Force of Habit

I would wear my jods all day, everyday. On Tuesdays, I get dressed in my riding clothes directly, and do my day’s writing all geared up to go.

Yesterday, when I was putting on my socks, I realised that I am still wearing an ankle support on my left ankle.

Now: The Injury of 2010 involved my left calf, and my left Achilles. I think I had bought the support originally because I pranged my right ankle jumping Delilah. That event would have been at least four years ago. I guess, in the spirit of ‘every little bit helps’, I had switched ankles when I was hobbling around due to the left leg.

There I was yesterday, pulling it on without really thinking about it. There it was, in the pile of things I put on my feet [one pair of thin socks, one pair of thicker socks, little sock-let type things that I need so my feet don’t swim in the FitFlop boots I wear to the yard] — so I put it on my foot.

I am now wondering if it is superstition? I am superstitious. When I worked in theatre a bit in the 90s, hoo boy, that was like … that was like the most fertile ground ever in which to sow superstitious seeds.

When I began to ride Connell better, I remember the day everyone remarked upon the fact that he and I were going really well, and I said to the group at large, ‘This is now my lucky top’, a red rugby shirt I got in the airport in Toulouse. And I proceeded to wear it in every lesson through the winter, and up to the good weather two weeks ago.

There are forces of habit I am hoping I’m adopting, that have less to do with warding off uncontrollable outcomes or preserving the state in which everything goes well, and rather to do with, well, good riding. The main one is this thing that the instructors have been shouting from the ground for years, which, oh man, I’m going to write this and it going to sound like ‘Duh’, but when you jump a fence you should look where you are going next. That one time I jumped Reb 1.15 metres in the indoor, I was looking up at the ceiling.

But there are so many other things to look at: the back of the head of the horse, the fence itself. Or when you are trying to avoid looking at both of those things, you look at the top of the tree line, or the horse boxes lined up next to the arena, or the hills far, far away.

If you are becoming accustomed to jumping in shows, then you naturally begin to do this ‘looking where you are going’ thing. Several things happen. One is that you stop worrying about what the horse is doing, and therefore, he or she begins to do their thing — clearing fences — better. Since you have to begin to look where you are going next in the midst of the current jump, you completely forget about the fence you are jumping, and therefore interfere less with it, and the horse, and to some extent yourself. When you look down at a fence, it throws your weight off, because the head is heavy {4.5ish kgs} and because of this shift in weight, the horse is more likely to knock a pole.

Also, when you turn your head, you turn your spine, and your hips turn, and your outside leg exerts more pressure because of all the turning, and everything else being correct {your seat, your hands}, it is more likely that the horse will land on the correct lead, and will therefore allow you to forget about him even more, and to forget even more about your own self, and you can approach the next fence in excellent rhythm.

Yeah. When I did look where I was going last night in the lesson, all of the above totally worked! We landed on the correct lead, I sat even deeper in the saddle, I absolutely put that fraction more weight in the outside stirrup, we got a pretty good line into the fence, and over we went. And we even got the proper canter lead after that. That is like all the magic you are trying to invoke with all those superstitions, except that you are actually in control of what happens. Weird, right?

I don’t know if the ankle thing is doing anything, and I may ‘forget’ to put it on this Saturday. Or not — I mean, it’s not like it’s getting in the way or anything. But maybe. I don’t know. I may try and see what happens. And in all honesty, if I do leave it off, and the lesson is crap, I will be wearing it again on the following Tuesday. Because every little bit does help. Probably.

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