When everything aligns, there’s an alchemy like nothing else between a horse and its rider. I had a few flashes of it in this week’s lesson, and it feels good. Team work makes for good horsemanship; the art of riding, handling, and training horses. As I ease myself back in to the equestrian world, I’ve got the support of a fantastic, enthusiastic instructor, Amelia, teaching me on trusty horses at a leading equestrian centre near Chichester, I couldn’t ask for more.
First up, I’ll confess that despite having what I’d consider a good level of fitness, I was walking like John Wayne for about three days after the first of my riding lessons. My inner thigh and pelvic muscles reminded me firmly of their existence, my coach sympathised and recalled how she felt when she rode again after being grounded by pregnancy. Phew, it wasn’t just me.
Popcorn, a gorgeous palomino pony was my ride. Progress is far quicker if the fundamentals of riding are well rooted and my coach wanted to do different schooling exercises to work on this, including some without stirrups. Yikes. After only five minutes I was berating myself for being sloppy. My coach said I shouldn’t fret about that until we’d both warmed up and worked each other out. It was liberating to allow myself to be imperfect and just go with it.
Working on using my leg, seat and hand aids correctly to communicate with Popcorn, we enhanced his performance by improving his flexibility. Combining balance and hand-eye coordination is a cognitive challenge as well as a physical one. I found myself achieving one thing whilst forgetting about another, all of which my coach said would come together with more time in the saddle.
‘No hour of life is wasted spent in the saddle’ ~ Winston Churchill.
‘Horse riding is so beneficial for both your mental and physical well being, not only riding but simply being around horses is relaxing. We have several members who say they forget about the rest of the world and their worries when they come for their riding lesson. We’re open 6 days a week until 7.30pm and we will match you with the perfect coach on a day and time that suits you.’ Amelia BHSII
Time in the saddle gives you so much more than a physical workout. I was chatting to the ladies in the office after the lesson and the owner of Lavant Equestrian came out of her office to ask if I was always so bubbly and enthusiastic. In general, I’m quite an introvert but I was exhilarated and notably animated after my riding lesson. The same can be said for last week, when my husband arrived home he remarked on how much I must’ve loved it as I was still on cloud nine hours later.
Studies have shown those who spend regular time with horses have lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in their body and greater levels of serotonin, a mood boosting hormone. A study by The British Horse Society (BHS) found horse riding stimulated mainly positive psychological feelings, reducing depression by 30%. It is widely known that being around animals can be therapeutic and there’s a theory that the bigger the animal, the greater the benefits. Horses are sensitive animals and time at an equestrian centre can help you learn to read non-verbal cues, be assertive and gain greater self-control and self-awareness.
One of my favourite views in the world is a horse’s neck stretching out in front of me, with two furry ears pricking either side. It is a view that brings a different perspective, both physically and emotionally. Most importantly of all, when you are up there in the saddle, you are well and truly in the present. It’s often hard to stop and take time out in life, to find balance between work and family commitments. It struck me during my second lesson, that the noise from everyday life was quietened as I rode Popcorn.
A goal of riding is to maintain forward momentum at all times, no matter which gait your horse is in. Two weeks into our programme and I’ve found myself relaxing into my seat more readily, the rhythmic paces feeling more familiar with each transition. My nerves and reservations have softened and I’m left with the sense of infinite possibilities.