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Learning from spectating...

ex-racehorse being ridden in a witless bridle at Pippway Classical Natural Horsemanship Wellington Somerset near Devon

Since I came to Pippsway the two things I have struggled with the most, have been the things I thought I already knew how to do…. Grooming was the first sticking point. I had groomed so many ponies and horses in my life and yet never Pippsway. I had never been aware of the horse’s body language and my own during the process, I had never understood that we were having a conversation. Thinking that I should be able to do it perfectly and then finding that I didn’t have a clue was painful. Arriving at the menage with a horse that wasn’t interested in working with me because I’d got it all wrong was a horrible feeling! But I got there in the end and now Bronson works better for me if I have groomed him first, than if I haven’t. That tells me I’m doing a good job.

My next bug bear has been rising trot. I’ve been riding for nearly 4 months now and yet despite knowing what I should be doing in trot and how I should be doing it I just haven’t been able to get it right! Old habits from my childhood have been very hard to shake off.

This weekend I attended one of Pip’s clinics. It’s the first time I have been a spectator as I usually take part. I knew I would learn a great deal and that watching Pip and the other riders would be helpful, as in the past it’s been invaluable for learning. Especially, how better to communicate with my body language when free schooling and lunging, among many other things, but I honestly hadn’t expected it to have such a tremendous and immediate impact on my riding.

Seeing Pip working with the horses is like watching a Masterclass in ‘how to’ and seeing both beginners and more experienced riders coming up against challenges and working through them is fascinating! With 6 horses and riders taking part that’s 12 lessons a day and each horse and rider are at a different level and have different things to work on.

Pip was schooling one of her clients horses with no stirrups and she started doing a bit of rising trot. When I do rising trot I’m coming far too high out of the saddle and I’ve had weight in my stirrups, as you can see in today's photo. Pip had explained where the movement should actually be coming from and how to do it but despite my best efforts I’ve still been rising so high and using all the wrong muscles. Frankly it’s painful to watch! So I watched Pip very closely and as each rider came out I was paying attention to their seat and how they moved.

Today I came to ride Bronson and decided that I was going to try and emulate what I had seen. Bronson always thinks a canter is a good idea so first of all I shortened my stirrups and we cantered 8 circuits of the menage on each rein. This is such great exercise for me and he loves it! My balance is improving but what was interesting was that my balance on the right rein was nowhere near as good as my balance on the left. I’ve never noticed that before and it feels so good to be more aware of what we are doing and how we are doing it.

I put my stirrups back down and began working on our trot. I had noticed over the weekend that there was no weight in anyone's feet and if Pip could do rising trot without any stirrups then they definitely weren’t part of the equation. So I completely relaxed my legs and just allowed the movement of Bronson’s trot to lift me and my movement only involved the sling of muscles up to my abdomen and my inner thigh. It felt completely different!

I found it far easier on the left rein than the right and noticed, as I got more tired, that I started slipping back into old habits and rising up and putting weight in my feet again. But the main thing is I now know what it should feel like, what I am aiming for and I can practise and get stronger. This may not sound like much of a breakthrough to anyone else but I have felt like rising trot has been a brick wall I just couldn’t climb! I’m over the moon!

In today's image you can see how I was formally standing in my stirrups during rising trot, I'm so glad to have finally been able to remedy that!

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