Last Lesson

My last lesson with Wendy this past Thursday was both great and terrifying.  I rode Tigger, and everything was going pretty well, but as we started a new jumping course, Wendy suggested I give Tigger a tap with the crop to wake him up a little and take the jumps with more energy.  My tap was, ahem, a bit much, more like a swat, and uh, he bolted.  Like, he startled, made a sharp right turn (at which point my right foot came out of the stirrup), and took off like a shot.  I got him steered to the railing by I don’t know what stroke of luck (because he was headed for a jump at first), and I just did my best to hang on.  My right hand was buried in his mane, I was leaning back to try to be heavier in the saddle (indicating that I wanted to slow down), and my left hand was doing the tug-and-release thing in time to my stern “HO”s, which were having zero effect.  I know Wendy was yelling suggestions at me, but I have no idea what they were – I couldn’t hear her clearly over the wind whistling past my ears as we galloped headlong around the arena, once, twice, three times.  Sometime during the second circuit, I think, I remembered Wendy’s story about a bolting horse and how sometimes it’s better just to go with it, but I only had one foot in a stirrup and with each turn at the short ends I could feel myself tipping more and more to the left.  I didn’t have it in me to just go with it but damn it, I was NOT going to fall off this horse!  Finally Tigger started to slow down about halfway through the fourth go-round, coming to a trot at the short end, and we stopped in front of Wendy.  Wendy thinks it’s because I started talking to him nicely (a suggestion she made during the third circuit that I didn’t hear).  If I did that, I don’t remember it.  I think he just got tired.  It was hot that day.  I got down, legs shaking, and we talked for a few minutes while Tigger and I both recovered.  Under the assumption that he didn’t have anything left in the tank and the sure knowledge that I was most certainly NOT going to swat him again, I got back on and we jumped a couple courses before the lesson ended.  THEN Wendy told me she’s noticed over the years that something bad always happens at last lessons.  She says it’s usually a fall, but a bolting horse certainly counts.  She thinks she’s cursed.  I’m just glad she didn’t tell me that up front.  She also said she’s proud of me for how I handled it, which is nice to hear since it was freakin’ TERRIFYING while it was going on.  Now I think I could handle it better – I’d like to have time to enjoy going that fast.

Her take on it: I have the unique distinction of flying around the arena on a plane one day and flying around the arena on a horse the next.

I’d like to think it wasn’t on purpose

I had my next to last lesson with Wendy today, and it was awful.  Okay, maybe not awful, but it wasn’t good.  I rode Olive, and I was anxious and unsettled and so was she (probably my fault) and it felt weird and uncomfortable and like I couldn’t do anything right.  Objectively, I improved as the lesson went on.  Objectively, a lesson like that is a good thing because it forces me to focus on things I don’t have to think about when everything is going well.  Subjectively, it’s NOT FUN.  It occurred to me that maybe it’s subconscious self-sabotage, like how Mom has said she used to pick fights with Dad before he left on deployment in an effort (again, subconscious) to make saying goodbye easier.  If that’s what it was, it SUCKS and I don’t want to do it again.  I have one more lesson, I’ll probably ride Tigger, and I would like to enjoy it, please, brain.

Of course, right after I got her saddle off her, Olive peed all over the barn, so maybe she was uncomfortable, too.  Still, even it wasn’t just me, it was certainly a lot me, and I need to not do that.

Relax your face!

In late June, Charles (Wendy’s husband?  Partner?) took a ton of pictures of me riding Olive so I could see how I look, see what I’m actually doing, look at what’s right and what’s wrong.  It was pretty cool, but the first thing I noticed, and practically the only thing I can see, is that I’m making the same odd super-serious face in EVERY SINGLE ONE of the 146 pictures Charles took.

So now, for the past month, I’ve added “relax your face” to the 15 things I’m trying to remember to do right while I ride.  It’s the least important thing, of course, so I tend to forget about it, but still.  The yoga instructor I liked reminded us often that our faces were not helping us balance – there’s no need to scowl.  I try to apply it to riding.

The other thing I’m getting out of these pictures is that I’m rising a little too high out of the saddle over jumps.  I think.  I would like to jump more to practice getting it right.  Of course, it’s hard to focus on that when I’m actually flying through the air.  Hence the need for practice.


After much delay, I would like to present three videos of me riding a horse who is jumping (not very high jumps).  I was going to say these were videos of me jumping, but, as John has pointed out before, I am not the one doing the jumping. Olive is doing all the work.

