Day Trips4th April 2015

Horse Riding - Exhilarating and Deaf Friendly

Learning to ride proved to be great fun and deaf friendly

by Sarah Lawrence

As a young daredevil growing up, I was willing to try almost anything and I was certainly not going to let being Deaf stop me from doing things my hearing friends were doing. One of the activities I tried when young was horse riding. It was a while ago, about 30 years I think, and whilst I know I enjoyed it, when my children bought me a riding lesson for my birthday a fortnight ago, I must confess to being a little nervous about it. I'm the same daredevil, just age has made me a little more aware of danger.

Arriving at the stables my heart was pounding. This was a proper riding stables, not just a pony trekking club and I knew I would be getting up onto a decent sized horse. My daughter was all excitement and smiles as she led me to the stable where my mount Molly was lurking in the darkness, munching on some straw. Already saddled, I was asked to go inside the small stable to say hello to Molly. "Don't show her you are nervous mind", my daughter chimed helpfully, "She will be able to tell!" 

The saddle was the same height as my head so I knew just how high I would be sitting, but I boldly entered with fingers secretly crossed, hoping that Molly would not 'sense' my nervousness. Gently patting her on the neck, I made eye contact and I saw knowledge and understanding in that dark soleful look - Molly was going to be alright.

Standing at over 15 hands, (4 inches to a hand), and with a lovely dark chestnut coat, Molly was led out of her stable over to the mounting steps. Standing magnificently waiting for her rider to jump on board, I hoped silently to myself that she could tell I was a novice and was prepared to look after me.

"Put your left foot in the stirrup and then throw your leg over," my daughter invited me. With Molly rooted expertly to the spot, and without thinking about it, I did as told, and in a moment I was aboard, sitting deep into the saddle in the hope that would help me stay on board. I remembered that horses move through leg movement, so I sat rod-still, feeling a long way up, and vulnerable!

Led into an indoor training arena, I met my coach Kath, an experienced riding instructor who had been running the stables for 16 years. Kath knew I was Deaf, but that fact did not faze her at all, she was relaxed, personable and helpful, with a fantastic attitude from the get-go.

Whilst Kath spoke her instructions, she also 'showed' me all the way through the lesson. To start off with, she showed me how to get Molly to walk under my instruction, with gentle nudges to her rib cage. Molly walked under my non-verbal command and I quickly learned how to get her to stop using my seated position and pulling gently on the reigns.

After the first lap, I was invited to do some stretches whilst in the saddle. Bending forwards, sideways, backwards, standing and sitting, I did my gymnastics in the saddle whilst Molly stood patiently observing this spectacle. Already feeling the exertion on my legs, Kath quickly had us walking again, this time concentrating on the position of my legs, how to hold the reigns and my posture. Despite this quite technical advice, by showing me, I was able to follow the instructions easily and in no time at all I felt comfortable in the saddle.

Happy with my progress, we progressed quickly from a walk to a trot. This is a bit more of a challenge, because when trotting the backside of the horse rises quite a lot and you have to move up and down with it. Come down when the horse's backside is rising and it is like driving over a cobbled street in a car without suspension, jaw-rattling, so I concentrated hard to get this right.

When invited, I kicked my heels into Molly to give her the sign to trot. Slowly, she gathered herself and I could feel the energy level rise underneath me as she moved her bulk into 2nd gear and quickened into her slow and deliberate trot. You certainly understand the term 'horse-power' when you are riding like this. Doing my best to move up and down in unison with Molly, the movement from sitting to standing in the stirrups is both exhilarating and exhausting, using leg muscles that have gone soft from years at my computer desk.

Absolutely loving the experience, and still using 'show' as well as 'tell', my wonderful instructor got me steering Molly through a slalom course at the walk, and then at a trot, Molly instantly responding to my signs to go from walk to trot and to turn left, right, stop and turn. I felt in complete control using these unfamiliar signs to me, but very familiar signs to this lovely horse.

My hour in the saddle flew by and it must be one of the most enjoyable hours I have spent in donkey's years. My instructor was certainly Deaf friendly and whether she always teaches like that or adapted for me I don't know, but it was excellent. I don't feel I missed a single instruction or bit of advice. My mount Molly responded excellently to my signs, this beautiful horse empowering me in the saddle by acknowledging my signs and reacting to them.

I dismounted at the end of the session relieved to get my feet back on to firm ground but smiling broadly with enjoyment and satisfaction. With tired leg muscles, I walked a few steps like John Wayne after a day in the saddle, but I was soon back to normal and making plans for my return. It rerally was great fun!

Thank-you Charlotte and Tom, a lovely deaf friendly birthday present! 

Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Entertainment / Day Trips

4th April 2015