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WhyAllLeftIsn'tRight-horseandriderbooks

Who didn’t learn it that way? One of the very first lesson we all absorb as tiny horse-crazy tots is to approach and handle the horse from the left side. I once went on a dude ride (no really, it’s true) and the four things that were explained to all the tourists in tennis shoes before they got on were whoa, go, “don’t let him eat on the trail,” and “lead him from the left.”

In her new book TRAINING AND RETRAINING HORSES THE TELLINGTON WAY, legendary horsewoman Linda Tellington-Jones counters this traditional lesson in basic equestrianism, arguing for ambidexterity on the part of both horse and handler.

 

Why All Left Isn’t Right

Why is it considered “correct” to lead a horse from the left? Anyone who has gone through Pony Club or 4-H knows that leading a horse from the “far” or right side is considered incorrect.

HandleYourHorsefromBothSides-horseandriderbooksHorses are to be handled primarily from the “near” or left side. Unfortunately, this leftover military tradition is not particularly useful for your horse’s overall straightness, flexibility, and balance. Leading horses from the left originated from the righthand dominant military tradition of having the sword scabbard on the left side of the body. Leading and mounting horses from the left side meant that the sword was not in the way.

The result is that many horses are very one-sided and have a difficult time stopping without a left bend, or they might not be able to be led from the right at all. This tendency can be seen in unhandled foals, as they mimic their dam’s posture, and is reinforced as they are primarily handled from the left side. Horses that rush on the lead will generally be turned in a circle as a way to slow them down, which increases imbalance to the left and often results in a tendency to drop the left shoulder and fall toward the handler.

Practicing leading and handling from both sides will go a long way to improve overall balance in posture and mentally accustom your horse to having a person on either side. It is also an excellent non-habitual exercise for handlers who, more often than not, are much less comfortable leading from the right.

 

World-renowned equine expert Linda Tellington-Jones’ healing equine bodywork and innovative training methods have revolutionized the horse training landscape over the last 50 years. Her unique blend of hands-on TTouch (a collection of circles, lifts, and slides done with the hands over various parts of the horse’s body), combined with humane groundwork and under-saddle exercises, has helped solve training and behavioral problems for horses of every breed, every discipline, every age, and all levels. In TRAINING AND RETRAINING HORSES THE TELLINGTON WAY she presents a thoughtful recipe for starting the young horse without stress, helping to establish the very best beginning, in hand and under saddle. Unfortunately, not all horses have the benefit of the right foundation, which can lead to misunderstanding, mistreatment, and unhappiness for both human and horse. With this in mind, Tellington-Jones also curates her own experience working with older horses ready for a second chance at life, providing the necessary tools for filling in training “holes” and reconfirming lessons that may have been poorly taught or forgotten. The result is book with all the right ingredients and its heart in the right place: Whether starting right or starting over, Tellington-Jones’s field-tested, compassionate answers are an excellent way to find connection while ensuring the horse a lifetime of success in the company of humans.

TRAINING AND RETRAINING HORSES THE TELLINGTON WAY is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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ItsNotJustAbouttheRibbons-horseandriderbooks

Art by Beth Preston from It’s Not Just About the Ribbons by Jane Savoie.

Collection—what it is and what it isn’t—is regularly debated in most horsey circles. While there is a tendency to segregate ourselves by discipline, the truth is, the base philosophy should really be the same, whatever saddle you ride in or sport you pursue.

In her bestselling reference DRESSAGE 101, renowned dressage coach and motivational speaker Jane Savoie provides down-to-earth discussion around the ever-hot topic of collection and self-carriage, as well as all the exercises anyone ever needs to achieve collection as an “ultimate goal.” She also shares many stories of different riding lives, including this one about Dennis Reis, who once upon a time earned his living on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit:

Dressage101-horseandriderbooks

Dennis Reis. Photo by John Carlson.

