This is getting monotonous.
I could call this “Natalie’s Tack Disaster Blog.”
Or, I suppose, I could be optimistic and call it “Natalie’s Still Got It.”
You might recall a month or two ago, I wrote about riding a two-year-old in Florida, which nearly ended very badly when I lost both my stirrups and ended up galloping flat-out around the racetrack sans irons. It was an alarming experience but it wasn’t the end of the world. Like all good dressage students, I have spent enough time without stirrups to know how to keep one leg on each side of the horse without support.
The nice thing about the Florida experience is that it went largely un-noticed. Only the other exercise rider, and the trainer (who subsequently fired me) witnessed it.
The unfortunate thing about yesterday’s experience was that other people probably saw me, and wondered why the hell I was riding without my feet in the stirrups.
It was probably hard to see that the left stirrup just wasn’t there.
I was galloping, and I’ve been working hard on my galloping position, shortening up my stirrups little by little and trying to reach that strange, happy place exercise riders inhabit, where you hover far above the horse, hands down near the withers, face unpleasantly close to the horse’s hard, hard poll and undelicious ears. (Yes, I have tasted ears in the past week.)
I have gone through a period of intense pain in my legs, and realized just yesterday that the straighter your legs, the more comfortable and less fatiguing the gallop. So I had finally, finally, after a summer of seeking, found that wonderful place where I was standing in the irons, bent at the waist, leaning over my horse’s neck, and at long last riding the way I had always wanted to ride, as I had longed to ride since I was a little girl, and we were whipping up a little dust along the stretch, past those empty grandstands, almost to the wire –
And my left stirrup just wasn’t there anymore. It was, and then it wasn’t.
I don’t remember slipping at all, although I must have a little. My horse didn’t break stride at all, and I closed my knees tight, dropping down closer to the saddle, then sitting on the flat cantle, thinking rapidly. I’d better pull up, of course – galloping this fast without any stirrups was a recipe for disaster – but of course I couldn’t be much further away from the backstretch – here I was by the wire. I settled for an easy canter and the horse, bless him, gave it to me.
You’d weep to see me balancing off his mouth, like a repudiation of everything I’ve ever learned about riding, but I sat way back, closed my legs, and leaned on the reins for balance. We came cantering in like a show team, my right stirrup bouncing along at mid-calf.
It looked like I had pulled up the horse due to some issue, a bad step or a lameness, and that was when I realized that no one could really see the missing stirrup. I had to explain the whole mess. The nice thing, of course, was that this time, I didn’t get fired.
I’m not sure, by the way, what happened. I didn’t find the stirrup or the leather. Did the leather break? Did the safety bar on the saddle slip down? Or was it pulled down by accident somehow while the horse was being tacked or the stirrups were being adjusted? I don’t know. But to all my old riding instructors: thanks for forcing me to ride without stirrups. It comes in handy way more often than I ever expected.