Before I begin, I put this blog together as an excuse to write. It would be easy to only write about the good stuff. To make it all seem like sunshine and berries, ponies and rainbows. I could have made myself look good but, it was more important to me and my own reflections on the matter to include the less sparkly moments. So...
Thrills and Spills
I was not a smart rider, I was not a good rider, but I was stubborn, and continually compelled to get on my stiff, jiggy horse. I didn’t know any better. After R had cleared out of the barn I took my horse out of his stall and tacked him up, lunged, and climbed aboard, at this point I was feeling confident(way over confident) in my riding and had begun asking for a little sitting trot. His sitting trot was like riding a jackhammer. But since his "pseudo walk" was like that too I wasn’t to bothered by it.
"You are going to ruin that horse," I heard from behind me. It was R, he had forgotten something and had come back to the barn. Where my attention had been on the horse I had not noticed when he had come into the arena. "If you insist upon riding this horse you at least need to make him walk. Not that nasty jiggy stuff he’s doing for you now. You have to remember that your horse does like to be ridden. We stopped riding him because it made him insane. The driving was the only thing we could get him to relax enough to preform and be competitive."
I hadn’t remembered halting my horse but we were stopped and I was staring blankly at Fame withers, unable to meet R’s gaze, but I knew he was staring right through me.
"He’s your horse, you’re an adult, you can do what you like." R went about his business. Defeated I slid off my horse.
We put him in the buggy for the first time since he’d been back. He hooked up like a real gentleman. He stood there half asleep as we strapped the cart to him. R swung into the cart and took up the slack on the reins. Fame transformed from sleepy to YEEHAW in about two seconds. He danced, he backed, R waited patiently, once Fame settled stood still and backed on command in a straight line R had him walk off. Fame jigged, R bent Fame’s head to the wall Fame stopped his jerky hoppy walk, R released. Bend release, bend release. If Fame wouldn’t walk he’d be back into the bend. If Fame was good he was rewarded by being allowed to carry his head and neck straight. Satisfied, R cued him for the trot...maaaannn... I had watched the other show horses work, and was always a little bit jealous of their horses fancy extravagant motion as opposed to Girla’s. And there was -my- horse, fresh off the pasture, out of shape and his knees popping level. I had myself a fancy one.
R came to a stop next to me.
"He’s pretty," I managed.
"He’s pretty cute," he replied. R swung out of the buggy and handed me the reins. "All yours."
I inhaled deeply and put my rear on the back of the buggy seat then twisted myself around to face forward. I choked up on the reins, searching for Fame’s mouth. Fame knew contact meant it was go time, and started to dance.
"Lets just start with a little walk , collect your reins a little more and ask him to walk. Watch that right front foot. Pull. Release. Pull. Release. Very good Janell. Light steady hands if he’s being good."
Fame had a lot more forward that Girla. Girla was easy to drive, but Fame was just plain fun! I loved his energy, I loved that I never had to ask this horse for more. If I did need more it was there and it seemed that I merely needed to think in this horses direction. We trotted about that arena a few times, we reversed and went the other way. It felt beautiful. I had originally sat in the buggy expecting the spazz-bot that I had been warned about instead I had a fantastic drive.
"Good Janell. Bring him down to a walk. That’s good for today. We don’t want to over work him while he’s out of shape."
Fame and I obliged, and slowed to Fame’s almost walk. We "walked" around the arena twice then R helped me unhook my horse.
"Good driving today."
"Thanks," I said patting Fame’s shoulder. I led my big ol’ critter back to the cross-ties, removed his bridle, offered him an alfalfa pellet, and slipped the halter on over his nose, and took off the harness. I led him back out to the arena and let him roll. I then took him outside to on unoccupied paddock, where happily he tore into the green spring grass. I beamed with pride.
I gave Fame the weekend off. On Monday I justified an afternoon ride, after all it was only a walk day. I took R’s advice and actually thought about the horse, and sought to find my horse’s walk. For the first time, I rode with a mind to teach my horse something.
I did find Fame’s walk.
Susan was impressed. Susan was one of many people at the barn that had owned Fame at one point, she also taught riding lessons in the afternoons. Knowing that I was an armature on a hot horse I typically chose to ride when she was there. It was an assurance that if I did come flying off my horse that someone would be there to catch him, and perhaps call an ambulance if needed. She also understood my insane desire to ride the horse, that I was told I could not ride. She did not look at me with the same critical eye that R did. Susan was always soft spoken, she looked at Fame and I with quiet understanding eyes. She had taught me my first riding lessons and had confidence in my ability in the saddle. Her confidence and belief in me was truly encouraging.
Fame and I were improving by leaps and bounds. I was getting a hold of his walk in both the saddle and the buggy. And walking was the most difficult thing about working with this horse. He was a dream at the trot.
Confidant that I had a reasonable handle on my horse R and I took our lessons out side. We would trot up and down the back path, and I could imagine Fame and I chirping along some beautiful English country side. A real high born lady and her fancy horse. Fame was strong and beautiful, regardless of how mussed my hair was or how many holes my pants had, or how many stains where on my shirt, and regardless of my size and unfortunate complection, I felt the same way when I was with him. Strong and beautiful.
R took me aside after one of our lessons, "If you want to get serious about showing this horse you need to stay off his back. There is a reason we -had- to stop riding him. He got to crazy under saddle, driving was the only thing we could get him to be relaxed enough to be competitive, and riding was making him to crazy to even drive. I’m not going to force you. He’s your horse you can do whatever you want, I don’t care if you want to ruin him, that’s your business."
I stopped riding Fame.
Fame became more intense in the shafts, and getting him to walk was more of a battle. He was great on the straightaways. The reverse at each end of the path was the difficult part, we would come down to a walk, walk through the round about and pick up the trot on the straight. The problem we were incurring, was that Fame was building prematurely. He would stiffen through the neck and begin to jig. Braced against my hands he became unresponsive to my pull release. Holding him would only cause him to prance in place, and occasionally to rear. I now came to my driving lessons with the expectation that Fame and I would get to fight it out on the reverse.
It was the third of June, a bright sunny day, and the traffic hummed by on the interstate across the fence. I had come down to the last patch of paradise left in suburbia for my driving lesson. Things were looking good and Fame seemed to be in a pleasant mood, which probably meant I was in for the work out today. We hooked up the horse and started out on the path. R put Fame through his regular warm up then handed me the reins. He chirped along, hooves beating out a steady rhythm. I was confidant. We hit the round about. I brought Fame down to a walk.
"Good boy!" I praised.
It was a great walk, until we hit the corner of that dreaded hedge that marked the beginning of all our fights. Fame began to build. R had me attempt to bend Fame to stop the build, but my horse had the bit and would not yield to the bend. To my credit he did not go forward, but he did run us into R’s hedge and backed into the fence. R was barking things in my ear, trying to talk me through this. Fame was prancing in place, the back path open in front of us the sheer energy generated by our combat seemed to vibrate the surrounding air.
R’s black working gloves appeared on the reins. Fame reared, once his front feet where on the ground he backed rapidly, sideways, threatening to jack-knife the cart, a move which could have potentially damaged him, the cart, me and my trainer.
"YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!" R yelled at my horse, and with more anger and upper body strength that I possessed took one rein and pulled Fame’s head off to one side, nose on the shoulder. Fame was in trouble now. The horse stiffened his neck, R waited for Fame to yield. Muscles taunt, the beast surged forward, and with the cracking of the shafts Fame collapsed.