Dennis was a cowboy who trained horses for a living and discovered he had been doing dressage without knowing it. As his ability to communicate with his animals evolved and his talent was noticed by his neighbors, who were mostly dressage riders, he found himself in the unusual position of being asked to reschool upper-level dressage horses who were brought to him with specific problems. The dressage riders sought him out even though he had no classical training himself.
 
When asked about collection, Dennis is quick to point out that it’s not just a “head-set.” “Collection isn’t conforming to a preconceived notion of a frame or a picture of what it should look like,” he says. “It’s not a reduction in speed or a shortening of frame. It’s a posture that generates deep inside the body. The horse is round, balanced, engaged, off the forehand, and his back and neck are ‘turned off’—not braced.”

In dressage terms, when the horse’s back and neck are “turned off,” the energy that originates in the hindquarters can flow to the forehand without meeting any stiffness or restriction caused by the sustained contraction of the back muscles.
 
Dennis is enthusiastic about the joys of riding a horse that is in self-carriage. “The movements are fluid and elastic, transitions are flowing and soft, the horse is light and easy to guide and willingly yields his body to the rider.”

Jane 101 CoverI think we can all get there, don’t you?

Jane Savoie’s DRESSAGE 101 is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

And watch for Jane’s new book DRESSAGE BETWEEN THE JUMPS, coming Fall 2019!

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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HardWorkandaPlan-horseandriderbooks

Photo by Venkat Naryanan 

Having coffee with equestrian coach Eric Smiley is a delightful occurrence worth repeating. Certainly, a clinic with him has a similar effect. A former international event rider who represented Ireland at European, World, and Olympic level, winning team bronze medals on two occasions, he’s “been there, done that” but is also incredibly present in the here and now. His desire to ponder equestrianism, in all its minutia and across its broader themes, results in a philosophical meandering that doesn’t leave you anxious for answers—it satisfies.

We were lucky enough recently to enjoy caffeinated conversation with Smiley and talked about his book TWO BRAINS, ONE AIM, what he hopes its publication might achieve, and whether there are “holes” yet to be filled in the education of those who ride, train, and work with horses.

RidersRoadmapofHow-horseandriderbooks

Photo by Venkat Naryanan

TSB: You have said that your book TWO BRAINS, ONE AIM is intended to “guide riders to perform better by making their lives less complicated and more fulfilling.” How do you feel riders’ lives are complicated and in what ways do you think they could be more fulfilled?

ES: Achievement produces satisfaction. Helping people achieve by giving them a road map of “how,” gives me such a thrill.

TSB: You spent nearly 10 years in a Cavalry Regiment of the Army. How did this time and experience inspire you to make horses your profession?

ES: When I moved my in-tray to my out-tray without looking at it, and it made no difference. It was time to follow my dreams.

TSB: For 18 years you were Director of the Golden Saddle Scheme in Ireland, which identifies talented young riders and helps further their riding education. What did your experiences with the Scheme teach you about achieving success with riding and with horses?

ES: The clarity of youth, the simplicity of delivery, the naivety of what can be achieved. As adults we could learn a lot from them.

TSB: You enjoy starting your homebred horses. What is it about the training process that continues to motivate you to have horses in your life and bring them along from the very beginning?

ES: Every day is a new day. I never stop trying to find solutions to the questions that horses pose.

JC1_8395[1]

Photo by Irina Kuzmina


TSB: What is one lesson you hope readers will take away from your book?

ES: With hard work and a plan, anything is possible.

TSB: If you were trapped on a desert island with a horse and a book, what breed of horse would it be and which book would you choose?

ES: An Irish Sport Horse of course. They are enterprising, resilient, tough, and bright enough to help build a boat. The Natural World by Thomas D. Mangelsen. Photography as good as it gets.

TSB: If you could do one thing on horseback that you haven’t yet done, what would it be?

ES: Ride around the world. One sees and hears things from horseback that would make this experience wonderful.

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a friend?

