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Schoolmasters and trick riding*

Shazzie

* = Well, in a way! He ended up jumping over the instructor’s dog when she wandered in front of us.

Yes, I do cringe when I see how tightly I’m holding the reins, but at the time, didn’t want him wandering off mid-shot!

This is Shazzie. He’s long gone now, but he was the best pony I’ve ever ridden. Due to a few bad experiences at the last riding school I’d been to, my confidence had been shot to pieces. I didn’t feel comfortable going at anything faster than a walk, let alone trotting.

However, I decided to go somewhere new, and see if I wanted to carry on. The new riding school was only just up the road from my house, so I could easily walk there.

Got put on Shazzie. A 20 year old Arab x Welsh schoolmaster, who’d been there, done that and worn the T-shirt. Yes, he looked his age, but he wasn’t ready to retire. There was still life in the old boy. From the moment I sat in the saddle, he looked after me. If I wanted him to halt, he’d halt. When I wanted to increase the pace a little bit, he’d do just that. He started rebuilding my confidence from that very first lesson. Although, don’t think either me or my instructor expected him to jump over her dog! The dog was a little terrier type, and she wandered in front of Shazzie while he was trotting round the school. I didn’t have time to turn him off the track, so … yes, ended up jumping over her instead. The dog suffered no harm at all from that little escapade!

I’ve never forgotten Shazzie, or my instructor, and I never will. I owe them both so much.

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Not riding at the moment

Not been riding, or at the RDA in general recently. Last week was half term, so they were off, and for the next three weeks, I’m on work placement in Tewkesbury, so I’m not able to go. Which is a little unfortunate, but oh well. On the second week so far, with two weeks left, so hopefully should be back before I know it!

Don’t know if I’ll still be riding or not. If not, then I’ll have to find somewhere to have proper lessons again.

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Differing personalities

I’m not one to humanise animals very much, but there’s one thing I’ve noticed since volunteering at the RDA centre. The ponies there all have character.

Take Bilbo for instance – he’s a 12.2hh Shetland x. He’s only bothered about one thing. Eating. Put a rider on him, and he’s sulking. Ears back, trying to bite his leader type of sulking. He can move fast when he wants to, though that’s not very often. He’s quite happy to have attention in the stall, but he’s still a nibbler.

Cookie – He’s a sweetie. Perfect for putting nervous riders on, since he’ll plod round and not react to anything. When waiting for the riders, he’ll stand with his eyes closed. However, he can be cheeky. He’s tried to take advantage of me a few times.

Magpie – Been at the centre for ages. Knows his job inside out and anticipates when to trot. Otherwise likes attention. Is probably the best when it comes to picking up and cleaning his hooves. Will be retiring at the end of the summer term, since he’s 19, and needs an easier life.

Dave – One of the younger ponies. Mouthy. Quite nice, but lacks manners. Tries to tread on poles in the school, instead of stepping over them. Is probably slightly bored of the work.

That’s just a few examples, but the others all have their own characters as well. While they might not have the same range of emotions or ways to express them as we have, horses definitely do have personalities of sorts.

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Some cobs might be slow, but not all are.

Cobs are…slow, ploddy, not much good for anything other than hacking around the countryside on. Or so a lot of people seem to think. And, up until a certain point last year, I thought the same.

In all honesty, the only cobs I’d ridden before had been riding school ponies who’d been dead to the leg. As far as I was concerned, all cobs were tarred with the same brush. I didn’t want a pony that was going to whizz off with me, but at the same time, I wanted to ride something a little more lively than a cob.

I rode well into my teens, then stopped, due to a combination of being unable to find a new riding school, and exams. After a while, the thought of riding again had faded from my mind. I spent the next ten or so years not even thinking about getting back in the saddle.

A chance encounter would change that.

I started college in my twenties. Did three weeks of work experience in the summer at the end of the first year, and two weeks work experience at the start of the second year.

Completed the three weeks at my local Riding for the Disabled centre. The centre provides riding lessons for children and adults with various mental and physical disabilities. Most of the ponies are cobs. The only two who aren’t are a little toe rag of a Shetland x, with theĀ other being either a Welsh or Fell pony.

I, along with the other volunteers, had to bring the ponies in from the fields in the morning, groom, tack them up and help the riders to mount. It’s hard, physical work, and you do need to be fairly fit. I loved it. It was a chance to be around horses again. Alright, so I wasn’t riding, but didn’t really mind that.

After the three weeks were up, I decided to stay on. At times, it could be a bit overwhelming, but I coped. The thought of riding still hadn’t occurred to me, though I knew that volunteers could rid on occasion.

December 2014 rolled round. The first lesson of the day had been canceled, and some of the other volunteers, and myself, we’re standing around talking when I got asked if I’d like to ride in the next lesson. To be honesty, I’d never even entertained the possibility of being asked. Still, took the bull by the horns and said yes.

Mounted one of the cobs (called B) and set off round the school, while the other riders were being mounted on their ponies.

As soon as I set off round the school, I revised my opinion on all cobs being slow and ploddy. B was very responsive to my leg aids. All I had to do was apply the lightest pressure, and he’d respond. It wasn’t a perfect first lesson. I did have a few problems getting B to stop, but that was due to me not having a very good contact on the reins. Also didn’t have the nerve to trot, since it was the first time in 11 years that I’d ridden.

As the weeks went on, I did a bit more riding. Started trotting, a little nervously on my part at first, but my confidence increased every time I did. Moved onto another cob, named Max, a few weeks after that first ride. Max is a nice one to ride, since he’s easy to steer, and does listen to me, once I’ve gotten him warmed up. Just have to make sure that he doesn’t just plod behind another pony, since he does tend to switch off if that happens.

Not sure how long it’s going to last, but I intend to enjoy every minute of being back in the saddle.

Plus, I’ve learnt never to judge any breeds by how they look in the future!