Sunday, October 23, 2005

Playing the fool

I woke up this morning and couldn't roll out of bed. Sitting up was out of the question, but I thought I might be able to accomplish rolling if I could just ease myself onto my side, then let gravity handle the rest. Unfortunately, the muscles wouldn't comply.

Yesterday, I clambered a-horseback after being away from lessons for years. I've joined the university riding club, and, based on my experience, I've been placed into the intermediate/advanced class. Based on my muscles, I should probably be at the primordial "ought to stick with admiring pretty horses from afar" level.

My horse, Suete (pronounced "Sweaty," which is just a lovely image to conjure up), is a cantankerous 20 year-old Arab/Lusitano cross. Most 20 year-old horses are gentle, stately geriatrics, perfect for riders in less-than-ideal dressage physique. However, anyone who's ever ridden an Arab can attest to the fact that it's the closest thing to riding a wild zebra; if you finish without losing any digits or limbs, you've done well. Suete began the day by taking a well-aimed snap at me when I tightened his girth -- although I don't really blame him, since it's the equivalent of having someone position your belt so your pants don't budge, even if you jump up and down stairs for an hour. As any member of the equine species is able to do, Suete instantly determined that I was a rusty old rider; as soon as I hit the saddle, he proceeded to skitter sideways across the yard while I tried to rein him in with one hand and find my bloody stirrups with the other.

Two hours later, I felt like I'd been put inside a large burlap sack and hammered vigorously with a meat mallet. Most of the lesson went like this:

Experienced British Dressage Instructor: "LEG YIELD FROM 'K' TO THE CENTER LINE."
Except, of course, between the brisk wind and her thick accent, it sounded more like:
Me: "What? What the hell was that? Something about moving left?"
Suete: "Get this bloody sack of cement off my arthritic back before I brush her off on the nearest low-hanging tree branch."
Consequently, I tried to follow the rider in front of me. This proved difficult, as Suete had been nominated for Slowest Plodding Farm Animal of the Year and was trying valiantly to win.

In dressage, you're expected to have the horse perform incredibly complex moves (counter-canter, flying lead changes, performing somersaults while fixing a cup of tea) without so much as twitching a finger. Instead, your legs and seat are supposed to do the work; weight shifts and muscle pressure should urge the horse forward "on the bit" until you and your animal are one with the energy of the universe.

Alas, someone forgot to inform my inner thighs that they were to have tranformed into steel cables the night before my lesson. The leg yield we practiced entails trotting the horse diagonally across the arena while keeping his head straight forward. The reins should be firm against the horse's neck, but all of the motion should be propelled by the steady pulse of your outside leg against its flank. Or, in my case, your hands are bloody all over the place as your horse snorts and tries to canter straight, and your outside leg is futilely walloping his side like wet spaghetti. In the meantime, your "firm but steady" inside leg has worked loose of its stirrup, and your efforts to pick it back up merely drive the poor horse back the wrong way. So desperate are you to get him to move before the instructor notices the runaway train that is your "leg yield" that you get right on the tail of the lead horse, hoping their similar colors will cause the instructor to think the first one's merely grown a few spare legs.

Thus progressed my first lesson. Thankfully, I salvaged the entire thing by accomplishing the walk-to-canter transition without a hitch...except, of course, that I reversed my leg cues and Suete counter-cantered instead, sort of the equivalent travesty of driving on the left side of the road in the States.

I've spent this afternoon hobbling around, because if I stay seated for more than 15 minutes, my legs lock in place and I have to unbend myself with the nearest tool available. On Sunday, I do it all again! Ah well, at least this provides ample incentives for me to keep weight training during school...assuming I can ever move my legs more than a few inches forward or backward again...

No comments: