girls, of course, but I found the thought of being the only adult participant a bit disturbing at that point, and was genuinely relieved to meet my own group of mature riders the next day and start the week with them.

Our team of "bubbly riders" having a break after a successful day.

Our team of “bubbly riders” having a break and a glass of champagne after a successful day.

I think I may have been slightly over-estimating my abilities and physical condition to begin with, as I soon noticed that three riding lessons per day is no child’s play. The week was not only demanding for me – and the horses, for that matter – because of the amount of lessons, but also because it happened to be one of the top five hottest June weeks in Finnish history. Tacking and untacking the horse three times a day in that heat meant that I got soaked in sweat at least nine times a day, i.e. before, during, and after each lesson.

On the other hand, I found the whole thing most rewarding because, despite the weather conditions and Sulo, the all but eager gelding that I got given for most lessons, I pulled it through and learned (or so I imagine!) much more than I had expected. There were even a few breakthroughs: doing my first horse jumps ever and partaking both in a dressage competition (level b) and in a horse jumping competition (level c)!

We were given the course of the dressage competition only the night before the actual event, so I drew a visual map of it and then memorized it by heart. This proved a good method for remembering all the details of the course, but could not, unfortunately, help improve my style and accuracy.

I drew a detailed map of the dressage course.

I drew a detailed map of the dressage course to memorize it.

The fences that we jumped with Sulo were only shallow, and my performance with him in both competitions was apparently a far cry from the level required to gain mentions that could be stuck on the Equestrian Federation of Finland membership card, but along with the praise from my fellow mature riders, these first-time experiences nevertheless boosted my ego hugely. I was (and still am!) particularly proud and happy about those jumps which were not just my very first but also a dream come true.

Performing in my first ever jumping competition with Sulo.

Performing in my first ever jumping competition with Sulo.

Another successful jump.

Another successful jump.

Western riding in Jokiranta

In September 2013 we had our first private Western riding lesson for two at Jokiranta Riding School in Hyvinkää. I never thought I would say this, but I really enjoyed the lesson, it was by far best I have ever had, and thoroughly impressed me. Perhaps the best part was that I was for the first time allowed to ride a really sensitive, educated horse (notwithstanding the Rohan experience, of course) instead of the “bomb proof” (i.e. lazy and numb) individuals that usually seem to be reserved for the so called “auntie riders” like me. This 17-year old Quarter-horse mare, The Blue Flame, was something else: the way she listened to my gentlest aids and did all I asked from her almost brought tears in my eyes.

I and Flame (The Blue Flame) after a lesson.

I and Flame (The Blue Flame), the beautiful Quarter horse mare, in front of the stable after a lesson in October 2013.

Pirjo, our jolly, empathetic teacher, was also doing a great job with us, knowing which strings to pull. She appreciated our ability to leave the reins alone and how easily we could absorb her instructions – apparently our relative lack of dressage experience was an advantge for the learning of Western riding because it meant that we did not have much to unlearn either. And it certainly was quite a surprise to see how the aids used in Western riding had almost the opposite function to those used in dressage. One major difference is in the rein contact: instead of a constant contact to the horses mouth, in Western style the reins hang loose and are mostly supposed to stay that way. Halting the horse, for instance, is done without pulling the reins, simply by pressing with the lower calfs. And if you carry on pressing, the horse will start backing up. Turning the horse without reins is also simple by just using one calf, and a spin (or piruett) is achieved by pressing with the calf to the rhythm of the horse’s steps.

Yes, I did all this and many other things on the very first lesson, and remembering what Flame agreed to do with me already then still makes me emotional. Needless to say that after this experience we suddenly became very keen on learning more and have become diligent Western riding students at Jokiranta.

Ending a lesson in the manege in November 2013.

Ending a lesson in the manege in November 2013.

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