In Which My Stirrups Take a Vacation.


Another fun dressage lesson this weekend. Or perhaps should I say “fun.” One of my worst habits in dressage is holding my leg tighter than a photo finish and jamming heels down like my life depends on it. Old hunter habits die hard, yo. Plus, I’m an anxious anxiety-filled crazy person in general who could be a one-woman diamond factory. So, this week’s lesson was no different than usual as I was trotting along in a circle.

Nicky: “Wendy, relax your leg.”

Me: :: trying so hard to relax::

Nicky: “Let that leg loosen and hang.”

::: crickets:::

Nicky: “TIME TO DIE.”

OK, maybe she didn’t say that. Perhaps she just said, “Stop and cross your stirrups.”

And then it was like when Alderaan blew up in Star Wars. As if millions of voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. My leg was going to hang there if it killed me. I began to bargain for my life, or at least bargained for not having to free-leg it when it came time to canter.

We began at the walk, and we had to coax my leg into actually hanging and try to have that toe pointing even down instead of up. I was told to imagine I am one of those Native Americans from one of the old Western movies, flying around bareback on a paint horse with legs loosey goosey.

“OK, well I’m a 1/16th Cherokee. Maybe I can channel that…”

Progressed to the sitting trot, and sweet Olls tried to help me out with his best impression of a Western jog. That did not fly, and we had to step it up a notch to something that at least halfway resembled an English-discipline gait. Rats. I broke down and told Nicky I hated her and that she was the meanest person on Earth.

Nicky soon told me that my seat was actually not so bad, and I didn’t believe her. I felt all floppy, but apparently it just felt foreign for my body to, you know, BE IN THE RIGHT PLACE. She took a short video to show me now not-so-bad I looked.

OK, so I don’t look perfect, but not as floppy as I thought. And I was actually upright, since I had to be to not fall off… I felt like a real dressage rider! FANCY.

So by this time, my hip adductors were ON FIRE, and Nicky allowed me to return to the land of the living.

“But if I catch you tightening that leg, those stirrups get dropped again.”

I resolved to try the hardest I’ve ever tried in all my life in any lesson or any task I’ve ever done, horsey or not. I was not about to canter without stirrups! No likey. So I tried, and I tried and I tried. And we got a GORGEOUS trot at one point, too.

“THERE is your ‘8’ trot!! Do THIS trot all the time.”

I swear I could feel Ollie puff up with pride. Give him something to think about, and he really will try hard to do what you ask. Usually, the problem is in my asking. I’m not a good supervisor, but I’m getting better.

I was told to cross my stirrups again and I almost got on the ground and kicked like a toddler having a tantrum. But it was apparently just to end on a nice sitting trot and then cool-out walk without stirrups, for “muscle memory.”  I am skeptical. I think it was more for “torture.” Or “entertainment value.” Or “middle finger aimed at Wendy.”

But it was a great lesson, and my leg was actually managing to stay in the correct spot and without being all clingy and needy and heel-jammy. It’s now two days later, and my legs are still on fire, though. With every step I take, that pang of pain in my legs is bringing back that visual of the Cherokee flying around bareback on a paint pony. I think I need a new name. I think I shall now be called “Stirrupless Sitting Bullshit.” Or something like that.