ES: Honesty. Say it as it is, warts and all!

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a horse?

ES: A trier. Less talented but prepared to have a go.

TSB: What is your greatest fear?

ES: Rats in the dark! And having to eat squash!

giphy
TSB: What is your greatest extravagance?

ES: Buying art.

TSB: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

ES: Being cautious about buying art!!

TSB: What’s in your refrigerator at all times?

ES: Tonic and some really nice Sauvignon Blanc.

TSB: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

ES: Exotic travel with my wife Sue.

Two Brains, One Aim

CLICK TO ORDER

TSB: If you could have a conversation with one famous person, alive or dead, who would it be?

ES: I would ask Claude Monet for a lesson.

TSB: What is your motto?

ES: “Go on, have a go 😁”

 

Eric Smiley’s book TWO BRAINS, ONE AIM is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to download a free chapter or to order.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

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FoodforThought-horseandriderbooks

Sugar cubes. Peppermints. Carrots. Carefully sliced pieces of apple. “Cookies.” Admit it: We all have one. A favorite treat.

When your horse comes trotting up in the pasture, it feels good, right? When he turns and looks over his shoulder after a square halt, your heart melts a little. When he walks, trots, and stays right at your side in the round pen or arena, all sans halter and lead rope, you feel like you’re on top of the world.

Was it just the “cookies” that made him do it?

Do you know?

In their book EQUUS LOST? ethologists Francesco De Giorgio and José De Giorgio-Schoorl argue that science says using treats to train a horse—or any animal—is a bad idea, and we should all take our hands out of the goody bag. Here’s what they say:

In today’s social media, there are countless examples of situations where food rewards are used in interaction with all kinds of animals. Dolphins, dogs, horses, cats, rabbits, zebras, tigers, and many others undergo this kind of conditioning. It might look innocent, but it has a direct impact on their limbic system (comprised of brain structures that are involved in emotions).

FoodinHorseTraining-horseandriderbooksWe can understand the severity of this impact by looking, for example, at the importance of the senses for horses, for their well-being in general and, more specifically, in their interaction with humans. If we want to improve our understanding of horses and our interaction with them, we need to be aware of how they create their own experience and leave the horse the freedom to do so.

It’s in the Nose

Horses use their olfactory system to process information coming from odors. They explore and smell in order to be connected with their environment and improve their understanding of it. For this reason, when working with horses, we must learn to be aware of how the horse uses his senses, trying to notice and understand when the horse is interested or focusing on something with his senses. It could be anything! Something on the ground, a fence, something in the air….

Some horses (like many humans!) are no longer used to using their sense of smell to improve their understanding of a situation, and as a result, miss important information that could otherwise be reassuring. This “not smelling” is due to constantly overlooking their needs in their interaction with man. When they want to stop to smell along a path, we ask them to continue walking; when they want to take in the smells of an unknown arena, we ask them to start “working,” for example.

This problem is accentuated further if horses get used to food premium rewards. By being trained to focus on food, their response is stimulated in the limbic system, and the possibility of remaining calm and explorative is almost entirely taken away. They create a strong association between anything interesting to explore and the possibility of food. Of course, the olfactory system is still working, but from a reactive inner state, with the expectation of finding food, instead of simply processing information from an object. A horse that is smelling with food expectations is easily recognizable: his nostrils pass quickly and mechanically without taking in his surroundings, his breath is superficial, and his nose immediately touches a human’s arm or object without first pausing to elaborate the information from a distance or, after slow intense breathing, stopping at a whisker’s distance, taking in all that the moment is telling his perception, to take time to build his own map of the situation. We are not used to paying attention to these kinds of details. We might never know what information the horse is getting, but we can learn to recognize his attention and signs of his elaboration.

Food premiums also have an immediate impact on daily activities. For example, when horses in shared pastures start perceiving man as mere food dispensers, the human presence will immediately trigger food expectations and, consequently, tension in the entire group. This is something we need to take responsibility for instead of trying to correct the behavioral consequences (horses become insistent or even irritated when looking for food), which we caused by using food premiums in the first place.

