They say it’s just a number. But the height of a horse can carry a weight all its own. There are horses in our barn who are 17 hands — tall drinks of water, they are. There are ponies who are barely 12 hands, although admittedly I don’t ride them. My feet would drag the ground from the saddle if I tried.
On the ground I have trouble with no one. I’ve groomed and tacked just about every horse in our barn, which houses about 60. From the aisle or in their stall, I’m good. But sitting up on top of that much horse can be intimidating if your mind isn’t in the right place. Like mine of late.
I have experience with my fair share of tall horses, including a short stint leasing a grey OTTB who stands 17 hands and can have a thing or two to say about your ride. So my own 16.2 Friesian cross should be a walk in the park, right? Except it’s a long way to fall from 16.2 hands up in the air, and the memories of having done so recently aren’t making things any easier for me.
So with the help of one of my instructors, I’ve taken to doing things on a more familiar, more comfortable horse. That shows me that I can do them. Then, the big step is translating that back onto my own horse — the bigger one with the larger stride. <gulp>
Tonight is my dressage class with Sisse. After our warm-up, where we participated fully in the walk and trot, as well as the lateral exercises at those gait. Then it was time for the canter. We were in the indoor, so the more contained space was reassuring. Everyone else went first. But since there were an odd number of riders, going last this week meant we had Sisse’s undivided attention.
Before we even started, she quickly pointed out that in her opinion, it wasn’t important that we do the exercise. She was more interested in our getting the canter, holding it for once around the 20m circle, my choosing to bring us back to the trot, and trotting for a bit more before coming back to the walk. That was all. Pressure off.
Then the conversation in my head starts: It looks like a long way down. Keep your eyes up! Be quiet. Just ride. No, wait, how do I ask for canter again? Oh, I hope this goes well. Charlie, please behave. I don’t care how bad it looks as long as I don’t come off again…”
I take a huge breath in, and try to blow it out softly through my mouth. The noise gets Charlie’s attention. He knows I’m tentative. But the look in his eye says, “Relax, mom, I’m going to take care of you tonight.” I take another big breath, and try to feel my seat deepen as I exhale. I start on his easier side, the left, because I don’t want this to become frustrating for either of us.
As we round the circle toward A, I ask with a light aid — I at least got that part of the exercise. Charlie turned his head as if to ask, “Are you sure?” So I ask again, and tap him with the dressage whip. By now we’re passing F and heading into the open side of the circle — not the best place to make a transition. We got the canter. It was a little rough and ungainly. But we got the canter. Relief.
We trot for a bit, and Sisse says she is happy with that, considering the circumstances. But I ask to go the other direction. She agrees, and reminds me to get us organized first. So I get a rhythmic trot. When we approach F, heading into the corner, I ask again, and Charlie obliges with a smooth and quiet transition up to canter.
I’m thinking about the exercise we aren’t doing. I’m thinking too much. It’s time to stop thinking and just ride…