It’s almost certain that I was a terrible rider.
I was thirteen years old, and I’d been riding for three years. Riding wretched ponies who dumped me, riding a schoolmaster Quarter Horse who also dumped me from time to time, riding a hard-boiled Appendix gelding who did not dump me but who was so bad-tempered and basically hurtful (he was always pinning his ears and looking at me like I’d put nails in his feed-tub) that he only lasted half of the trial period before we called his owners to come and take him away.
I was thirteen years old, and I hadn’t had a riding lesson in months. I’d been on a few trail rides, begged a few rides.
He was five years old, and he’d run his last race eight months earlier. He’d been on a few trail rides, chased a few cows.
We were good together. He needed to know how to move his long body. I needed to learn how to teach horses. I needed him to teach me how to stick in the saddle when the wires in his brain crossed (as they did now and again.) I needed him to teach me to grab mane and kick on when neither of us were sure what was on the other side. I needed him to teach me to grab mane and trust when I wasn’t sure, but he was.
It’s a sure thing: without Rillo, I’d always have remained a terrible rider.
I mean let’s face it, how do good riders get good? Go and read Denny Emerson’s blog of that name and get back with me, but I’m pretty sure there’s something in there somewhere about challenging yourself. And, of course, that if you want to be a rider, you have to actually, you know, ride, pretty much every day.
Throughout my years with horses, I’ve been more without a riding instructor than with one. Riding instructors are expensive. You can have a horse, or you can have riding lessons; that’s been my lifestyle for a very long time. And you know what? If you have a horse that makes you think, you can learn together.
I’ve been reading that American riders aren’t willing to ride OTTBs, that they’re sure racehorses are too flighty for them, that riding instructors won’t recommend them to their clients, that today’s riders want, no, need quiet and predictable and Thoroughbreds just aren’t those things.
Ignoring the blatant stereotyping and sweeping generalization of that concept, so incorrect as to be ridiculous, for there are spooky-as-hell Holsteiners and there are bomb-proof racehorses, as most of us have experienced at some point or another…
Tell me why anyone would ever opt to be less than a good rider.
Tell me why anyone would ever seek to be a competitive horseman without learning to ride on the most hair-trigger-sensitive horse they could find.
Tell me where the ambition has gone, to be anything more than a terrible rider, being bounced around by wretched ponies and dead-broke schoolmasters, no matter what their breeding.
I’ve always subscribed to the school of thought that a green horse and a green rider, with patience and time, can learn together. Maybe because it worked for me. Maybe because I made it work, because it was the best (only?) option that I had. Maybe because I wanted it so badly.
But being an accomplished rider: that, I thought, would be any horseman’s goal.