For as long as I can remember, I (rhetorically speaking) have been exhorted to perform a maneuver in sync with the horse. How many times have you heard “you’re on the wrong diagonal!” with the unsaid meaning being: you should know where all four of your horses feet are at all times.
Well, I never. Literally. I’ve ridden many horses, not as many as most of the riders I know, but enough so that I’m comfortable with being there. For the last eight months I’ve been riding two times a week, usually bareback. I still cannot tell you where the horse’s feet are.
Patti and I tried something last week, wherein I was to say ‘now’ when Penny’s trotting off hind hoof was leaving the ground. When that happens, Patti said, your horse’s corresponding hip should be UP, and your corresponding hip should be up, which is how she knows the hoof is up, and that’s how she tells where her horse is. Using this knowledge, she said, one should be in the air and at this time, cue the horse into a transition if you wanted one. She demonstrated, posting better than I ever hope to, and saying ‘now’ as Penny’s off hind was leaving the ground.
Except that she was wrong.
She was saying “now” when the NEAR hind hoof was leaving the ground. I told her this, and it totally flummoxed her. One doesn’t do that to Patti, but I did. She seemed to appreciate it, but she also found it distressing. Was it because she was so confident in her riding that I had wounded her not inconsiderable ego? Had I destroyed her self-image? Or was it because I, a novice, a beginner, had said so? I could see her mind working. At first she didn’t believe me, and then common sense (which she has plenty of) told her I had no reason to lie. I might not be the rider she is, but I’m the far better horseman. She blew it off with an okay I’ll work on it and we dropped the ‘now’ game for the time being. She’s extremely assertive and competitive, whereas I can’t be bothered to compete at anything. (Well, I do, but that’s not for this blog.)
It seems to me she wants me to believe she’s an expert. She is not, but I’ll let her play her Alpha mare games. Later, I discussed it with Steffie, who was riding before she was born. (Literally. Her mother rode while carrying Steffie). Steffie said that Patti was very close to what she is trying to accomplish, she’s merely 180 degrees off. Meaning, Patti knows what she is doing, but her timing is off. The next time we rode, I told her this, and she tried it doing it ‘backwards’…and nailed it. She seemed appreciative of Steffie’s call from over two thousand miles away. Steffie is like that. She’s a sharp cookie.
The point, though, was that Patti had learned that when her hip was here, it was because Penny’s foot was up. She was still doing it backward, still depending on her body telling her where her horse was, and not vice versa. Which, somehow, isn’t right. It isn’t empirical. It’s observational, and that’s a big difference.
Steffie shared something else with me. She is like me. I have to cheat to know what diagonal I’m supposed to be posting to. I dislike the trot, anyway, and now I have to know when to go up and down? Honestly, I understand the reasoning behind it. Basically, one wants to be up in the air when the horse’s feet are up in the air. But I can’t even ‘let the horse bounce you out of the saddle’. I just don’t feel it. Nope. A post is all work, for me. My knees are dead tired after only a few minutes of posting. Knowing that a Prix-St. George’s level rider like Steffie has to cheat, like me, a rider who will never, ever win so much as the task of raking out the arena after the show, gives me a little solace. Hell, I’m still the one who should be carrying a rock in her paw, to be able to remember the ‘inside’ is the middle of the ring and the ‘outside’ is the rail.
But I try. With Hank, my first leased horse, I tried to find anything in his motion that suggested that he was actually lifting his feet off the ground. He was, just barely, but poor Hank had back and feet issues that have been covered in a far earlier post. I gave up on Hank, probably just in time to avoid getting hurt by him.
Then I leased Trooper, Patti’s Arab gelding. Trooper would make a superior endurance horse. He is all go, all forward, has a fast walk but would prefer to trot. Uphill, downhill, let’s trot FAST. The other day I rode him in a western saddle (because I have no English one to fit him, and Patti’s English saddle hurts ME) and he broke into a trot that got progressively faster. I wondered how the hell does one ride in one of these things? I was posting in a western saddle, which is NOT the idea. I mean, it’s Just Not Done. Only sissies in tight ‘breeches” post. I was swimming around in that saddle like I was in a bathtub. Plus, the leathers or whatever they call them rubbed my shins. Ouch.
Still, I try. I try to do everything, meaning I have no fun riding. I’m trying to bear down and distribute my weight, keeping most of it off Trooper’s back. I’m trying to keep out of his face. I am concentrating so hard on riding RIGHT that after a while I wonder if I have any business being horseback at all. Can’t I just slouch and ride?
