Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Second lesson

I recovered pretty well from my first riding lesson. On day 1 I had sore muscles, but nothing too upsetting. On day 2, my muscles had settled down considerably, but my ME/CFS symptoms (sore throat, headache, etc) flared. But on day 3 I was back within normal parameters.

Today was my second lesson. There were good bits and bad bits.

Things started off well. I got onto the horse correctly and was led into the school. I was sitting much more comfortably, I was wearing different shoes and I think that helped my position. I remembered how to hold the reins, and I felt good and confident and totally ready to balance on top of Harvey as he went round and round the school.

Then I realised that, although the instructor (different instructor today) was going to be walking around with me, Harvey wasn't actually on a lead rein. I was supposed to be in charge of getting him to go and stop and turn.

In many ways this makes sense. A lot of how you're supposed to communicate with the horse about going and stopping and turning has to do with how you sit and conversely how you sit is going to be communicating with the horse. So it's a bit unfair and confusing and counter-productive for all concerned if the horse is being tugged left by the instructor when everything in the rider's body is saying Turn Right (and the newbie rider doesn't realise that's what she's doing). It's also about as safe as it could be - unlike cars, horses don't tend to crash into walls when you get something wrong.

However, all the sense in the world could not quell my rising sense of panic. I wanted to beg them to just let me get "sitting" nailed before I tried actual "riding". I was genuinely surprised when my pride and positivity managed to get in between my brain and my mouth, to morph the phrase "no! nooo! let me off! can't do it! don't wanna!" into "okay, absolutely, so what do I need to know?"

To my amazement, I did manage to persuade Harvey to start and stop and turn and change direction several times. But what we then experienced was a clash between my ability, and the principles of teaching.

Principles of teaching are to keep pushing the student to improve. Sit up straight - good! Now put your shoulders back - good! Now try and have your hands about the same width apart as his ears - good! But don't look at the horse, or at your hands, keep looking where you want to go - good! Let your hips move - good! Aim towards the H - use your outside leg - don't lean forwards...

My ability considered on a scale of 1-10 where 10 is my top performance, probably started at about a seven. I got on the horse, I warmed up a bit, my confidence grew, I got a few things right, and I was functioning at a ten! for ooh, maybe a minute and a half. The demands of the teacher increased. My brain was trying to handle more instructions. My body was getting tired. Gradually my ability dwindled to maybe a three. I was dizzy and not breathing well because I was holding my breath as I tried to follow all the instructions at once. We rounded another corner and I was trying so hard to remember which is my "outside leg" that my concentration on sitting up straight all but vanished, and whichever leg it was, the passable squeezes and kicks I was managing at the beginning of the lesson had turned into rather pathetic flops.

At this point Harvey quite reasonably decided that in the absence of a decent rider or a lead rein, he certainly wasn't going to be taking half-baked instructions from the weak and wobbly sack of jelly perched atop his saddle. His walk slowed to a meander and eventually stopped altogether. With the instructor, the supervisor, and the people who were there for the previous and next lessons all calling out words of encouragement, I got another few metres out of him, but by that point I was just burning with humiliation and wanted to not only slide off the horse, but continue right on into the ground.

Of course the ground doesn't work like that, and neither do horses. It's surprisingly difficult to fall off a large horse when you're sitting comfortably with a leg either side and he's standing still, and given a choice, I'd rather not cover my clothes in grubby sand/sawdust/whatever it is. My chair was still outside by the ramped mounting block and my walking stick was in my bag which was hanging on my chair, so I was sitting up there in front of the audience as I waited for someone to bring me one or the other and help me dismount.

I managed to get down more easily than last time, although I still needed help and was hardly elegant. As I joined the other students, a couple of them made sympathetic noises about how difficult it is when you're first learning... but this didn't help, as my tired and embarrassed brain, a hair's breadth away from bursting into tears with frustration and exhaustion, could only hear that people who'd watched my efforts had found me so utterly incompetent that they could only offer pity about just how awful I was. I paid and booked my next lesson as quickly as I could and then went and sat in the car park so that I wouldn't have to talk to anybody for the half-hour until my taxi arrived.

Of course after getting home and having a rest, a cup of tea, and a spot of lunch, I can acknowledge how ridiculous this was (I could sort of acknowledge it at the time but it didn't help). It's not the job of the other students to praise or encourage me, they were trying to be nice and I was behaving like a bit of a twit to run off and hide from the world. It was my second ever lesson, and I did about as well as anyone can be expected to on their second ever lesson. I can even - grudgingly - accept that I do have an illness with physical and cognitive components, and that my rapidly dwindling ability in the latter part of my lesson was to be expected and will probably happen again.

What would be useful is if any readers who've done/are doing horse riding could give me a clue how long I should persevere before I say "no, clearly I'm not cut out for this and should call it a day." When does it become fun rather than a confusing, exhausting struggle?


Anonymous said...

When I was learning to ride (at school) we weren't led round at all, but we were only in a school (i.e. indoors) - we weren't allowed out on hacks til we could at least trot.

It was difficult and confusing but fun too; there ought to be some level of either excitement or enjoyment I think. If it's a chore then, well, it's an expensive chore!

Is it something your doc or physio recommended, or just for fun?

Hope it gets easier sooner!

Mary said...

It's mostly for the exercise, and partly for alleviating what's on my care plan as "social isolation" (which makes my hiding in the car park even more ridiculous).

I know that going out on hacks is in the WAY distant future, and I have never had any illusions about galloping o'er the moorland with my hair streaming in the breeze. But I'd quite like to get to a stage where I can get off the horse thinking "that was a good workout" rather than my inner chorus chanting "you're sh!t, and you know you are..."