Can’t Buy Me Love

We often feel the urge to reward because we forget how to live in the moment. The reward becomes a substitute for actually sharing an experience born from an intrinsic interest. Yet, it is from that interest that an authentic relationship can be developed.

Living a calm, interesting life doesn’t need a premium. Life itself should give satisfaction. We live often totally unconnected with ourselves, trying frantically to find contact with the horse, using all kinds of techniques. By offering a premium, we don’t give the horse the possibility to relate to us, congruent and in line with himself.

Equus LostWe need to be aware of the fact that when we give food rewards to horses, we create such a strong magnet that we reduce their ability for free expression. Positive reinforcement is a form of operant conditioning that falls within the behaviorist framework. Today, it is high time for such an approach to human interaction with animals to be thoroughly questioned. Behaviorism completely disregards animals’ mental elaboration, emotions, and internal state.

Want to know more? EQUUS LOST? by Francesco De Giorgio & José De Giorgio-Schoorl is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to download a free chapter or to order.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

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JonathanFieldandHalBreyerfest-horseandriderbooks

Are you packed and ready to head to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky, to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of BreyerFest? That’s right, July 12-14, 2019, marks 30 years that Breyer Animal Creations has brought to life a fabulous family festival that combines the excitement of a real horse fair with model horse activities, and this year, TSB author Jonathan Field is a featured performer, along with his wonderful horse Hal. Hal, who was one of the equine stars in Jonathan’s glorious  book THE ART OF LIBERTY TRAINING FOR HORSES, is coming out of retirement and making the trip to this year’s Breyerfest for a very special reason: He now has his very own Breyer model! A very limited supply of the Hal model will be available for sale at BreyerFest.

HalBreyerModelInsta-horseandriderbooks

Hal Breyer model available at BreyerFest 2019. Limited quantities so hurry! Hal model imagery courtesy of Breyer Animal Creations.

Here is Hal’s story as Jonathan told it in THE ART OF LIBERTY TRAINING FOR HORSES:

 

“Hal’s my number one horse, and my best horse friend. We have been through a lot together, learned a lot together, traveled thousands of miles, and quite frankly, I owe a lot of my career to Hal.  

“A Quarter Horse gelding, Hal was given to me when he was three years old. For many reasons, he had been running into problems with training, and was subsequently bought back by his breeder. After returning home, he tried to pin his owner in his stall and threatened to kick her. He bucked when ridden and was always getting into mischief. Hal is a horse that if you don’t come up with something for him to do, he will happily come up with something of his own. And, it’s likely to be troublesome. 

“So Hal came to me to be restarted. After about a month in training, his owner came to watch me with him. After our session, she approached me with tears in her eyes. I thought I had let her down, but they were tears of happiness. She went on to tell me how much Hal had meant to her from the time she raised him. He held a very special place in her heart and she named him after her dad’s initials. The tears came because she was so elated to see Hal look as happy with a person as he had with his dam. I was taken aback, and very glad my customer’s tears were good tears! 

“That day, I thought we were doing well because of my skill, but the reality was I was a young trainer, early in my career. Looking back, I wish I could take credit for Hal making such a change, but I think we were just a good personality match. He taught me more than I taught him. 

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“I was looking for a horse at the time and Hal’s owner was so pleased with what her horse and I had done together that she said she would love to see how far our partnership could go. So she offered Hal to me that day. I accepted, and promised to make her proud of what we would do together. 

“In a lot of ways, Hal and I hit it off right from the start. He was very sensitive, but also worried. He is a ‘thinking kind of horse.’ If he’s going to buck with you, it’s because he got scared first, then says, ‘I bet I could buck this guy off.’ It is more of a plan than a true prey animal flight reaction. 

