Over the last bank holiday weekend I was lucky to be invited down to Devon with some friends to spend the weekend riding. Before surgery I had ridden on and off for years, either having a pony on part loan (sharing it), or riding friends’ horses. As with most other things, I was slightly dubious about my first time riding but was quite confident that it would be fine because the riding was at a place that these friends absolutely rave about and adore (and quite rightly so), so I knew I was in safe hands.
I was given a lovely pony to ride called Dakota and hopped up. No problems there. Getting my foot into the stirrup was a bit of an issue because I don’t have the control over my foot to turn my foot inwards to hook it into the stirrup. My solution to this was to either grab the stirrup and jab my foot around until it goes in, or to grab my foot and steer it in that way. We attached the GoPro to Elizabeth’s riding hat to film any of the potentially exciting events that might have occurred over the following hour and then we walked off up the road. Good, I thought to myself, I haven’t fallen off yet. All I had to do was survive the next hour in the same manner…
About half way along the lane, someone asked if there was a reason we weren’t trotting. Everyone looked at me. I shrugged and said nope, let’s do it. So off we trotted. I am pleased to say that it wasn’t an overly traumatic experience and although my leg was a bit all over the place, I felt relatively balanced.
A little further on we had our second trot, but this time up a rather steep hill. Now I had never been to Devon prior to this trip and had no idea that it was mountainous… (Any hope for cycling or running whilst in Devon rapidly went out the window with this discovery.) Riding up hill on a horse is easy because they do all the work, right? Wrong. I felt like there were all sorts of forces acting on me and affecting my rising trot and this time my leg really was all over the place. However it was all fairly uneventful and by the end of the ride I was beginning to enjoy it (!). We even had a little canter along an enclosed (=safe) path, which felt fine legwise because really you’re using your body and thighs, rather than lower legs.
Sadly the photographer we enlisted on this ride wasn’t really up to scratch and was promptly removed from that duty.
A different Andrews sister was given a chance to show us her skills the next day and was far more proficient (at turning the camera on and pressing film, not the most taxing of tasks) and we realised that putting the camera on the hat facing behind would mean that there was no faffing with turning around and trying to film. We had an issue with hair bouncing around in the video initially, before realising it had to be tied up out of the way, but it is all a big learning curve…
The next day we went out and had a good charge around the moors, which was utterly fantastic. It is an indescribable feeling, being on such a powerful animal and moving at such speed. It’s not a nice one when you’re scared, but when you have total confidence in the horse and feel safe, it’s incredible. Barring my foot coming out of the stirrup once whilst cantering, there were no hair raising moments, and that time I was lucky to be on a track, rather than the open moors, meaning we could very easily stop and get my foot back in. However, the horses were so beautifully behaved that it wouldn’t really have been a problem either way.
Keeping my foot in the right place in the stirrup was my main issue. I just don’t have the same control over it, similar to cycling where my leg often smashes off the pedal with the bar between my foot and socket smacking into it (not a nice sound), but with riding this is a problem because my foot often gets jammed quite far into the stirrup, so if I were to fall off and my foot didn’t slide out I could get dragged by the horse. Both of the ponies I rode during this weekend had safety stirrups on their saddles, so if I fell, the stirrups would break or pop open, depending on the mechanism, and my foot would be free. After having a go and figuring out that this was the main problem, I ordered a toe cage for the stirrup to stop it going in too far, thus reducing the risk of it getting stuck in. There were some rather lovely pink ones that I found, obviously I ordered them immediately, but received a devastating email the next day saying that they had been advertised incorrectly and they only had adults sized ones in black, none in pink. The search continues…
The next day I joined a lesson which was great and really showed me what I need to work on, whilst simultaneously giving me a glimmer of hope that riding well is riding well, and whether or not you have legs is irrelevant.
I’d overestimated the importance of having a lower leg for riding, and I might not be great, but I can still do this and enjoy it as much as ever:
A huge thank you to the Andrews clan and to Michelle at Sparhanger Equestrian Centre for making it possible!