Nicole Landreneau is a self-described horse junkie and “very low level” dressage amateur rider, living in south Louisiana, near New Orleans.
The past few months of dressage riding, have reinforced something I knew to be true: if you’re squishy in the middle, you have your work cut out for you.
Let me back up a few steps. I’ve been riding since, oh, well… pretty much as long as I can remember. Until my mid-20s, ‘riding’ consisted of slapping on the Western saddle, hopping on and going for a ride. No form, no lessons, no particular strategy other than having fun and making it home alive (a real concern depending on what horse I was riding).
Then, in my mid-20s, I started taking riding lessons. It was a sporadic venture as I had to do it when the planets of time, opportunity, and money aligned. I opted for learning dressage so I didn’t have to un-learn my bad Western habits…and because it looked really cool. I totally underestimated the dedication and physical requirements of this discipline: it looks so easy on TV!
My first horse, Shalom, is an Arabian gelding. In all honesty, if we had been able to start sooner, he probably would have done reasonably well at dressage. As it was, he was in his mid teens when we were finally able to get regular lessons and, well, rather set in his ways. We learned a lot. Mostly that he stops a lot better with a double bridle and he really likes being the center of attention. We got as far as First Level when ringbone claimed his show and riding career. He’s now a very hairy pasture ornament with a knack for getting into trouble.
So, for the past couple of years, I’ve been riding whatever lesson horse was available. Once again, my riding was a sporadic venture, but it was fun to learn on different horses with vastly different temperaments and abilities. Turns out, Shalom taught me a thing or two. Some of it was even good. Unfortunately, it’s hard to develop skills with irregular lessons, so this year I started the ‘horse hunt’, which culminated a couple of months ago.
Enter horse number two: George. George is a Danish Warmblood with lots of potential. He’s also three.
It’s been a rather, um, humbling experience. “Riding 101” comes to mind. I feel like I’m starting over completely. I have lots of bad habits, a horse with a touchy clutch and a three year old noodle-y body … and I feel like a jelly doughnut. It seems that in spite of months of Pilates and yoga, there’s not enough ‘core’ to support me and control my horse – at the same time. I suppose part of this is the downside of nearing middle age, finding jiggly bits where there weren’t any before and a body whose ‘muscle memory’ seems to be suffering from a form of Alzheimer’s…but that knowledge doesn’t make me feel any better.
In fact, it’s embarrassing being in a riding lesson having my trainer call out “Tighten your core. Stop leaning forward. He’ll stop bucking if you use less lower leg and more thigh!” … and I realize I’ve given it all I’ve got. And I’m only ten minutes into the lesson. When did this get so hard? Why do my legs start flopping when I’m concentrating on tightening my core? When did I pull that muscle in my inner thigh…?
Fortunately, my trainer is a very patient person and doesn’t seem to mind repeating herself. One day I’m going to get this! In the meantime, I’ll keep practicing…and I’ll skip the doughnuts. They make me self-conscious.