JonathanFieldHalBreyerfestPIN-horseandriderbooks

Photo by Robin Duncan.

“In the beginning, it was like every little thing meant something too much to Hal. If he got confused or overwhelmed, he would lose confidence and want to flee. If he couldn’t run away, he would kick or buck. He took everything so personally. Even a simple thing, like how fast I approached to catch him, could put too much pressure on him. 

“Gradually, I learned that if I came toward him slowly and respectfully, he quietly waited with no problems. He was just a horse that was born wired sensitive. His confidence was a bit like porcelain: easy to crack. 

“To this day, I still see some of these attributes in Hal from time to time. Now, he is a star and has his own fan club. At the big expos and events where we perform, many people want to go to his stall and see him. Some of my horses eagerly await the attention, with their heads out of their stalls, waiting for a rub. Not Hal.  

“Then, the amazing thing is Hal and I go out to the arena at show time, and he fills the room with joy! As he gallops around looking right at the crowd, it looks like he is having the time of his life—and I believe that he is. 

“Early on, liberty was the best thing for Hal. It gave him the freedom to move and express himself, building his confidence in me and mine in him. As we started to gain some trust and communication, things changed. I began to have the benefits of a supersensitive horse, but with trust to build a partnership. It was then that my riding with him took off.”

Jonathan and Hal 4-horseandriderbooks

Photo by Robin Duncan.

Don’t miss your chance to get a limited edition model of Hal at the 2019 Breyerfest! And read more about Hal and Jonathan Field’s other horses, as well as learn his techniques for teaching a horse how to play with you at liberty in his book THE ART OF LIBERTY TRAINING FOR HORSES, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

 

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Whether it was the dawdling pony, ignoring our short, five-year-old legs ricocheting off his sides, or the experienced schoolmaster who knew enough to make us earn a forward ride, we have all struggled to put a horse in front of our leg at one point or another. A common mistake when your walk leaves much to be desired, it would seem, is to actually spend time working on the walk. The short of the long is: Don’t do that.

Christoph Hess, FEI “I” judge in both dressage and eventing, gives us these alternatives to developing a good walk in his book BETTER RIDING WITH CHRISTOPH HESS:

 

A good walk is developed by the rider through correct riding in the basic gaits of trot and canter. This sounds paradoxical at first, but practice shows that a good walk cannot be achieved by always “working” the horse in this gait exclusively. Rather, a good walk is developed by having the horse securely on the rider’s aids, allowing himself to be ridden “through” while stretching and in balance at the basic gaits of trot and canter.

TrainingaGoodWalk-horseandriderbooks

Photo by Peter Prohn

At the walk, the rider can check how rideable her horse really is. She can determine if the horse is supple and relaxed, responding to the driving aids—without the horse being lazy and lethargic—and “seeking” the bit, meaning he is stretching toward the rider’s hand. The rider must always be able to ride forward, and also sideways, at any time. The better and, above all, more responsively the horse accepts the rider’s driving aids, the better the results on the walk will be.

 

HowtoGetaGoodWalkpin-horseandriderbooksRide It Correctly

In dressage tests, the walk scores are given a coefficient of two, which means the walk counts twice. For one, the crucial rhythm, fluidity, and ground cover are scored. For another, the judges pay attention to ensure the rider actually rides the walk and does not just go along as a “passive passenger.” This active riding of the walk is an important criterion for assessing whether or not the rider is on the correct path to training her horse. To accomplish this, the rider applies her driving leg aids at the moment the hind leg on the same side is striking off. This is a process during which the horse ideally “picks up” the driving aid himself. The prerequisite for this is a supple hip joint. At the same time, the rider should follow the nodding of the horse’s head and neck with her hands and have the feeling that the horse is framed between her aids. As this takes place, the horse will stretch forward and downward, opening the angle at his throatlatch, and through this, the line from forehead to nose should come just slightly ahead of the vertical. This is the prerequisite for the horse to establish an even rhythm and achieve ground-covering strides.