Anonymous said...

Um, I don't usually GIVE advise, unless asked - and you did ask! I'd suggest between 6-10 sessions - but only IF you set up a system with your instructors that allows either one of you to notice when you start to get worse and close the session off. Otherwise, unless you are particularly stubborn, it's going to feel grim for a lot longer.
Oh, and I have experience of horse riding myself, no personal disability, but my daughter had a physical disability and rode also, for several years.
Hope you stick at it, as it sounds like you will enjoy it once over the 'beginner's hump'.

Mary said...

The stubborn bit might be part of it, actually. When I had my dizzy spell they asked if I wanted to stop and I was all "no, I'll be fine in a moment."

It's difficult because if I wasn't a bit stubborn and inclined to push myself I'd never get out of bed in the morning... I suppose it's just a case of learning for this new activity where the line is between on the one hand, not giving in just because it gets difficult, and on the other hand, not pushing myself too hard or for too long.

Maggie said...

Most new things require the inner critic to go out for coffee and leave the rest of you to rest comfortably in 'beginner's mind'.

The best advice I've received for learning a new skill -- physical, mental, or combined -- is to always stop the session at a 'success'. For example, when you or your instructor notices that you're tiring, take a step back to something you can confidently do successfully; do that, feel the win, and then end the session. That way basic self can remember the session as 'success' and look forward to the next session with joy.

Rj said...

I couldnt agree more with Maggie. I suffer with social anxiety and have been learning to play tennis. I was pretty awful to start with but I realised it was made worse by my fear of "getting it wrong" in front of people. So my (very patient) DH made sure we took it easy and stopped before I got to mentally tired and started making easy mistakes as this would lead to frustration and my inner critic getting very loud. You have to be more honest with yourself and stop when you need to or it will take a long time to get easier as you're overdoing it.

I would say give it about 8-10 sessions as you will be familiar with the terms/what's expected and have given your body a chance to get used to the new challange. I have riding experience and my DH has CFS.

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Little Miss Adventure said...

Are you learning at a facility where they are experienced with ME? I'd spell it out to the instructor that you can only learn new stuff for so long, and want the rest of the session to just be practicing and exercising. If you're having a 30 min lesson, maybe 10 mins of learning new stuff and 20 mins of practicing.

I agree with others who've said give it about 10 lessons before stopping. Can you have the same instructor each week? It would probably help to build up a rapport and an understanding of your capabilities, rather than starting afresh each time.

I hope it works out for you. I rode a lot as a child. It wasn't just the riding I liked, horses are lovely animals to be around.

Jane said...

Little Miss Adventure really nails it. The instructor must be educated in the needs of the novice rider who has ME. Riding instructors, even those who work with the generally excellent RDA, often are just that - instructors, they aren't teachers in the true sense of the word and relating to, accurately observing and picking up on how their learner is coping phsyically and mentally, during the lesson is something they often struggle with.

I'd try and have a word with your instructor and spell out your needs regarding short bursts of learning followed by a few minutes of rest, then some practice. A good instructor will take this on board and accomodate you. A good instructor will also listen if you own up to being a bit stubborn and not allow you to push yourself into a zone where you are exhausted, hurting or fearful. No lesson should ever end with you feeling any of those things. Always end on a good note.

Right now, it's all strange being up on the horse, give it a few more lessons and it will seem less strange. I guarantee it!

One activity that may increase your confidence around and on horses is to get involved in a little horse management. It's surprising just how much a little bit of gentle horse grooming can help a person feel less awkward around/on equines. Horses are emotional beings, they enjoy being groomed by someone who is gentle and sensitive. It can be a real treat for them. If you get to do some of this, just stick to a bit of brushing with a body brush and maybe some tail and mane grooming. Picking up hooves to pick out can be awkward and hard work.

Anything you can do to increase your physical confidence around horses will help you in learning to ride them.

Wishing you all the best and lots of horse related fun!

Anonymous said...

Hi Bats,
Just a few things that you can do OFF the horse to help...
You can stretch your calf muscles by doing rises on the bottom stair.
You can locate your seat bones by sitting on a firm upright chair and placing your hands under your bum - you should feel two pin bones. These are what you should be balanced on when riding.
Tilting your pelvis backwards and forwards by just a few millimetres and you feel yourself come off your seat bones.
Having located your seat bones you can then improve your core stability by using a big physio ball. A cheap one suffices!
The same ball can be used to help stretch the muscles in your thigh, both front and inner thigh, and you can even practise a pretence at rising trot, trying to keep your feet flat on the floor.
You can then add trying with your arms in different positions - folded in front, behind your back, on your head, out to the sides, and up in the air.
All these home exercises can help to train your muscles to make riding more effective, and the more effective you feel the more confident you will be, and then the pleasure increases.
The exercises will also help to "untrain" your muscles from previous life experiences, which is one of the biggest barriers for adults learning to ride - I still send my dressage riders away with these exercises, and still do them myself.
Be kind to yourself - it will happen!
Its pretty bad form for others to comment - ignore them. The only feedback that you need is from your instructor, not bystanders, so ask questions, and always explain when you are needing a break - a good instructor will allow you to do some exercises on the horses back to relieve the aches, such as ankle rotations and bringing your knees up.
Finally try and find an instructor who is fun, knowledgable and empathetic, which is like finding a unicorn !
might help.
The rest of the site may give you an idea of just how much money this lovely, healthy hobby can cost !

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