Saturday, October 3, 2009

Riding Solo

I had the barn and arena to myself yesterday. It's a mixed blessing. Part of the joy of riding is hanging out with the friends one makes at the barn. On the other hand, sometimes it's nice to have access to the entire arena. Being alone at the barn does have a certain hazard level, since there's no immediate help if anything goes wrong. But I also find I'm a little more relaxed without an audience or adapting to the traffic flow.

It doesn't matter where I board nor who the resident trainer is -- I've always felt a little tense sharing the arena with the pro. I imagine the trainer is rolling her or his eyes at my riding and thinking "What a nice horse, too bad the rider isn't better." Now realistically, the trainer is involved in the horse being ridden or the lesson in progress and isn't paying much attention to me. But I can't help but feel inadequate in the presence of the pro. So my relaxation factor goes up when I have the arena to myself, silly as that is.

Then there is Phantom's Mixmaster canter and my Ugly Sitting Trot. Takes awhile to get Phantom settled into a canter, especially on the right lead. Ditto for me to get my act together for the sitting trot. An audience of any kind during the unattractive phase of these activities adds a level of tension that is counterproductive. So once again it's kind of nice to be alone in the arena. Never mind that the other boarders are involved with their own riding issues.

The best part of riding solo is the opportunity to ride a variety of patterns at will. I have a frequent warm-up pattern of riding up the center line and making left and right circles to the rail and back as we progress down the center line. I often fall back on what I call the loop-and-circle pattern used by Sue Sherry in the clinics I took from her. Basically I work along one long side of the arena and at each end I loop back toward the long wall. At the center point I make a 10 or 20 meter circle. This was a good exercise to get both Phantom and I relaxed into a pattern and gradually loosening up for the changes in bend. My corner-X-corner pattern is a subtle method to work into lateral work. Generally I sit the trot and work on changes in bend from the corner, to the center line at X and the next corner. Another pattern I use to work on bend are 10 meter circles within a 20 meter circle. When riding alone in the arena I can ride whatever pattern we need at the time, as well as throw in some serpentines or whatever else I think will get us where we need to be.

If you've ever had to share the arena with an "Arena Hog" or boarded at a multi-use facility -- you really appreciate having the whole arena to yourself. Every so often you encounter the fellow boarder or trainer who has absolutely no consideration for other riders. Whether out of ignorance, extreme absorption in his/her ride, or just plain arrogance, this person thinks they should have the right-of-way at all times. At multi-use barns there can be jumps and/or trail obstacles left in the arena, western riders suddenly executing a sliding stop immediately in front of you, and gaited horses coming up behind you with rattling ankle chains. There were the cowboy polo team members who tied their horses along the rail until the arena was theirs, leaving the boarders to ride around the horse butts. And the little "hellions" racing around the arena on their shaggy ponies before their parents began their evening of team penning. Also the group lesson students awaiting their turn to jump who completely blocked the rail. My favorites: everyone kicked out of the huge show arena because a single boarder was getting a private lesson from Big Name Trainer, and closing the arena for motocross competitions!

So riding solo can be an occasional treat. But gosh, I missed my barn buddies.


Nan said...

In surfing the net I found your blog. I'd just come in from a wonderful morning riding my horse Flash on our usual solo trail ride in the woods behind my place. It was a perfect day, sunny, not too warm (I'm in Virginia) and only slightly breezy, justenough to keep the flies away. This always relaxes me and puts me in the mood for writing. I write children's horse stories and finally after all these years (retired teacher) I am published. In fact just had my first book signing last night! Yet in all the turmoil of the book coming out I must remember to keep focusing on my current manuscript, another sequel to the first.
I always felt uncomfortable when I had to ride in a crowded ring, especially at horse shows so I admire your perseversance. I always disliked crowded rings but did enjoy those few moments of peace when I could ride alone or with a couple of friends so I know what you mean.
BTW I was just in Portland over the summer. Lovely country. We were blessed with great weather, too.

wilsonc said...

I know exactly what you mean Mary! It's always nice to have company at the barn, but not to much company :) I don't mind getting the arena to myself either. Nice now that we have two! Hope to see you this week, but company is coming in on Thursday and Wednesday is dance class, so we'll see.