Though this sounds easy when put into words, it is really not easy to achieve in practice. In the course of her education, every rider must discover for herself the right feel for riding the walk. On the one hand, she needs to allow the horse to walk on without driving him excessively; on the other hand, she cannot become really passive, which can lead to a considerably worse walk.

RideBetterwithChristophHess-horseandriderbooks

An even walk with a clearly recognizable “V.” This is a visual aid for a clear four-beat rhythm. Under no circumstances should the foreleg and hind leg on the same side come close to moving concurrently. This would indicate a pacing walk. Illustration by Cornelia Koller

 

Trot-Canter Transitions

Doing transitions from trot to canter and canter back to trot is one of the most valuable exercises for effectively improving a horse’s “throughness,” willing cooperation, obedience, and responsiveness to his rider—all necessary for a good walk. I recommend you incorporate these transitions very deliberately into the content of every daily training session. Practice these on a big circle, making sure your horse stays on your driving aids, even as he “shifts up a gear” from trot into canter and then “shifts down a gear” from canter back to trot. On the “downshift,” it is especially important that you maintain the impulsion from the canter as you return to trot, without the trot becoming rushed. You should visualize yourself “cantering into the trot” as you begin to trot. This is only possible when you are supple through your hip joint, following the movement of the new gait, allowing it to carry you along. In order to further optimize your horse’s “throughness,” you should just slightly lengthen the canter strides just before the downward transition to trot, then after the successful transition, just slightly lengthen the first trot strides. As this takes place, the horse must maintain a forward tendency. Under no circumstance, should the transition be from an extended canter into an extended trot (which has a tendency to be a “passage-like” gait). As the actual transition takes place, you must always have the feeling that you could offer a release, typically by moving one or both hands forward along the horse’s neck, or allow the horse to “chew” the reins from your hand.

If you ride the transition from a backward orientation, meaning from short canter strides and/or into short trot strides that lack impulsion, you will not be able to ride a rhythmic, fluid, and efficient walk. At the moment of the transition, take more feel of the horse’s side with your inside calf, which will make the transition so much easier; with a well-trained horse, you will then be able to complete the transition without application of rein aids. You’ll feel, respectively, as if you’re only “listening in closely” to the horse’s mouth with your hands (through your reins). In this way, you will avoid applying inside rein. Doing so blocks the horse’s strikeoff from the inside hind, which leads to a failed transition. The canter-to-trot transition, in particular, has a pivotal significance to harmonious and, thereby, sensitive riding in all three basic gaits.

One more useful tip: a few canter strides before your transition to trot, think leg-yield; if you’re more advanced then think shoulder-fore or shoulder-in. The same applies to the transition from trot to walk.

Ride Better with Christoph Hess REV-horseandriderbooksFor more riding and training tips from Christoph Hess, check out RIDE BETTER WITH CHRISTOPH HESS, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

 

Are you looking for new ways to rev your riding engines? Jane Savoie’s bestselling equestrian sport psychology book IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT THE RIBBONS is now available in audiobook format!

CLICK HERE to learn more.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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ManyBraveFools-horseandriderbooks

Switching trainers, moving from one barn to another, trying a new hairdresser…isn’t it amazing how all these things make us feel a sharp pang of guilt, like we are somehow being unfaithful? I mean, rarely is there a contract involved or even promises of fidelity, and yet…

Susan Conley’s new memoir MANY BRAVE FOOLS chronicles her discovery of riding and horses at the age of 42, and how her new passion helped her recover from years living in a codependent relationship with an addict. (Of course, horses introduced her to an addiction of her own.) In this excerpt, Conley shares the story of the first time she had a lesson barn affair and how ultimately, just like in her human relationships, her horse-life relationships were all about chemistry.

***

I had been riding exclusively at my first barn for one year and seven months when I decided to try a different stable, one that was on my side of town, for a private lesson.

