My restful class took on a painful new color this week. Last week I missed the first of our actual riding lessons. I didn’t worry. I even managed to crib a ride from some folks from the Morgan Horse Association who were gathering at the same state park as our family reunion over the weekend. We started our lunge line work, my partner, Joey, on the ground and me riding skinny old Valor (a lazy, but good creature, scrawny but still strong). Walking was no trouble. Standing in the saddle while walking felt easy and natural. Then we clucked to our horses to trot.
“Monica! No posting!”
What?!?!? I’ve been practicing my riding all summer, and bending the ears of anyone who will listen with how I am learning to post (lifting out of the saddle every other step to the rhythm of the horse) and canter. What am I supposed to do if not post?
Apparently, in western riding the goal is to never let your ass leave the saddle. Posting is only for English style riding. Okay…so how do you keep your ass in the saddle? Pelvis rolled back, flex in your hips and ankles, and push down with your heels. Not so easy as it sounds. I just couldn’t do it and as a result got the hell slammed out of me. I’m sure Valor wasn’t having any fun either.
I couldn’t get my left heel down. It just didn’t feel like it was supporting any weight at all, though I could feel it on my right side. The jarring motion created pain in my ribcage and made it very hard to breathe. “Sit back, heels down. Sit back, heels down,” became my mantra. Despite that, when it was obvious I wasn’t doing so well, our instructor had Jamie, the TA, work with me for not only my allotted half of the two hour period, but the second half (when I was supposed to be on the ground and my partner on the horse) as well.
Finally towards the end of those two hours, Jamie would call out “There! You’re getting it.” I’ll admit I was improving, but “getting it” I was not. If this was “it” why did I still hurt so much? Why would anyone in their right mind NOT post? Jamie told me I should be using my calves and feel the burn and strain in them. No matter how I flexed my left ankle and pushed my heel down, I didn’t feel anything in that leg. Today my hips, back, shoulders, and the outside of my right calf are sore, but only just a little. I don’t feel like I was using my legs at all.
It would be easy to blame it on five years of fencing, where my right leg was my lead leg, my power, supporting almost all my weight, and my left was just for balance and impulsion. Maybe that has something to do with it, but I don’t think that is the whole story. I understand what I’m supposed to do. I just can’t seem to DO it. When I tried to relax my torso enough so I could breath, calling on my calm abiding, I would relax everything and my foot would come right out of the stirrup.
Valor is lazy, and he doesn’t like being swatted with the rope. He would lope, prance, and hope a little. “Way not to panic,” Jamie told me when he tried to take off once. Panic never even entered my mind. I felt unbalanced quite a lot (especially since we aren’t allowed to use our hands either) but I never actually thought I would fall off and I was never afraid. Just frustrated to the point of tears. But I would suck it up and breath and then cluck at the horse to go again.
I’m still looking forward to class tomorrow and trying not to grit my teeth at the same time.