September 23, 2010

How to Fence with a Horse

In college I thought about taking up fencing but never got involved since I was busy with an outdoor club where we did backpacking, hiking etc. It’s still a sport that seems like it would be fun to learn but I hadn’t quite intended on learning “fencing” during a riding lesson on a horse!! My lesson on Divine started with circles and transitions, I’m still working on asking her for collection and working on me realizing when and how to best collect her to keep her in a consistent pace.

We started down the sides of the arena to work on the all more difficult aspect of riding a horse, going straight. This seems to be an issue for a lot of riders, go figure, we work on circling all too often so that when we, as riders, want to go straight we have issues getting it perfect. Granted I walk straight all the time on Willy but it’s not the collected “dressagey” (to use a word from Laurie ;-) ) type of walking straight. Since delving into this dressage type world I’ve learned a lot, anyone can ride a horse but to ride well in the classical sense is kind of like comparing ballet to break dancing. Dressage is the ballet of the horse world and I’m certainly not even up to par with the “training” level classes; not that I want to show but still, I digress.

When walking straight it’s amazing how my body reacts to being near the fence along the arena in this “walking straight scenario”. Fearing for my knee’s safety I get an extreme sense of panic and pull Divine in towards the arena and away from the fence….ah but not really away from the fence..turning her inwards actually pushes her to the fence. After several times of being banged into the fence and hearing Laurie repeating the same instructions, (“turn her nose towards the fence!”) which frustrated me even more I dismounted and Laurie explained and drew in the dirt what was happening. My brain was so alarmed in the saddle that the instructions, which on the surface seemed counter intuitive, just blew through my mind as my aggravation escalated.

In a nutshell if a horse is turned away from the fence line the arch they make actually puts my knee into the fence, whereas by turning her nose into the fence she arches in a way that puts her nose and rear closest to the fence and my knee is in a safe, happy place. “Okay….I’m kinda getting that” I think as my adrenaline lowers and Laurie mounts up to actually show me what she means. Divine was apparently throwing a wrench into the game as well. She wasn’t properly responding to my aids; the ones Laurie had been telling me to use and that I was trying to apply to the best of my harried mind. Laurie worked her through it and showed me what she was doing. She then had me stand in front of Divine along the fence as she walked up the arena towards me. I could see that turning Divine's nose towards the fence and pressing with the outer leg really did get her away from the fence. I think the movement of Divine’s head towards the fence freaked me out in my panicked state so that I didn’t let the action follow through enough to finally realize that yes, indeed those aids will get my knee back to safety. Sometimes you just need to actually see things you know?

I mounted up and practiced around the ring, getting Divine near the fence and then pushing her away from it. It was like magic! We ended the lesson with a figure eight at the trot. I kept to sitting the trot and worked hard at getting Divine to perform the exercise at least one time around while being responsive to my collection aid and keeping at a steady trot. YES! We did it and perhaps now I have actually learned how to “fence” with a horse; though I think I’ll leave the rapier to the real fencers, that could hurt on horseback!

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