My legs currently feel like jelly, because this morning, I had my first riding lesson in a very long time.
I first started riding when I was very young, as you can see in these photos of me with my sister Cath and our pony Oliver (I’m on the right):
We were obsessed with horses, and went to the stables everyday. When we got our own pony, Oliver, we went twice a day to look after and ride him. I was such a good rider back then. Those were the days! (I’m on the left in this pic)
The last time I rode was over eight years ago, on Pakiri Beach in New Zealand. It was a half-day ride and that was the first time I’d ridden for a couple of years or so – so apart from that one-off ride, I haven’t ridden regularly for over a decade.
That half-day ride was way too much to do when I hadn’t ridden for a while, as I did my back in after that and spent much of the rest of the New Zealand trip in agony!
But it wasn’t really my back that made me so nervous about getting back in the saddle this time, after pretty much a decade of not riding. It was more that I’ve lost my former confidence with horses. I’m so much more aware now of how dangerous they are – being much older, wiser and more jaded than when I last rode regularly.
I saw an advert for a nearby riding school in the local paper, and I decided it was time to take the plunge and get back into it. The school turned out to be small but really good. The horses were all very well-looked after, happy and in beautiful condition. There’s no indoor school, so riding in the winter will be interesting, but that doesn’t matter. Perhaps they will build one – they’ve only been going since April so it’s still early days.
My steed was a lovely horse called Yogi, who had clearly been well-schooled and was much better than a lot of the plodding riding school horses I’ve ridden in the past. My instructor, Sally, was really nice, and very encouraging (she took these photos of me). She said it was important for me to focus on enjoying the lesson and taking things at my own pace while I get back up to speed, which I appreciated. I’m looking at this photo now and thinking “heels down!” – this was right at the beginning of the lesson, when I was still getting back into the right posture. I think I still look good on a horse though, even all these years later – and in my Joules shirt, I’m a lot better dressed these days, too! (My jodphurs are the same ones I was wearing over a decade ago, and they still fit beautifully – result!)
I started off just doing loads of walking around the arena and getting used to the feeling of being on a horse again, and the movement of the horse beneath me. I’d been imagining beforehand that I’d be cantering around like old times, but the second I got in the saddle I knew that would be too much to attempt on my first lesson back. When I first broke out into a trot today I felt a bit alarmed, but soon got back into the rhythm of it and started to feel more relaxed, like in the old days. I could still remember things like changing my riding crop from one side to the other when changing the rein and so on. Amazingly, the muscle memory was still there, even though I’m very out of shape.
Sally said that I ride really well and have a lovely posture, and that horses will like me because my style of riding is “inoffensive”! I’m going to be sticking with riding Yogi for a while, so that I can get to know him.
Sally is confident that I’ll get my old confidence back in no time, and said that there was a big difference between how I was at the beginning of the lesson and how I was at the end. I think now I’ve got the hurdle of the first time over with, I’ll be able to work on getting my strength back in the muscles, and feeling more comfortable on a horse again. It felt odd to be back on a horse after so many years, almost like being a child again, because I associate horses so strongly with that time in my life (the smells totally brought that back to me, too). And yet it also felt very natural – I always did feel at home in the saddle, and it’s nice to know that I’ll be able to pick it up again fairly easily. I’ve booked in for my next lesson for a couple of weeks’ time, so that should give my legs a bit of time to recover ready for next time!