Monday, March 15, 2010

The Fast Track to Improving Your Riding

A few years ago, Practical Horseman magazine ran a very funny letter from the editor which was "written" from a horse's point of view. I tore the article out of the magazine that month and hung it on the wall in my room at home. It is still hanging there today and I re-read it often. One section of the article that I particularly like reads something like this:

" As horses, we can distinctly tell the difference between the crinkle of a carrot bag and the spooky blue grocery bag monster which will surely eat us, and we WILL react accordingly. Speaking of which, we horse's prefer that you don't refer to us as "fresh." We are not a loaf of bread. Nor are we "spooky" for we are neither ghost nor goblin. Instead, we prefer to refer to these conditions as "the fast track to improving your riding"

Today, Johnny definitely took me on that "fast track" to improvement. Let me begin by saying, that this situation we found ourselves in was 95% my fault. This past weekend was our IHSA Regional Championship (which my school hosted) and therefore neither Emmy nor Johnny had been ridden since Thursday. We ALSO had nasty spitting, misty rain ALL weekend, which meant that, on top of not getting ridden, the horses didn't get out a whole lot either. Emmy is 23 years old and could basically care less. You could not ride her for 3 months, get on again and have the exact same horse underneath you that you did when you stopped riding three months ago. Johnny, not so much. I knew he was going to be SUPER fresh because he was banging his stall door with his hoof when I came in. When lead him out of his stall, he nearly ran me down. Of course, my first thought was that he needed a date with the lunge line before we did any riding. Unfortunately, there were already 4 horses and 5 jumps in the ring once I got him tacked up. Lunging wasn't exactly a feasible option at the moment, so I thought (mistake number one) "well, I'll just get on a trot for a while and if he's really bad then I'll get off and lunge him."

I should have known when I asked to him to trot and he shook his head, squealed and leaped in the air that today's ride was going to be interesting. I actually think it's kind of funny when he's fresh. Since learning how to canter, he LOVES that he can now use his back to dolphin around and fling his legs all over the place when he's a little high.Generally speaking, I don't mind it much. He never bucks or bolts or does anything's actually really funny and kind of fun to ride because he comes through is back so well, drops his head down and has this big lofty canter. He's about the smoothest thing on 4 legs, so I just sit back, slip him the reins and ride it out until he's done playing, which is exactly what I did today. After 15 minutes of so, he seemed to quiet down, but he was looking bright eyed at all of the jumps in the ring, so I though "ehh why not?" and decided to let him jump a few.

Mistake number two. There is a grass pasture almost directly adjacent to the indoor area. The garage door at the end of the ring was open and there were three horses banging and splashing around in the mud as their owner brought them in. I pointed Johnny at a cross rail off the left, heading down towards the open garage door (mistake number three.) I admit that I lost my leg a little in the air. It's a super bad habit of mine that happens sometimes. I don't land very well in my heel when I'm not thinking actively about it. Johnny though actually jumped the fence perfectly, happy as a clam, landed his left lead and cantered about three strides away from the fence when the pipe gate to the pasture BANGED shut outside the garage door. Johnny, who has amazing control of his hind end, leaped in the air and spun left. There was suddenly no horse underneath me. This is kind of a normal thing for him...he's almost dumped me off a few times pulling the same little trick when something scares him or surprises him. Each time I manage to grab on and pull myself back into the saddle (it always come right out of the blue with no warning) but this time (with an already unstable lower leg) it was totally unexpected. I lost my left stirrup and realized that I was waaaayyy too far off to the right to save myself this time.

It's amazing how fast the human brain can process information and reason in a situation like this. At least, my brain reasons. Generally speaking (God help me...I've probably just jinxed myself forever for saying this) I don't fall off horses very often. I jokingly (but it's kind of true in all actuality...) attribute it to the fact that I just don't like dirt. Not that I'm a clean freak princess, but I literally can't stand the feel of dirt on my skin. I always wear gloves to set up or change jumps...everyone makes fun of me for it, but I really just don't like that dry, gritty feeling. Needless to say, I REALLY don't like that dry, gritty feeling all over my body. So, in most cases, I hang on for dear life the best I can. Every time I fall/almost fall, I literally weigh out the situation in my head. Like, literally. Today my thought process was "I'm not going to stay on this one. My left foot is out of the stirrup, my right foot is still in. If I don't kick it out, I'm going to land on my back under this horse's feet and I'm not going to like that."

In the matter of a split second, I kicked my right foot out of the stirrup and JUMPED off Johnny's right side. I landed on one foot, holding the reins with a very surprised Johnny standing next to me with a look on his face that said "OH MY GOD. WHERE DID YOU COME FROM?" He hasn't thrown very many people in his career as a riding horse. It always surprises and confused him when one suddenly isn't on his back anymore. The "fall" (or flying dismount...) itself was actually pretty funny. Not a big deal at all. I jumped right back on and jumped him around the entire course of jumps with out a problem.

But let me tell you, I made SURE to land in my heel after every jump. Johnny definitely took the fast track to improving my riding.


  1.'re a winner sometimes. I'm glad your fall wasn't all that bad! You had me worried!

    I'll post video on my blog soon of me riding and jumping my horse this past Saturday. We made sure to not the video the bucking (if you could call it that, it's really just kicking up his heels at the canter and switching his back lead) or the rearing (which is really just, I don't want to go into the trot in a frame and using my back, so I'm going to halt, then hop forward). But for not being cantered more than 6 times since September and not being ridden period since January, I'd say he was pretty good.
    The jumping is definitely not my, or his, best. He hasn't been jumped higher than 18 inches in months. And I set him up to some awful distances. Plus I've been riding all our schoolies, so his big, round, hard jump was really hard for me to stay with! He's quite the interesting Quarter Horse to say the least!

  2. I can't wait to see it!!! He sounds like a fun horse to ride :)