A few weeks ago, I decided to embark on a bit of an adventure. For ages I'd been trying to think of something new to do that would enable me to get out, get some exercise, meet people, but be in a safe environment and within my own abilities. Eventually I got in touch with the Riding for the Disabled Association and after a couple of false starts (many of the groups listed as being local to me were for children during term time only) I found that the nearest place for an unaffiliated disabled adult to try riding was at Lowlands Farm, in Warwickshire.
Steve took me there for an initial visit which made the whole idea seem a lot more realistic. I was able to propel myself around the site and all of the people were incredibly welcoming and friendly. I found myself really looking forward to giving it a try once the paperwork was complete (a sign-off from my doctor to confirm the basics of my condition, not too complicated, but it took a couple of weeks).
Meanwhile, I attended to watch another lesson. If I'd watched someone who knew what they were doing and had lessons X times a week trotting about being excellent on a horse, I probably would have just dropped the whole idea. I've no desire to compete, or even to excel. I don't want to own a horse or spend half my life hanging around stables. I am not really a horsey person. But instead, I was able to watch the lesson of a woman who appeared to be more or less on the same page as I was but a few months into the process. Benefiting from the stretch and the movement, her posture and muscle tone were improving. That was what I wanted to achieve and it made me even more impatient for my paperwork to come through.
Which brings us to yesterday morning and My First Riding Lesson.
First we got me kitted out with a helmet and then I rolled up the wheelie-accessible mounting block. This brought me alongside Harvey at a height that made it easy to sit on him. That was okay, I was all, hey, check me out, I'm sitting on a horse, how good is this?
Then the lady holding the lead rein started to take us away from the ramp and into the huge barn that is the riding school, and I realised just how high up I was sitting, on a moving animal, without any kind of grab rail. I didn't want to touch the reins in case I did something wrong, so I just gripped the saddle and prayed that we would stop soon. Thankfully we did come to a reassuring halt just inside the school and my instructor started adjusting bits of saddle so that I was sitting properly.
Of the next fifteen minutes, I just have a hazy recollection of going round and round the school trying to follow a thousand instructions at once while moving the whole time. I kept wanting to say look, I would be able to sit up/lean back/head up/hands here/feet there/etc if only I wasn't being jolted around on the back of this moving horse! A lot of the instructions made sense. For instance, it was actually more comfortable when I looked up and didn't lean forwards. But then she'd tell me to bang my heels into his sides and (even apart from the yes-I-know-it's-stupid fear that I would hurt the horse) I'd concentrate so hard on that, I would end up automatically looking down again at my feet/my hands/the horse/the instructor.
Nevertheless. There was an awful lot of support and positive reinforcement in with the continuous flow of instructions - it was a really good demonstration of how it's possible to push somebody in an encouraging way.
Getting off the horse was interesting, too. I couldn't get off the way I got on, with the horse alongside the great big ramped mounting block, because it's all metal and concrete and one wrong move could cause no end of trouble. Instead, one lady held Harvey still, while another stood on my right-hand side to help me swing my right leg up and over the back of the horse. My instructor was on the left-hand side and guided both my legs as I slid down to the floor, and then I stood still for a minute or two with my body against the horse, arms on his back, and the instructor supporting me from behind until the world stopped spinning. Hopefully as I gain a better idea of where I am and where the horse is, I'll be able to do that on my own.
Everyone warned me that I'd be sore the next day, but to be honest, it isn't too bad. I mean, I can feel it, certainly, especially in my back and my inner thighs, but I've woken up with worse pain and the regular ibuprofen that I take anyway seems to be holding it in check. I can still move as much as I usually can, and I've even managed to get a load of laundry done.
Next week's lesson is already booked, and I can't wait.