I felt like I was having an affair.

Hermes was a strong, well-built cob. He had been brought in from the field just before my lesson, and he took a moment at the open door of the covered arena, every time we passed, to call for the friends he’d left behind. He was not in the least bit interested in me, and I wasn’t managing to engage his attention. He grudgingly trotted when I asked him to, and he refused to listen to my request for the canter at all, so the instructor waved a longe whip at him.

I got distracted by her whip. Hermes leaped to the left. I slid off to the right.

“You fell?” The instructor was incredulous.

You lashed the fucking whip at him, I thought. “Yeah, well,” I said.

I had landed in a damp patch on the ground. Let’s just say it was an aromatic bus ride home.

A couple of weeks later: same (new) barn, same horse, a group lesson this time, outside riding ring. A different instructor was busily chatting with some of her colleagues, leaving the riders to make their own decisions regarding rein changes and whatnot. I was once again trying to get Hermes to canter for me. The line of riders had halted at the M marker and would individually pick up canter between C and M before heading toward the fence, which was set up at B. (I could change barns but that crazy riding alphabet seemed to be following me.) We came around the corner and Hermes was motorbiking it, cutting it sharp/sharper/ sharpest. I leaned on the outside stirrup, off-effing-balance, and started to feel the saddle slip and slip…I went down. I fell softly onto the sand, and stood right back up.

No biggie. Except that the instructor came over, shaking her head, gesturing at the saddle, now completely over on Hermes’s offside.

“See that?” She put her hands on her hips and gestured at my horse and his gear, all askew. Everyone else, waiting for their turn to jump, stared.

Yes, I saw it. Cow. “Yeah,” I said.

LessonBarnPinterest-horseandriderbooksShe proceeded to lecture me on proper lesson preparation as she released the girth and righted the saddle. I was so pissed off my anger practically vaulted me off the ground and back in the tack. I was beneath her notice until we started to jump. She raised the rails on the fence to over two feet.

“Hermes—” She hadn’t even bothered to ask my name. “—you don’t have to do this.”

“I can do it,” I responded.

We trotted. Hermes still wouldn’t canter, not until we were a few strides away from the jump, anyway, but we took it perfectly.

Showed you, I thought. I certainly wouldn’t be coming back to this place anymore. Falls three and four were the height of ignominy; though the new barn was nominally closer to home, the affair was over. I went back to where I’d started.

I didn’t fall for Kilternan, my initial lesson barn, at first sight. Sure, I liked it right away, primarily because the place was laid back, the staff didn’t mind me hanging around (sometimes for a full hour before my lesson), and nobody passed comment, even though I was dressed like a complete fool for the first few weeks, wearing jeans and those silly boots and a borrowed helmet. I did strive to get my look increasingly right: jodhpurs, paddock boots, new headgear. I toughened up, abandoned the myriad layers and woolly scarf I initially swathed myself in, riding in just a T-shirt.

Horse owners asked me to do things like mind their mounts while they ran to get a hoof pick or hold their offside stirrup while they got on. I was becoming known, even if it was for being the crazy woman who took two busses all the way from the other side of town, a million miles away.

In the case of this love affair, distance was not an issue. I was learning that if a place gave off the right vibe, then I should be careful not to muck it up. There was a world of chemistry between horse and rider, rider and instructor, between the riders within a group lesson, and indeed, between the horses and the instructors. I wouldn’t ride Maverick when Angela was teaching the lesson. He adored her and always tried to show off, bucking more than usual, pelting for the perimeter after a jump, desperate to go fast, to show his favorite person what he was made of. When Emily was instructing us, Dancer would do everything in his power to stand by her. Once, we were waiting in the middle of the arena watching others take their turns over a jump, and when he heard Emily’s voice behind him, he turned a full one-hundred-and-eighty degrees to face her.

That kind of chemistry took time to build, and I knew you didn’t just throw it away. 

***

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