By: Megan DeLisle
Working with a Greenie can be a struggle. Working with a Greenie after a year and a half out of the saddle is a little more challenging. Working with a Greenie after a year and a half off when your Greenie boards an hour away is kind of tough. Working with a Greenie after a year and a half off when your Greenie boards an hour away and you work a demanding job in HR where there really are no set hours basically equates to me driving the darn struggle bus. But isn’t that what being an Adult Amateur is all about?
I have had several “Ah-Ha” moments in since the start of 2016 that relate to riding. My first “Ah-Ha” moment was in the early spring while I was planning my wedding, slaving away at a demanding job, and barely getting through my dinner before passing out on the couch. I was exhausted and underwhelmed with my life. Sure, getting married was super exciting, but planning a wedding is not so much easy and most of the time is filled with tears and lots of chocolate ice cream while you scour Pinterest and think of ways to stretch your teeny tiny budget. My husband, a farmer, was working long hours trying to get the beans in the ground despite the forecast of a declining market and I was spending a lot of time alone at home in a new town where I knew no one. Adulthood sucks sometimes.
Enter the big “Ah-Ha.” After spending the past fall learning to drive a team of Belgians and spending every waking moment outside of work at the farm of the man who owned them and being heartbroken when we moved and I was too far from the team to get to play, my husband had what he thought was a grand idea- “Why don’t you start riding again instead of sitting at home waiting for me?” After all, the hour commute to the barn a few times a week wasn’t going to kill me and we both knew how much happier I was when horses were in my life. So I did. And it was great, except for my legs were killing me because I had replaced my muscle tone with twinkies (they are just so darn good).
That “Ah-Ha” was followed by many other “Ah-Ha’s.” The next was that to really help me get back into shape, leasing a horse would be ideal so that I could come up and ride even when I didn’t have a lesson. After a summer of that, another “Ah-Ha” followed- I should invest in my own horse rather than leasing. And so we bought Joey.
And that is where the major “Ah-Ha’s” have come into play. Joey is a 17 hand, 8 year old, OTTB who has only been off the track since last November and really has only been in consistent work since this spring. He was going to be my greatest challenge, but after one ride on him I knew he was the horse that I could work with and grow with. We have spent several lessons struggling to comprehend what we are communicating to one another. I have been frustrated, confused, overwhelmed, and lost. I have watched Joey process similar emotions as he tries so very hard to give me what I am asking him to do. Up until now, we have had little lightbulb moments where we both were thinking, “Wait- that’s nice! I like that…oops now its gone. How do I get it back?” Just yesterday, however, we had our biggest “Ah-Ha” of all.
Joey’s one flaw is he loves his job. That’s right, you read me correctly, he loves his job. So much so, that he gets sooooo excited to jump that he remembers how much he loved to race and he goes REALLY fast. At our last show, I literally heard a coach tell her pony rider, “Watch out for the big brown horse, ok? He likes to go fast and we like to go slow.” We were “that” pair at the show. He’s never unsafe, I always have control over WHERE we are going, I just haven’t figured out how to tell him how FAST we are going to get there. We have trotted, and trotted, and trotted until we couldn’t trot anymore. We canter over poles, a lot. We have worked on just being a horse and walking around while everyone else is cantering to show him that its ok to just go slow. And he is fine with all of that. But the minute he sees a jump, he has his game face on and he is ready to go go go.
Then in a lesson recently, my coach was struggling to get us to ease up on our approach to the fences. Joey is slow and steady and has a beautiful canter untillllll about 3 strides before the fence where he starts hauling ass and hurdles us over it. It works. We are alive. I usually have held my breath for a good 30 seconds at that time, but we made it over the fence and I was still in the saddle so that’s a plus. That’s when my coach had me think of Jumper riders and the way that they ride. After all, it is my goal to transition Joey to the jumpers once he gets all of his basics down. So I started riding like a jumper and OH MY GOSH- Joey was phenomenal. He immediately understood what I was asking of him. I was sitting back, using a little more contact, and giving a nice confident release over the fence. It was our biggest “Ah-Ha” yet! We were doing rollbacks and jumping multiple fences in a row (before this jumping lines of fences gave my coach nightmares…..) and Joey was so very confident in what he was doing. His form improved, he became more flexible in the bit and he didn’t pull through the reins when I asked for little half halts. I couldn’t believe the horse I was sitting on. After a month of frustration and misunderstanding, all it took was a small change in the way I ride for him to improve dramatically.
And suddenly, it all made sense. Yes, I have always KNOWN that the way we hold our body (one little twist of the wrist can make things go so wrong so very fast) and the way we control our emotions can have an effect on our horse. But to sit there and to see it, to feel the dramatic change, to feel his confidence grow as I patted his neck while we cantered around and praised him for being so good. To feel the way his jump changed, the way his approach changed, the way his “please don’t make me” demeanor changed as we rode away from the group, it all made it click.
These horses are smarter than we give them credit for sometimes. They see, hear, and feel it all. And sometimes its not the horse. I firmly believe that a horse is only as good as his rider and yesterday I saw exactly what that saying meant. That big “Ah-Ha” moment will greatly change the way I ride from here on out. It was frustrating for a while, sure, but that moment where we both learned how to be a team was worth the wait. And I cant wait to see what Joey has in store….as long as I don’t forget everything I just learned.