I keep my hips slightly to the outside as Grace enters the lower corner of the arena; I know this small act of counter balance will keep her along the rail as she lopes out of the corner. She already knows our next move; she’s been looking forward to it for the entire lesson. I look across the arena and my thought of beginning the pattern is all she needs; Grace makes a smooth turn off the rail to come straight across the middle. This is where I have to keep my mind clear, try not to let my thoughts wander to the lead change too quickly. My hips are straight now; they have caught up with Grace’s line. I close my left leg at the girth, pushing her into my right rein. I feel the little mare engage underneath me, she is ready. As we hit the middle of the arena I bring my left hip forward releasing the energy that has been dying to get out from under my leg. The lead change is smooth and clean, it feels like riding a wave as my body stays with the motion as it is lifted and dropped. It is over in one stride, not even a second long. I almost wonder if it really happened, but I don’t have time to ponder, the wall is coming up and we have another change to prepare for……
In the last 10 years I have attempted countless disciplines with this horse. I find myself at most competitions explaining that “she wasn’t bred for this, but she sure does love it”. Whether it was barrel racing, or reining I always knew there would be a limit to what she could physically do over time, as her conformation did not lead to longevity in either sport. I moved away from competitions and refocused on the basics, rebuilding Grace’s foundation along the way. I started to see in her body what Peggy referred to as the “horse’s potential”. It was Sarah that brought it up first when I was rambling on about what Grace and I might like to do this summer. “Western Riding – it’s a pattern class, you know this mare loves lead changes, besides, it’s what she was bred for.”
Grace’s sire Imager (Barpasser’s Image) went to the world show in Western Riding. I stopped finding his get for sale on Dream Horse in the last year. A few years ago there were show horses; one was a tall sorrel gelding out of California. He had qualified and gone to the World Show. His bottom side really got my attention; he was out of a Smooth Town mare – just like Grace. Here was this gelding with breeding almost identical to Grace with a price tag of $60,000. I contacted the owner and let her know that I had no intention of buying her horse, but if she was willing to talk I was curious if she would share any details about her horse that was so closely bred to mine. She went on to tell me about his incredible work ethic, how he had to be worked 6 days a week, how he loved to show and how he excelled in anything that involved patterns. He liked to use his brain. She could have very well been describing the horse I had out sitting in my pasture.
So here we are after years of playing and dabbling here and there in multiple disciplines getting ready to do what the mare was actually bred for. Our first show is May 22nd, and as I wonder if I will ever get my black chaps from 10 years ago to fit again or what am I going to do with my turquoise ostrich bling tack set, I keep picturing that moment. That half second of suspension in mid-air as Grace changes her lead below me getting to do not only what she loves, but also what she was bred for.