I knew the easy summer at Aqueduct couldn’t last forever. Saratoga would end, and with it, the kind of chaos I had previously associated with warm-up rings at horse shows would be on my doorstep every single morning. It would be my morning routine, my job, to go out there and confront a racetrack filled with naughty horses and riders bent solely upon self-preservation.
True enough, the races ended two days ago, and in those two days the empty track has filled up. This morning was cold and windy, the starting gate was out, and there were dozens of new horses on the track. I watched a girl pull up her horse, give him a solid pat on the neck, only to have the horse reward her with an unholy, rodeo-worthy buck and a bolt down the track. I took a horse out to jog and had to negotiate a youngster being ponied at full gallop, two horses breaking from the starting gate in the chute, multiple breezes racing by on the rail, and dozens of random joggers and gallopers everywhere else. It was moderate mayhem. It will only escalate.
The best part was bringing a jogging filly up alongside a guy jogging another horse. She needed a little company and his horse looked like it needed the same. We rode side by side for a while and then he started talking. I realized he must have been up at Saratoga and hadn’t spent the past two months watching me, as some of the other riders have been!
He gave me a thorough lesson on jogging. “What you want to do is, put your toes up like this, and keep your leg forward, and lock your knees – and then when your horse gets bad, you just seesaw on the reins like this, and see – your horse knows you’re in control-”
I admired everything he did (which was everything I had been doing) and thanked him every time he paused in his lecture to take a breath.
“You’ll be okay out here,” he said.
“Gosh I hope so,” I said earnestly. “I mean, I used to ride babies and stuff, and did a lot of jumping.”
“You ride babies?” he asked.
“Yeah, in Florida.”
“Oh – babies is crazy!” he laughed. “You stay on those babies, you can stay on anything!”
Well. So there you go. We parted ways, I negotiated my way out of the traffic jam at the gap, just happy I wasn’t on a baby.