“Once you ride one of my horses you won’t want to ride yours any more”. This was Penny’s warning to me when she offered to start giving me lessons on her Quarter Horses. Bailey had been sound for several months now and I had just starting taking lessons on him with Penny. She could see where our issues were and why I was spending so much time in the dirt. I had developed a survival style of riding over the years. I grew up riding rank horses, it started with a Mustang pony when I was 7 that bucked me off every time I got on it, and kicked every member of my family. The Trakehner mare I had right before Bailey would rear straight up, then as soon as her front hooves touched the ground would launch into a series of bucks. I prided myself with my ability to ride it out, but my equitation suffered greatly. Anytime I felt Bailey was slightly out of control I would lean forward into an instinctive fetal position. Bailey took that as a signal that there must be a cougar out there ready to eat him and he would get the heck out of there, leaving me behind as a sacrifice to the imaginary predator.
Windy was the horse Penny has chosen to teach me on. This was her grandson’s horse; she was barley 14.3hh, the smallest horse I had been on in sometime. At only 5’0” I was much better suited for this sized horse. When I stepped on from the mounting block, and lowered my butt into the Western saddle, Windy stood stock still. I leaned slightly forward and kicked the mare on. She didn’t move. Penny smiled and said “that won’t work on my horses.” I clucked to Windy and kicked harder; the mare looked back at my leg, clearly annoyed, but still would not move. “My horses know not to move when you are off balance. They don’t want you to fall off. Sit up, take a breath, look where you are going and just butterfly your lower leg on her side.” I tried again and Windy walked off, 3 steps later I had tipped forward and she came to a stop. For the next 30 minutes, my goal was to walk a lap of the arena without stopping. As much as I was humiliated, I was equally determined to do something that Penny’s 9 year old Grandson could do with his eyes closed. In the weeks that followed I moved up to a jog, a major accomplishment for me. I couldn’t get over how smooth the gait was and I started to realize that just because I could jump big fences didn’t mean I could ride.
My next lesson on Bailey was a major turning point. Sarah had started him back over fences. She was impressed by the way he jumped, he clearly loved it. I hadn’t jumped in sometime, and was really starting to enjoy riding Western. Sarah had set a small cross rail. I trotted Bailey up to it. His ears pricked up as soon as we turned the corner. As he drew closer to the fence, I could feel my body start to freeze, the fetal position was fast approaching. Bailey didn’t wait for me to get it together; he took a long spot to the 18” fence and leaped over it. On the other side he launched into a series of “victory bucks” the reins started to slip out of my hands as his head got lower. On the third buck I landed in the dirt. Somehow I jammed my elbow into my ribs when I hit the ground. I couldn’t catch my breath. Lying on my back, I saw Penny’s worried face looming over me. I gasped a painful breath of air and said “I don’t want to ride my horse anymore”.