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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. 

***

MANY BRAVE FOOLS is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

Watch the book trailer:

 

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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“At the outset of any new relationship, there is the joy of getting to know someone and of doing things together. A horse develops his interest partly because he likes to play or just hang out with us. With very shy horses, a glance is enough to tell me what I need to know: I get an idea of his nature and want to make contact even if it is not in the way I had originally planned. If there is a certain spark that tells me he wants to make contact, then I know I have enough love and patience to create the right working relationship and achieve a good conclusion—even if it takes years.

“It is precisely this preparedness to devote hundreds of hours of work over many years that is important. If you have not felt this divine spark and do not believe strongly enough in the journey to devote all the time and love that is required then it will only be boring—both for you and for the horse—but, if you have felt the spark and have faith, then it is my conviction that the horse will always do his utmost to work with you and win your love.

“When I have found myself just assessing a horse’s merits rationally, the relationship has always remained platonic. This is, of course, a perfectly reasonable basis for a good working relationship for some other people, but not for us. It would not be satisfactory either for us or for the horse. In order to be properly content, a horse must have a real attraction and be in the position to forge a firm bond.”

—Magali Delgado in BUILDING A LIFE TOGETHER–YOU AND YOUR HORSE

 

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“Ethologists hold up their hands in horror at he concept of anthropomorphism, but I am convinced that you have to put yourself into the horse’s skin if you are to gain an understanding. This does not mean that you can assume the horse will react to every situation similarly to a human reaction. It is more a matter of being aware of the difficulties the horse experiences in communicating with a human and sometimes of the conflicting demands made upon him.

“What is evident and causes problems is that a horse has a developed sense of fairness and justice. We have to be fair in the analysis of a situation and in our actions that result from this. Some horses will rebel against what they perceive as unjust. They notice immediately if their own signals have not been received and decoded, but react wonderfully when they know they have. It is not a matter of giving in to their wishes but of acting justly and taking into account their interests, their comfort, and indeed ours at the same time!”

—Frédéric Pignon in BUILDING A LIFE TOGETHER–YOU AND YOUR HORSE

 

Magali and Frédéric gained international fame when they toured North America and Europe as the founding stars of the hit show Cavalia, from 2003 to 2009. They are currently performing a new show in Europe, with a hand-picked cast of 50 horses and 30 performers. Check out EQUI:

 

 

Both BUILDING A LIFE TOGETHER–YOU AND YOUR HORSE and GALLOP TO FREEDOM by Magali Delgado and Frédéric Pignon are available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE TO VISIT US

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In honor of Valentine’s Day, TSB couldn’t help but think of two individuals who clearly love horses and how life can be fuller and more joyful when horses are part of it. TSB is proud to announce the soon-to-be-released new book from Magali Delgado and Frederic Pignon, the founding stars of the hit show Cavalia and authors of the bestselling book GALLOP TO FREEDOM. Their new book, BUILDING A LIFE TOGETHER—YOU AND YOUR HORSE is their meaningful, beautiful, and personal account of  how people can begin, and then nurture, thriving and happy relationships with horses.

 

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“For the horse and our relationship to evolve in a good way, we have to remain open,” writes Frederic in BUILDING A LIFE TOGETHER—YOU AND YOUR HORSE. “In my imagination, I see open doors between us so that we always feel that physically and mentally we can achieve anything we set our minds to. If we rest on the principles we have been taught or learned, the relationship with the horse will stay shuttered. Every day I try to make a fresh start: this is a new day for me and for this horse I am with. What will happen? If I do not take this approach—and there are plenty of people in the horse world who do not—I shall never really get through to this horse and learn about his true nature.

“With the passage of time and all the experiences we have had, both good and bad, Magali and I gave up wanting to control everything and, in fact, we listen more and more to what the horses tell us they want to do….To me, being open means being in tune with myself and others, not having immutable principles but always having the wish to be as fair as possible. For the horse to have a beneficial effect on us we must remain open. We must entertain a sense almost of abandon so that we are always ready to be surprised and moved, and ready to question all our previous experience in order to find the true way forward.”

 

Watch Magali and Frederic demonstrate their love of horses in these spectacular clips from Equitana 2013:

 

BuildingLifeTogether

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And CLICK HERE to pre-order a copy of BUILDING A LIFE TOGETHER—YOU AND YOUR HORSE by Magali Delgado and Frederic Pignon for the special horse person (and Valentine!) in your life.

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