It was many years ago that I started riding horses. My wife and I leased a mare for a while; she was barely bigger than a pony and my legs dangled down pretty far. Then we started leasing Dollar (the “Big Guy”) and never really looked back. He’s a solid 16.2 hands, which is pretty tall for a quarter horse, and he’s built like a bulldog. His trot is like riding a pogo stick, but he has a nice canter and a pretty fast gallop. His walk is incredibly slow if you don’t keep him moving with your seat (he doesn’t like to waste any extra energy), but if you get him interested in learning something new, he gives it his all.
Before these horses, I had only ever rode a few trail horses from time to time at summer camps. I can say it was quite a different feel getting into an english saddle and jumping and flying around the arena instead of meandering along on a sedate and bored horse who had lost most of his will a hundred riders before me. Of course, I should say that I didn’t start jumping day one. The jumping and flying about took a little time. My wife, who had been around horses for years, wanted to make sure I learned the proper ways of riding and established a good relationship on the ground before ever getting into the saddle.
If he doesn’t respect you on the ground, he won’t respect you in the saddle.
Those are words to live by. Fortunately, we’ve always had a good relationship with Dollar and he’ll go out of his way to avoid hurting us. However, he will also stand over you and laugh at you if you do something stupid.
Which brings me to the point of this story. When I say “flying about the arena”, I literally mean flying about the arena. When I first started jumping 2’6″, I really wasn’t that good of a rider. We had picked up a trainer who thought that everyone wanted to jump right away, but I had not spent the time in two point I needed to and my legs bounced about way too much. Poor Dollar, he probably wanted to toss me off for banging on his sides and not giving him enough rein to go over the jumps. (For those who don’t know, you need to slide your hands forward as the horse stretches his nose out and arches over the jump, otherwise, you pop him in the mouth with the bit and that hurts them. Doing it right takes practice and muscles.)
Well, here is where the sawdust comes in. I was doing okay with a single jump, so they said, hey, do an in-and-out, and being brave and daring, I did. I trotted up to the first jump, sailed over it just fine, Dollar decides to canter out, which throws me forward, one long stride later, he pops up and over the second jump, then turns sharply left (since the arena wall is directly ahead) and I do my best impression of superman, but gravity wins and I land head first into a nice soft pile of sawdust. Tastes a bit fibery.
As I said, Dollar always worked to keep us safe, so he stopped immediately, looked back over his shoulder at me, covered in what he would later use for a toilet, and I could see the laughter in his eyes: “What a moron, you’re suppose to say IN the saddle—give me a treat.”
Undaunted, I try again, this time on the other side of the area and manage to do a face plant in the other sawdust pile (I was very grateful that the barn we were at kept two large piles in the arena to keep them out of the rain.) The monkey act went on for a while until this monkey learned to sink his heals lower into the stirrups and hold with his thighs. (I won’t go into the other things that were crushed on the pommel, which also usually left me laying on the ground.)
Well, the life lesson here is: Dollar wants more carrots. And I’m far too hard-headed (I was wearing a helmet) to stop when things get tough. It’s been said a million times before, but anything worth doing takes effort and practice. It took me a long time, some bruises, and a bit of hurt pride before I learned to ride and jump, but I enjoyed it. The same can be said for many other things I have tried in life and if you enjoy something, keep at it and hopefully there is a lovely, if not exactly tasty, pile of soft sawdust to land in while you learn.