Horse Hearted

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I know, I know, I’ve been negligent in my blogger duties. But here’s a good, long update. I love it here at SVU, I love all my classes, but as I have been told, “everybody needs a cush class.” And that’s what my horseback riding class is. I have it for 2 hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and in all honestly, I live for those classes some days. Twice a week I rush up the stairs to the Lofts, hit the elevator button roughly 7 times and sprint to my room to grab my riding gear and head back down to the parking lot to meet Karrie, Michelle and Mallory.

Stone Bridge Farm, the stable where we ride, is only about 15 minutes away, in Natural Bridge. But I swear, some days it’s like entering Narnia (just noticed, I’ve been making lots of literature references lately… should this be in the bibliophile category as well?). Because there are views like this:

 

 

At first I was a little worried about what the atmosphere of the stable would be like. I’d only ridden at casual, pleasure-oriented barns like Aroyal and Wildwood. Small, mostly for-fun riders with a smattering of serious show people. But I was pleasantly surprised at how relaxed and casual Stone Bridge is. Although, as to be expected, there are the show circuit people that I have a tendency to avoid, those that I ride with and generally interact with are very down to earth, jeans and paddock boot type of people.

I also love the mix of horses at the barn: the pokey lesson horses (though I sometimes feel bad for them, carrying so many random people) and the huge, Euro-imported beasts trained especially for the show ring. I am also quite surprised at how many arrivals the farm gets – in the month I have been riding there, we have welcomed at least 6 new horses. Of course, many of these are horses owned by the collegiate team at Roanoke who come for the school year. But, holy cow (horse?), there are some gorgeous animals here!!

My roommate, because she is much more advanced than I, usually gets to ride these beauties. But I am content on my little pokey geldings. It gives me more of an opportunity to focus on my technique and style. I generally bounce between two different horses: Bean and Rip. Bean is a lovely paint/pinto with an absolutely wonderful, gentle disposition. He rolls his bit a little, but I found that he is entirely receptive to peppermint-bribes. We work really well together, he listens and I learn. Sometimes I think he’s a mix of many of the horses I’ve ridden (because I have ridden so many horses in my short 18 years): Beauty, the little pony I rode at my first summer camp; Yankee, my very favorite school horse, who taught me all that I know now; and a mix of the other random horses I’ve ridden and worked with either on trails or as a volunteer at High Hopes. He has the patience of Petra, the spirit of Nomad, the stubborness of Missy and the resolve of Parker. And sometimes, the lack of motivation like Latino. Is it warranted to say that I think Bean is suffering from multiple personalities?

 

Rip, on the other hand, is an entirely different story. It is quite honestly a battle of wills between the two of us. I find it disconcerting because I never really have had an issue with a horse before (excepting one rather nasty gelding who drew more oaths from me than I care to admit…). On the ground, we get along well enough. But once in the saddle, it is a fight from start to finish. I will readily admit that part of it is my lack of experience, but part of it is definitely that we have an everlasting love-hate relationship. He fights every command I give him. I suspect part of that fighting is because he was originally trained as a western barrel racer, and I could be inadvertantly giving him cues he recognizes as western. But part of it, I suspect anyway, is that he just enjoys toying with me. And I’m too gentle to give him a firm wack with a crop like other riders do. I’ve always been on the fence about crops, but that is a discussion for another day.

One reason riding is so enjoyable, aside from the riding itself and the gorgeous scenery, is my trainer Ariadne. Never have I met a woman like her. She’s definitely a cowgirl inside. But she’s not all tough leather, she’s a sweetie, bless her heart. She understands that each of her students needs to be approached differently. One may need a lot of sugar and coaxing and cajoling. One may need just someone saying, “this is how you’re supposed to do it.” Another might need a swift kick in the butt for reassurance. Ahem.

That would be me. I’m still getting used to not having to have everything absolutely perfect before moving on. Ariadne accepts my slightly OCD tendencies with a nod and a holler across the ring. She’ll give me a bit of praise, more critique and send me on my way. At the end of the day, when I’m feeling as though I didn’t do as well as I could have, she does the same thing in reverse: “You need to work on this, this and this, but you did a lot better than you think you did.” She’s one of those trainers who’s sassy as all sin sometimes, and every once in a while (or more often, depending on your mood) you can be sassy right back. Many times I have stuck my tongue out at her from atop my horse, and she just laughs. Love that in a trainer.

Another thing I love is that we all sort of teach each other. Each of us is at a different riding level, and thus we have become mini-teachers and cheerleaders for one another. We encourage one another, give praise, critique and cheer each other on. Little or big things, we try to recognize each and every milestone even if it makes the person in the spotlight self-conscious. The first posting trot, the first canter, the first jump. All little things in the grand scheme of things, but very important to recognize in one another.

The thing I love most about riding, and being around horses in general, is that I have that time to clear the smoke from my head. I can breathe deeply, relax and just be myself. I don’t have to worry about much more than keeping my feet in the stirrups and I can enjoy the fresh air and the little details.

 

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