Very recently I asked the ladies on a very helpful Facebook page how long it would take before side saddle would feel ‘normal’. There was a reason behind this question as my first side saddle showing class was just over a week away and I was at the time trotting like a drunk on a bouncy castle.
I always said I wanted to show side saddle. About six months ago a talented horse came into my life and I thought maybe just maybe someday we would give it a go. It happened a bit sooner than I imagined. I did a showing clinic a while back that gave us the chance to try a side saddle on the horse and despite never doing it before she did not mind it at all. This, for a horse that does not like hoofoil being applied, was an achievement in itself. I thought afterwards if only I had a saddle we could do this. Then thanks to some amazing ladies I was unexpectedly offered the use of a saddle and a habit and suddenly there was no excuse. I did side saddle camp and learned a lot. I’d only ridden aside three times and only once on this horse before and went from being unable to trot properly to jumping cross country in a day. However I still needed to learn a lot more and to rack up some hours in the saddle to make it become more natural and instinctive and less terrifying ( both for me riding and the people watching!).
I realised last week the only thing between me and success was me. Eek. God this suddenly felt very adult and real. It is an awful time in life when you realise success won’t just fall from the sky because you really want something (sorry folks those kids movies lied to us). It was time to make myself or break myself. So I decided to ride all week in the side saddle in group lessons in the yard and to do everything the astride riders did until it either clicked or I gave in. Let’s just say I made a lot of mistakes and learned (sometimes painfully!)from them all. In my innocence one day I rode the horse aside in one lesson and another horse astride in another right after and then rode a pony astride cross country. The next day my legs screamed abuse at me and my thigh muscle in one leg went from under me while carrying the saddle. I walked around the office that day like I was a hundred years old. I figured I would keep going and hopefully it would all loosen itself out. It did. I bruise like a peach and caused bruises of unknown origin on my legs, ass and arms. As I trotted in group lessons I felt my stomach muscles curse me while I was trying to ‘engage my core’ whilst enduring the mares massive trot and mentally shouted at myself to suck it up and keep going. We did 20m circles, 10m circles and bending and I realised I ride better on the right rein aside than I do astride. So did my instructor. I realised the other day my right calf is about two inches wider then my left thanks to using new muscles and wondered will I ever wear a dress again. I padded the pommel of the side saddle too high another day and as a result climbed the horses neck like a koala and almost hit the deck in canter. I realised your face should never be that close to your knee. I terrified the yard owner jumping small fences at speed. I used more voltarol than I ever have in my life and stuck each heel up on the mantelpiece in the evening to stretch out my legs and my poor hamstrings and calves. I worked my arm muscles carrying the saddle. I creased myself trying to mount from a block and learned how the safety bar works in the process. I walked, rode and drove telling myself constantly to shoved my disobedient thanks to scoliosis right shoulder back. I told the horse she was a star to put up with me.
Sunday came and I was as nervous and hyper as a child at a theme park. I ate chocolate for breakfast and lunch (Cadburys marvellous creations, the pink one, I have eaten my own weight in this stuff) and stressed about anything and everything. The showing classes went fast and it was only thanks to amazing friends I got up on the horse in time. A friend got an impromptu lesson in fixing habits. I trotted up to the ring at speed like a demented highway man. I realised the girth was too lose and frantically shoved my hands under the saddle flap to tighten it and cursed the mare for always blowing out. I felt sick and warm and anxious and I looked up and saw a friend on her mare just beside me in the ring, I went in. It happened – it clicked. Suddenly it all made sense my brain understood where my legs were my body did what I asked and my legs stayed put! We rode as a group and did a show piece. Trot, canter, halt, extensions, rein back -the horse did it all. It was a very small class but we won! I’d planned to do the championship in my lightweight hunter attire as I was feeling petrified that morning at the thought of doing a championship side saddle (who wants to be the girl who was last seen riding uncontrollably into the distance falling off sideways). I knew though at that stage we could do it. My friend and I headed in on our mares side saddle among all the horses placed first and second that day and we had a ball. To top it off my wonderful mare was called out as champion. I headed up with the reserve champ to the derby field and did something I never thought I would do – I came up the long side and wow did we gallop and you know what? It didn’t feel wobbly or unbalanced or out of control. I was sat aside on the best horse there is with a sash around her neck and the wind in my face and it felt pretty damn good.
Who knows how it will go at the next show or if we will ever have another day like yesterday. I have a lot more to learn. All I can say is it won’t be for the lack of trying!