March 15, 2010

First Ride!

I'll admit it, I was nervous.  Even though I thought I knew exactly what he'd do (and Sara said you're not ready to get on until you're totally sure how they'll handle it), I was nervous.  Seeing Mary bust her bronc (literally...that was the most intense bucking I've ever witnessed) right before I went didn't help much either.  It was a controlled nervousness though, tinged with excitement.  Think about how it feels to go into the ring just before a class.  That was it.

After a brief lunging session - just long enough to get his head on straight - I put the reins on his bridle and led him out into the middle of the arena.  I did it just as Sara had taught us: flap the stirrups, slap the saddle, bang them against his sides, pat him all over, foot in one stirrup, bounce up and down, put your weight on the stirrup, belly him, switch to other side, repeat, switch back, repeat.  I asked him to give laterally one last time and repeated the bouncing motion, only this time I stayed up there.  I slowly swung my leg around, brushing his hip as I did it, and sat astride the goofy chestnut pony for the first time.  My first thought was "Wow those ears are close to me!"  I've never ridden something with such a high neck-set.  My second thought was "Wow, he's taking this so well!"

In fact, all he did when I got on was turn his head to sniff my boot.  He was probably thinking "Gosh, this is great!  She's even closer to me!"  He just stood there, interested but not scared at all.  Humans have never given him a reason to be scared.  I let him relax for a moment, asked him to give laterally again, and bumped my legs against his sides and said "Walk on!"  I could feel his brain scrambling toward that voice cue that has become so familiar on the ground, but as he took a hesitant step forward he felt my weight and stopped.  I encouraged him to go forward again.  The first few minutes were a lot like that.  After about five or six minutes we were walking nearly the length of the arena.

The halts were what impressed me most.  I would sit deeply in the saddle, tighten my abs and say "Annd whoa." in the low soothing tone I always use.  He stopped dead.  Every time.  I was a firm believer in voice commands-before-riding before, but now I'm an advocate.  The voice commands were so comforting to him in a brand-new situation.  It allowed him to say "Okay, I DO know what you want, even as you're banging your legs against my sides and I'm not sure why."

He was so relaxed, I asked for the trot.  The first time he felt my weight shift, just like the walk, he stopped.  But I kept encouraging and he kept giving and we took probably 8 or 10 trot strides in a row more than once.  Directional control isn't the goal on the first ride, so he just meandered around the arena and I was along for the ride.  I stopped when he was relaxed and listening and gave him lots of big pets.  I think the next six weeks are going to be a blast!

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