Thanks, Coach

This story's actually a Fourth Line Frolics from about four years ago. We've come a long way since then, with addictive 'light bulb moments' happening every week.

A TRIBUTE TO MY COACH

“Your goal is to get her onto a transition bit. That’s what we’re working towards,” says my coach, as if she’s trying to sort out in her head all of the goals of all of the students she’s dealing with on a regular basis. “Have we done any trail work?” 
 
“Last week, up on the hill,” I answer. It wasn’t something I really want to remember, tripping over poles at the jog and lope, not really sure what we were supposed to be doing but trusting that it was all part of a grand plan that she had laid out in her mind for us.
 
“That’s right. We’ll do some more of that next time.” Great. I hope we remember to pick up our feet next time.
 
It’s raining for the first time in weeks so we’re in the arena for our lesson. My coach doesn’t understand what a treat it is to work inside for me, not having to think about the footing. 
 
“You have to have an arena to compete for the lesson crowd now. They’re not as tough as they used to be. I remember giving kids lessons outside in snowstorms so bad you had to squint to see them across the arena.” It sounded a little like that ‘had to walk uphill both ways to school’ story, but with her, you knew it was true. 
 
“Okay, What have you been working on?” she asks.
 
“We’ve been doing a lot of walk-trot transitions,  and I’ve also given up on counting sheep to put me to sleep. Now I count trot strides. Rhythm. One, Two, One, Two. I’m asleep in no time.” She doesn’t respond to my humour: either she’s not listening, thinking about what she wants to put me through today, or it just wasn’t funny. 
 
“Oh, and Tatti and I have been working through a few issues since she bucked me off in a corn field a few weeks ago.” That got her attention. “It was my own fault: we got playing around and having a little too much fun, galloping through the corn.” I thought I saw a little smirk. The ‘incident’ had actually happened three days before my last lesson but I was too embarrassed to tell her then. She did notice that I was stiff through my right hip at the time but I couldn’t bring myself to tell her why. I’ve still got a bruise and a knot in my calf muscle the size of an egg. 
 
“Okay, get her warmed up,” she says as we walk large circles around the arena. We work away from the wall so that my outside leg has to work: if we’re on the rail the horse will just lean on it for support and you’ll never get that outside leg to work effectively. 
 
“Do a few figure 8’s at the walk.” She had tried to explain in a previous lesson that there needed to be a ‘flat bit’ in the middle of the figure 8, a part where you went straight before you bend the other way. It seemed like a reasonable idea at the time but it wasn’t until today that I actually got it. 
 
We’re only walking but I can sense her excitement to see things starting to come together, pieces of the puzzle that have definite shapes and colours to her but for me are only sky. I can feel it too; it was only a few strides but it was a deliberate bend into a deliberate straight section into a deliberate bend the other way.
 
Okay, no time to enjoy that feeling too much, on to the next exercise. We go into serpentines at the trot and jog. She asks me to do a posting trot across the arena then a jog around the bend. 
 
“Where’s your outside leg?” If I only had a loonie for every time I heard that in the lesson. I checked and, as usual, my outside leg was nowhere to be found. Useless. Tatti was showing it with her hind end drifting along behind us like a caboose off the rails.
 
The next exercise put us along the arena wall, on an inside track, which is about eight feet from the boards. “We’re getting into some training now. Not just riding a finished horse.” She starts barking orders: “Walk. Stop. Use an opening rein to turn her 90 degrees. Close your outside leg on her to turn her another 90 degrees. CANTER.” 
 
Whah!? We try. It’s sad.

“I surprised you with that one, didn’t I?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Okay, let’s do it again. Where’s your outside leg?” Blank stare. I have no idea. She may as well be talking to the dog, but I trust her. 
 
I’m still seeing that endless blue sky but there are a few different shades of blue now subtly creeping into the puzzle. We try the last exercise a few more times with a bit more success. I trust her when she says that all good things will come easily when the foundation work is done, but not before.
 

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