Moriah winning the bareback puissance at Morningside Training Farm.

Moriah and Ted winning the bareback puissance (5’1″!) at Morningside Training Farm in The Plains, Va.

By Moriah Orms

Last summer, my barn got together one evening to watch an event together at the Great Meadow Foundation.  My trainer let us working students off early so we could all go, as long as we came back afterwards to put the horses out once it cooled down.  After the event, Morningside Eventing hosted a Bareback Puissance in the same ring.  We had planned to leave early and not watch it, but we were all having so much fun we decided to stay, even though it meant not getting back to finish up the barn until late.  It was definitely worth it; we all had a blast hooting and hollering for the riders as the Puissance wall went up higher and higher.  In the truck on our way back, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the time I spent riding my pony bareback when I was younger, and mentioned, kind of as an afterthought, how fun I thought it would be to try something like that.  To my surprise, my trainer agreed, saying “I think you and Ted could do it.”

So, we started preparing for the next one that was going to be a month later.  My trainer took it very seriously, and told me that I had to do everything on my horse Ted (aka Dun Looking) bareback from then until the competition; that included trail rides, flat lessons, trot sets, and jumping.  I was totally on board!  (Well…until my first bareback trot set!  Then I started seriously questioning my sanity.)  We were careful not to do too much, though, because we didn’t want to make Ted’s back sore.  Lessons and trot sets were about half the normal length.  Mostly I needed to condition my legs and get used to the different kind of riding it took to stay on and to ask the horse to do what you wanted correctly without a saddle.

During my first bareback Dressage lesson I felt like a floppy fish on Ted’s back – unable to control my arms and legs the way I wanted.  (Although I’m sure he could hardly tell a difference from how I normally ride!)  I got used to it, though, and improved drastically over those few weeks.  The flat lessons taught me how to balance better without a saddle, and what I could or couldn’t still do.

Moriah and Ted preparing at home.

Moriah and Ted preparing at home.

Our jumping lessons changed gears, too.  Usually we prepared for events by jumping similar questions we’d see in stadium, and by practicing courses.  Now, though, my trainer wanted us to practice jumping bigger, specifically a single vertical.  Again, this way of riding was much different than I was used to.  I never knew quite how different it is to jump focusing on height rather than combinations, and this gave me a much more thorough understanding of how a vertical is different than an oxer or any other type of jump – and actually a lot trickier than I’d ever realized.  Although we worked on jumping much bigger than normal, we never pushed it or found our limitations.  We never went above 4’6” in practice, which we could do fairly easily.  I didn’t fully understand the reasoning of this until later, when I decided that I was glad we had never really tested our limits before the competition – we had no idea what they were, so going into the ring, in our minds, we may as well not have had any.

“The good news is that I don’t think he’ll get a rail.  He’ll either jump or stop.”  This was what my trainer said to me a few days before the Puissance.

Um.

That’s good news?

There was a big difference between 4’9” and 5’.  During the competition, we both saw it.  Suddenly, the vertical jump we had been jumping turned into a wall.  True to his personality, Ted was not about to get a rail, or hoist himself and me into the air when he didn’t think we could make it over.  He stopped.  As per the rules of the Bareback Puissance, I paid for another round with my shirt (don’t worry, I had a tasteful full-coverage sports bra to show off instead,) and tried again, though I wasn’t too hopeful, I was all too used to horses that shut down when they think they’re over their heads (and in this case we were literally over Ted’s head!)  We stopped again.  Then something happened, and this is the reason that I love my horse more than life itself.  He decided to try again, and that he could do it this time.  We got another shot; since the two people left had both gotten rails, the three of us got a tiebreaker round.  Ted, of course, was right; we somehow made it over, and once more at 5’1” for the win.

My point to all of this?  Firstly, in that moment Ted taught me the true value of believing in yourself.  I find it rare to meet a being, whether horse or human, who has the courage to face something they think they can’t do, give up, then turn back around and try again anyway, and with even more determination than the first time.  I hope I can be more like that.  Secondly, in this sport especially, believe in your partner.  Ted is a nice horse, but he’s a little 15.2 Irish X Connemara buckskin.  Standing next to some of these fancy warmbloods, he doesn’t look like much.  But I know he is.  And he tries his heart out for me, because I think he trusts me too.  I’ve never had such a good partnership, and I think that counts for everything.  Lastly, as my trainer taught me, you can never underestimate the importance of preparation.  Even when it’s not fun, even when you think it’s not perfect but ‘good enough,’ and even when you think you don’t stand a chance.  Practice, work your butt off, and do your honest best, and you’ve already won.