Riding Freckles yesterday went much much better. I managed to keep him more forward, my hands were more independent, he was softer to my legs, and I generally had a better understanding of him. We weren't perfect, by any means, but we were way better. I felt there was much more of a connection between us and we worked together, as opposed to last week where we fought against each other as a result of my being-all-over-the-place. The big problem I noticed with myself this week was that I have developed a "chair seat." I've never had that problem before so I'm not sure what the issue is, as it can be a number of things. My guess is that I'm sitting too far back. The last time I rode was hunter-jumper, which is a more forward seat; your upper body is held about 20 degrees in front of 'the vertical' (the vertical being a theoretical vertical line drawn up from the middle of the saddle.) In dressage one rides at the vertical. So it's possible I'm just having a hard time finding my seat, over-compensating, and sitting too much on my pockets and thus causing my legs to fall forward. It could also be stirrup length, or the saddle. When I tried to fidget with my seat and bring my lower leg more underneath myself and identify the point of balance, I was met with a lot of resistance of some sort, like it was unnatural and my body couldn't hold it, so I also wonder if it may be partly that his saddle and I are not made for each other.
At the end of each lesson we walk around on a long rein to cool down for a while, maybe five to ten minutes. I always look forward to that part because the work is done and we get to relax, and I get to spend time with him just walking. He gets lots of pats and scratches on his withers then.
I'm not terribly sore today, which is a plus. It means the muscles are settling back into place. My lumbar is a bit stiff because we sat the trot a great deal yesterday. You wouldn't think that merely sitting up there would cause soreness-maybe on one's bottom, but not in ones core. I've only had a sore bottom from riding a few times, and it was always from sitting in a western saddle, I suppose because I've only sat in a western saddle a handful of times and am thus not used to it. But sitting the trot is a serious core workout, unless you want to bounce around like a maniac (in which case I imagine one would have a very tender bottom afterwards indeed.) The goal is to keep your butt in the seat at all times; no bouncing, contact must be maintained, you should never come up off the saddle. That's tricky and requires that you be both loose and relaxed as well as able to move your pelvis quick enough to absorb the shock and rise and fall with the horse's movement. I'm not master of this yet; when I focus on it and am relax I do just fine, but when we're asked, say, "sitting trot and shoulder-in" I become a bit tense as my mind shifts to focusing about the aids for shouldering in, and then before I know it I'm bouncing around and as rigid as a an oak board. And then I feel bad because I know all that jarring can't feel good on the horse's back. When someone sits the trot perfectly, it looks effortless, like they're relaxed and just plodding along (and then when you talk to them afterwards you notice they're out of breath and sweating.)
I came home afterwards feeling refreshed. Again the smell of horses lingering on me and filling me with both nostalgia and wholeness. It took me back to the days of spending weeks at my grandmother's house with my friend Rachel, waking up early every morning to walk down to the barn and do volunteer work. The days spent walking lines of ponies down trail with the little pony-campers aboard them, grooming, tacking, cleaning. Joking that Rachel and I would someday steal Killian (an old bay Morgan/TB mix), who was my favourite, and Freckles (the very same, who was no more than 3 or 4 at the time), who was her favourite, and run off with them. The wooden panels in my grandma's attic, all of the horse pictures we'd pinned up, the ancient cots we slept on, all of our grooming supplies and tack in old wooden crates. Summer evenings after volunteering spent at bluebanks digging up clay in the riverbed and making little sculptures, then tossing them back into the water. Finding old green copper bullet shells from the 1800's on the hillside from the shooting range that was once there. Lifting logs to find salamanders. Sitting in my grandmother's smoke-filled kitchen, listening to old stories, or her and my brother singing songs from my grandmother's childhood.
I once found a totally whole and intact bullet. A big, solid copper one, patina'd green and blue from sitting on the hill buried in leaves and dirt for so long. Someone missed their mark with it, I assume, as most of the ones we found were battered fragments, or smashed, after having hit something. I lost it in our house somewhere, years and years ago, and still don't have a clue where it is.
In a short while I came back to the present-day and the storm of stress and anxiety and depression washed over me. All of the work I need to do. All of my lack of confidence, doubt, confusion, anger, frustration, fear. Overwhelmed and wholly unhappy. The thought of all the work I need to do causes a feeling that I can only describe as all of my organs falling apart. I sit to work on my thesis and the physical symptoms of fear arise; heart racing, sweating, anxious, want of a cigarette, shaking. I've had a stomach ache for 6 days now, an awful one, coming and going as it pleases, at it's own choosing. Nothing feels good. Stuck in a deep, dark hole. Miserable to stay in, but too fearful to crawl out. I have not been this depressed in a long time.
This morning was the first morning in what seems like a long time that I'd woken up without a stomach ache plaguing me. I'm sitting here, still waking up, with my coffee and cigarettes, holding onto slivers of motivation and good-feelings. A talk with Joe last night helped, was reassuring.
I need to shut out the thoughts and just work, but it's a struggle. No longer do I even look forward to all of this being done; it feels impossible, it feels as though I am on the verge of falling short of the mark. I'm staring it in the face and yet I cannot reach it. I am afraid, terrified. Everything hurts.
But I have to keep going.