10 JANUARY, 2008 My first private lesson of the year!

I’d forgotten how hard they are.

It just you, you know? The sole focus, which is, of course, the whole point, but being the cynosure of the instructor’s eagle eye is as exhausting as the riding itself. Ruth is fantastic, and I did sign up for this, I know the benefit, but, damn, it’s hard.

And I had Rebel. But I was ready for him.

For the most part, we went along well. Right at the start, he did that thing where he wouldn’t go, and I sat back, as I now do, and did the thing all my instructors have been instructing me to do: I took the reins in my inside hand, and tapped him on the flank with my crop. And he bucked, and I flopped forward, but I didn’t give up, and we got going.

Circle after circle, serpentine after serpentine, we went and went, and I could hear my breath whistling out of my nose, out of my mouth. Surely I’m fitter than this? But there was no one else making noise to cover up my tuneful breathing. I breathed deeper. We circled again.

The cantering didn’t transition as well as it had with Delilah, and I’m getting it, I guess, that I can only do so much. Such a great lesson for a perennial perfectionist! Reb started playing up again, and Ruth asked me did I want to use a long whip.

Ah ha. I could keep the contact on the bit, and with a flick of my wrist, give him a boost on the flank. Now, that was something. I fumbled the thing at the first rein change, but sorted it out eventually. It was just the kind of encouragement that Rebel seemed to respect. But it did pose problems of it own.

A canter on the left rein, and it’s fast. I’ve got Rebel so far out on the track that the toe of my offside boot scrapes the wall. Ruth calls for the transition to trot, but I can’t seem to get it. And then I find myself in my personal hell: Rebel won’t stop, I’m not doing it right, instructions are coming thick and fast, nothing’s working, I can’t make him stop, I’m not afraid, but I’m feeling stunned, I’m sure my face is frozen in a mask of confoundedness, and it’s the whip, it’s the whip, Ruth is saying it’s the whip, I keep tickling him with the whip— I hold it out perpendicular to us both, I pull on the reins, finally sit back, and we trot.

I’m breathless thinking it about it again. On and on we cantered, and I couldn’t make it stop. Again, I wasn’t afraid— but I was engaging in something worse than fear, that brand of self-loathing that bubbles up when I’m not doing something right.

More circles, more serpentines, more cantering, I’m struggling with the stupid whip, which has now become my salvation and my nemesis. We kept on, and once again, towards the end [would it ever end?] he balked, and I sat back immediately, put the legs on, and when he started to buck, rapped him smartly on the flanks and off he went and I shouted, ‘Gotcha, mister! How about that! Gotcha!’ and Ruth called out the next move— another serpentine— through laughter.

Not bad, all in all. Except for the part at the end in which Ruth discoursed on the fact that I really need to shorten the reins. I opened my mouth— But in Spain!— and promptly closed it. I was home again, and no matter what else I learned, I can’t forget that the rein business is different everywhere.