First Riding Lesson - Pt. 2

First Riding Lesson, Part II

Aeia watches the apprentices move around the ring, their mounts ambling forward with an ambivalent air. "Your runners are beginning to look bored," she quips. "I think it might be time to start something a little more challenging."

She moves to one end of the ring, where the leader of the line is just coming around the turn. "When you finish the turn," she instructs, "I want you to turn across the ring and go straight over to the other side. Keep yourself perpendicular to the axle going down the long way." The first apprentice does as she asks, but he pulls Cokah's head around too sharply, and has to overcorrect. "Don't pull her so hard," Aeia comments. "Just a little pressure. Look where you want to go. Your body position will help communicate the turn." She notices a few others behind the leader cutting the corner. "Don't turn until you reach the same point where he turned," she says, and is pleased to see the next one taking her advice.

By now, the first rider is reaching the other side. "When you get there, I want you to turn right . Before, you were going around to the left . You're effectively changing direction." As soon as the first rider is back on the rail, though, she speaks again: "Move off the rail again, and head back across. Keep yourself straight…" To Misty's rider, she admonishes, "Don't cut that corner!" Finally, as the first rider reaches the side again, she says, "Now track left again, and you'll all notice by now that the figure you're making is a serpentine shape, snaking back and forth across the ring. Leader, I think you know what I want you to do now." She is answered by a grim expression as the apprentice pulls Cokah around another turn and back across the ring, this time concentrating harder and not going too far. "This is a great steering exercise for beginners, as well as a good warmup exercise for more advanced riders. Leader, please go around the end of the ring when you get back to the rail, and then come back up the ring with the same figure. Not surprisingly, this is called a serpentine."

Aeia watches the completion of the figure, correcting some mistakes here and there; she mostly critiques the turning methods of the inexperienced riders, who are pulling their runners' head around as they try to execute the tight turns; only a little pressure on the rein is needed, she asserts.

"If you want them to stay all of the way out on the rail and not cut the corners, don't give up your outside rein. Don't let it go slack or you're just pulling them in. Also, runners are trained to move away from pressure, or to move in some way to lessen the pressure; if you press with both legs, they move forward. If you press with one, they move over, away from that leg. Use the leg on the inside of the turn to push the runner out to the railing.

"All right, you seem to have this under control, so everyone just snake out to the rail now and track left like you were at the beginning. That's right, keep your left side towards me as you go around." The students file around as she instructs, and eventually they're all in one file again. When they reach the end, she asks them to stop. "All right, halt, everyone."

Aeia waits for everyone to slow and stop. "Now you're ready to try a trot," she says, smiling. "Cokah, keep going. I want you to give her some leg - just a good squeeze, no kicking is required - and see if she'll move forward into a trot." The Apprentice does as she asks, and Cokah begins to pick her feet up, and then she moves forward into a trot. The poor Apprentice begins to bounce wildly, and he pulls her to a hasty halt.

"Hard to keep your seat, isn't it?" asks Aeia, and the Apprentice nods. "It gets easier when you're more experienced. A trotting runner with an inexperienced rider on its back is a lot like a jogging human with a backpack; the bouncing can get nasty for both. We do have a way of compensating, however, and that involves something called posting .

"To post, you move yourself with the beat of the runner's gait. Trying to keep your lower leg still, you push your pelvis forward so your butt rises up out of the saddle. Since the gait involves moving one diagonal pair of legs, then the other, you choose one diagonal and move with it. The diagonal you want is the one involving the outside foreleg. Everyone start walking again." She waits for them to comply. "Now look down right now at the shoulder of your runner that is closest to the rail. Notice how the shoulder moves forward as the leg moves forward? This is your cue. You want to move forward and back with this shoulder.

Everyone try this. Start moving with that shoulder - up, down, up down… It's a bit harder at the walk, since there isn't that bounce to throw you forward a bit, but I want you to get the feel of it. That's great, but Firefly's rider needs to watch the rhythm; you're a bit fast. All right, good… Very good.

"Everybody stop again, except for Cokah. Don't make that face; I'm not picking on you in particular on purpose. Okay, I want you to move forward into the trot again, and this time post. Sit for a couple of beats and watch her shoulder, then move with it." The Apprentice complies, and Cokah moves into a trot, this time with a posting rider. "Okay, feel her rhythm. Up, down, up, down, up, down… Exactly! Just don't pull on the reins when you go up. Try to keep your hands still. Up, down, up, down, up, down…. Okay, good, you can slow her down now. Stop posting, lean back, and give a little pressure on the reins. Good, good. Park her behind the others, and let's give someone else a try."

Aeia continues with the rest of the group, giving pointers as she goes along. For one person, she reminds her to concentrate on moving her hips forward and up, and not just standing up in the saddle. For another, she reminds him not to hunch too badly, and to keep those shoulders back. With another, she repeats her warning about keeping the hands still.

"Overall," she concludes, "you've all done very well. Congratulations! This is the end of your first riding lesson."

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