No. I could, but I don’t want to. I want to ride like Steffie does; she is melted into the saddle.
So I try to figure out where Trooper’s feet are. All I ever know is: on the ground sometimes. I still have to cheat and look; I literally must look back at his hind feet to see where they are. I can’t feel it. I can’t feel it. I will never progress, I fear, until I can tell you without fail what foot is on the ground. I am such a dumbbell.
Until last night. Epiphany no. 2 with Denali. If you’ve read some of my posts, you would know that Denali is Tiana’s black/dark brown Hanoverian gelding. He is huge. He must be 17 hands. For a horse that size, he is quite refined, not Trakehnery, but definitely a very well-bred warmblood.
The first time T graciously allowed me to ride her mighty Denali, I had my first epiphany. She led him by the reins. I was glad of this, because riding Denali, after riding the oh so slow and cumbersome Hank, was like being in a Jaguar after riding a lawn tractor. All that strength, submitting graciously to my patently obvious inexperience. He allowed me to ride him, a human he knows without a doubt that he can intimidate, or get rid of just with a bit of a buck. All that contained power, available at my slightest request was scary. It was like riding a stick of dynamite: handle gently, because the slightest spark would turn that tranquil walk into a gallop.
That was when I learned a very important, (and now, a glaringly obvious) fact. (and one that embarrasses the biologist that I am.) Horses, like dogs, are bred to do certain things. Hank was bred to be a go slow western equitation horse. Denali? Denali was bred to RIDE. Denali is bred to do dressage. Never mind the fact that T had a $5000 saddle, a Hulsebos, on his back. It would have made no difference had I been bareback. I was gob smacked. I was astounded. In my entire life, I’d never ridden a ‘RIDING” horse. I’d just ridden horses.
Fast forward eight months, with a lot more time on the back of a horse than the first time I rode Denali.
Tiana had lent me her Passier with the hope that I would buy it. I didn’t. It didn’t fit Trooper or me. So I returned it, and we stood around, jawing, petting the lovely Denali, as she’d just finished a lesson. She offered to let me to ride him. Again. And I couldn’t turn it down. Like any horse addict, once you’ve discovered what a Real horse feels like, you can’t turn down the next fix.
Again she led him, for which I am grateful, for this time, Denali felt like an aircraft carrier after I’ve spent months in a canoe. He is so tall. So powerful, so big. And so genteel. What a sweet horse he is.
That is when I felt the horse beneath me. I felt Denali. I felt every foot fall, EVERY ONE. I felt almost as if I were on a rocking boat, a very strange one, the left hind and right fore moving in unison, me in the center of this strange, undulating platform of a horse. I was rocking in the Hulsebos, which this time, felt a little strange, but it was the sensation of Knowing. Ah, light dawns on me with this fabulous horse again. Epiphany no. 2.
Had I’d been asked, I could have told you right away, without cheating, which foot was doing what when. On THAT SPECIFIC HORSE.
Oh, Denali. You have taught me so much in such a few short moments.
Now I wonder, when the books and the trainers and the experts all say to do ‘this’ when a specified foot hits the ground, do they take into account that the HORSE is the one doing it, not the human? And that not all horses can be ‘felt’? That, if my experience is any indication, FEW horses can be felt? I doubt it. I don’t think it even occurs to them.
Now I don’t feel so bad, because I know that the horse you can feel is truly an exceptional one.
I do, however, feel resentment. The trainers/books/ etc, that expect one to always be able to tell where the horse’s feet are, are cheating. Just as I must peek at the shoulder to see which diagonal the horse is on, they are ASSUMING that every horse can be felt. It’s analogous to them telling you, write your name and address-in Urdu. They don’t ask if you know Urdu. They’re assuming you learned Urdu along with your English ABC’s in kindergarten. I’m betting that in many cases, they can’t speak or write Urdu, either. It’s as if they’re saying, I have no idea what this means, but if I throw out some gobbledygook terminology it will make it sound as if I do.
That’s cheating. If you can’t walk the walk, don’t talk the talk.
Building a house on a framework of playing cards isn’t fair, or honest. I want a trainer to teach me how to do something WITHOUT my needing to know where my horse’s feet are. As far as I’m concerned, the only thing I need to know about his feet is if they’re still on the ends of his legs.
That was last night. I probably won’t ride Trooper again til next week.
I hope I can feel him.