• Gillian Keegan

Riding Naked - Reflections

I'm a thirty-seven year old mother of three, my youngest is currently fifteen weeks old. It takes me all my time to step into the shower naked, never mind ride! But I find riding so confronting at times, it's like your instructor can see the whole of you, jiggling around the arena.

I hate starting out at new yards and riding schools, and being sounded out. I always end up feeling like a bit of an idiot. I babble, feel nervous, I don't know where I'm going, and I generally ride dreadfully. Since selling my own horses, I've ridden a few different school horses and I feel dry lipped before getting on each one. It's true - I always feel that I need lip balm when I'm driving to a lesson, and also when I'm towing a float!

"I've ridden for thirty years, and I'd love to qualify as an instructor one day, but I have lots to learn, and I haven't done much jumping since my teens," is my usual synopsis of my experience. I want to say that I can ride (somedays) but that I'm not big-headed or obnoxious, and that I'm ready to learn.

I've been riding for most of my life, but I certainly don't feel like it at times. I sometimes get sad that I can think about something so much and still be decidedly mediocre. I'm not the same rider I was fifteen years ago. I have more sense, thankfully, and possibly more 'feel', I hope, but my confidence has taken a knock after a few falls, and from riding young, green horses. I've also just come back after a few months off to have Hungry Jack. I'm not nervous, I'm game to get on, jump, trail ride and canter, but I know that I'm in protective mode. The electric shock that runs through your body, you know the one you get when you nearly fall down the stairs, or trip? When a horse jumps, spooks a bit, or stumbles, I get that feeling. Sometimes I get that feeling before anything has even happened - I got it when I heard a noise walking the dog this morning! It makes me feel awful, it must make the horse feel awful too, and I know that I don't suit anything too hot anymore as my energy levels just make them bubble over!

Here in India, I have been trying out horses to lease, "exactly what are you looking for?" I was asked. My response, immediately, was "something safe". Then I managed to think outside my 'I've got little people to look after, I can't break anything' mindset to add, "an allrounder, something that has a good attitude towards work, and that likes people". I am not buying this horse, I don't care what it looks like, I don't care what breed it is, what colour it is, or what size it is. I just want to enjoy some one on one time with something friendly, and on something that I can start to build on my 'protect first' tendencies.

The first horse I tried was a huge 17.2hh Oldenburger called Sir Colman - pronounced here 'Circleman' I had to get them to write the name down for me #lostintranslation! This boy is pretty lazy and has the common huge horse affliction of his legs seeming very far away from his brain! He was so so kind and gentle though, I could imagine us holding hands, walking along the beach, and he had a beautiful neck to bury your face in.

When we got into the arena, though, my goodness, I felt like I needed stabilisers! His movement was absolutely huge, and because I didn't have him together (hello healing baby broken core) he was long and flat. With each stride I had to hover in mid air until he landed again. Given that I'm still getting my strength back after the destruction caused by all that is having a baby, this was a big ask for me. My legs were swinging all over the place, I was unbalanced, he wasn't moving forward and the whole picture was one of a lumbering elephant topped with a bright pink, sweating lump.

And the worst part was, I felt like such a fraud. I had told them I could ride, and here I was, in my new fancy brown boots, sitting like a sack of spuds. Feeling bare and naked, the instructor seeing exactly what I couldn't achieve right now. My seat wasn't independent enough to be able to use my legs properly, my contact wasn't consistent, I was gripping where I should have been relaxing and I wasn't using my seat as an aid at all. We all have bad days, but why now?

"It looks a mess, doesn't it?" I peered down at the instructor from my lofty height, seeking, I don't know, a kind word, some insight into why, through my wobbliness, it was clear that there was some sort of rider there.

"To be quite honest, yes - I don't think we'll jump today." was the answer. Oh the trauma inflicted on a fragile soul! This horse is well schooled, has all the buttons, and I just couldn't do it that day.

I puffed and panted around the arena a few more times, feeling like I was running every stride with him. We managed to canter and he felt a little more forward, but in all honesty, I was really struggling. I was too hot, I was embarrassed, my body wasn't working and I wanted to get off and put some clothes on!

I love horses in so many ways, especially because they can reflect us so well. No amount of fancy brown boots are going to make me a better rider, but 'Circleman' showed me what I need to do next. It wasn't a nice feeling, being stripped in front of someone new. It's always a hard lesson, on a hard day when you are made completely humble by a horse that is ridden by children. Ultimately, maybe it's in the lessons where you feel most bare that we improve the most? I don't have the answers, but I am telling myself that I am grateful.

Dear Sir Colman


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