I push through the pain and ride without stirrups.

I push through the pain and ride without stirrups.

Well, it finally happened. Despite some moaning and groaning in the past about how I was getting too old for riding, this week I felt it for real for the very first time. And I blame it all squarely on whomever the evil soul was who came up with the idea of No Stirrups November. Okay, to be fair, my own stupidity probably played a small role as well.

After a break last weekend while I was living it up at the Royal Winter Fair, this week I thought I’d push the limits on what I could do without stirrups. I started off as usual at a nice walk. Or as nice as Luc is willing to give in the arena. That means lots and lots and lots of leg to keep him actually moving.

Following the longer than usual warm-up (it was cold, and I was putting off the hard work ahead), I picked up the trot. Rising trot. Why? Because I thought it would be good for me to work on my leg strength. Several laps around the arena in each direction and my legs were on fire. It didn’t help that Luc was of the opinion that I needed to work three times as hard as usual just to keep him from breaking gait.

Then I did a little sitting trot, mostly because I didn’t think my thighs could take too much more. We did some lateral work and tried to work on suppleness. I followed that up with some work over a few poles that were already set up.

Because I truly am a glutton for punishment I had the brilliant idea to try a little two-point without stirrups. I think I lasted about five seconds, 10 if I’m being generous. My legs felt completely like rubber at this point. But I pushed past that and decided to do a little jumping. It’s been a while since I’ve jumped but the fences were small, smaller than a cavaletti, so I wasn’t too concerned about it.

Perhaps I should have been. They were so small that Luc didn’t really deign to jump them. Sure, we went from one side to the other – over not around – but he put in absolutely no effort. Do you know how hard it is to keep your position, especially without stirrups, when your horse doesn’t really jump with any kind of form? Instead of him jumping up to meet me, he just kind of flopped himself over, and it took all my strength not to just flop right onto his neck.

We jumped the x-rail and vertical a few times. I even put together a mini-course by combining them together in various combinations. You won’t be seeing any photos of that though. It was a toss-up whose form over the fences was worse – mine or Luc’s! And that’s not really what I want splashed all over the internet.

Luc and I stop to smell the flowers after a hard ride (for me, not him!).

Luc and I stop to smell the flowers after a hard ride (for me, not him!).

After wrapping up our jumping, if you could even really call it that, I cooled Luc out. I rode for more than 40 minutes without stirrups in all – and I could already feel it before I even got off. The pain in my legs, which protested pretty much everything I did the rest of the day, got progressively worse. That might have something to do with the fact that I spent the rest of the day walking about doing other things with very few breaks.

But by the time the next day rolled around, I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. My entire body was stiff and sore. More so than when I had my first fall in a decade this summer. I think I may have overdone it just a bit. Looks like I must have been stiffer than I thought in the saddle. I’ll need to work a lot more on relaxing the tension from my body when I don’t have stirrups.

Despite the immense discomfort I’m currently in, I do have to clarify that no, I don’t actually think I’m getting too old to ride. In my mind there’s no such thing as I’ve seen so many stories of people in their 80s and even 90s enjoying time in the saddle. What I really think is that I’m too rusty to be riding like I did when I was 16. My muscles aren’t used to the workload. Back then I rode almost daily, sometimes more than once. Now I ride once a week. Just a bit of a difference in fitness level there.

I’d love to say that I’ll be a little wiser next time, but I know all too well that I won’t be. I’m already planning to work regularly this winter without stirrups (provided Luc’s brain can handle being inside the arena all winter). I’m also going to re-evaluate my fitness program out of the saddle and see what I can be doing to strengthen my muscles. Anyone have any ideas?