These were all taken the morning of July 4th.

We raised the second jump in each set for this last one.

Guys, it is SO much fun.  Even on a day like today when Olive veered right and caught my toe on one of the uprights so that it half twisted me out of the saddle and the upright crashed down behind us and Olive freaked and started to run out and I was scrambling to hang on, calm her down, and NOT fall off.

I was successful at all of those things, so yeah – SO much fun.

Headline: I still have two feet

A horse stepped on me this weekend.  I’m fine (really fine – I ran this morning), but I was a little anxious for a couple of hours on Saturday.  I spent the day at a horse show just south of Portland.  Wendy was there with Tigger, Olive, Dobby (Tigger’s co-dependent pony friend), and Ava (the horse who stepped on me) because two of her 14-year-old students were riding in it.  Their events were first thing Saturday, so I got up early and drove up to watch them.

That part, the whole day really, minus the part where I got stepped on, was pretty cool.  I got to see my lesson horses compete and do more than I’ve asked them to do, and I got to watch a whole lot of really good riders on really big horses do really cool things.  The weather was beautiful (not a cloud in sight), and it was really neat to just hang out and watch all the riding and jumping.

The stepped on part: Wendy needed to clean out stalls, so Elaine (my friend who wrote the romance novel) and I volunteered to take Olive and Ava for a walk to give Wendy time.  Ava was anxious, even right next to Olive, and I couldn’t calm her down, so we headed back to the stalls.  We got separated (too many people), and Ava basically freaked out.  Then someone zipped by on a scooter, and a golf cart passed us, Ava spun around, and while I was trying to turn her the right direction to go home, she stepped on my right foot.  Like, STEPPED on with her full weight because she was walking.  It was…painful, and I may have yelled some things in front of some children, and then she stepped off and we made our way back over to Wendy.  Wendy wasn’t done with her stall, though, so I still had to deal with a giant* nervous horse.  I was letting her eat grass, but we were near a food truck and there was an extension cord, and she didn’t like me trying to move her away from the extension cord to keep her from eating it and she was still high-strung even being closer to her herdmates, whirling around every time a car went by, and I wasn’t super calm since my foot hurt and she was making me nervous and I’m sure I wasn’t successfully radiating serenity even though I was trying to, and it was a whole not-fun thing.  I was relieved to put her back in her stall.

*I’m not kidding about giant.  I mean, there are bigger horses, but she’s the biggest one I’ve had to do anything about.  She’s half thoroughbred and half shire (workhorse along the lines of a Clydesdale), and she’s 16.2 hands at her withers (top of her shoulder, a tad higher than the top of the base of her neck), which puts her withers at the top of my head (because if I did the math right, 16.2 hands is 66 inches – the .2 refers to two inches, not two-tenths of a hand – which is my height).  That’s big.

I was wearing my chucks that day, not boots, so basically no protection, and I spent the next several hours wiggling my toes and flexing my foot to make sure I still could.  The pain faded to an ache, and then that faded, too, and by the time I drove home, I was totally fine.  I have a fun bruise I keep poking at, but no lasting damage.  Until one day the front half of my foot falls off because it turns out I have a hairline fracture or something and I didn’t rest or treat it because it didn’t hurt, but eh – why borrow trouble?

We go on separate adventures at the same time

I had a really good riding lesson today.  This was my fourth lesson on Olive, an actual horse-sized horse, and I’m getting much more comfortable on her.  A woman I hadn’t met yet, who was sitting and watching with Wendy, complimented my release after a set of jumps.

I don’t know what that is, and I didn’t stop to ask just then, and I don’t want to look it up now.  If it’s something I’m doing well naturally, I’m afraid that if I look it up, I’ll start thinking about it and do it badly.  There’s so much to think about that if I can delay thinking about something, that can only be good.  Except that now I have guesses about what it is, and I’ll probably overthink it, so maybe I’m better off if I look it up.

Okay, I googled it (and my guesses were wrong).  It has to do with not pulling on the reins (and then the bit) as you go over the jump.  Wendy taught me to move my hands forward on the neck and hold the horse’s mane to avoid pulling the reins accidentally.  Apparently that’s called a crest release (long or short depending on how far up the mane you hold) – she left that part out.  So okay, I’m already doing it and thinking about it and it’s all good.

John took the plane out this afternoon at the same time (I dropped him off at the airfield, drove to the farm, and then picked him up when I was done), and he found me and flew circles around the farm while I rode.  He said he could see someone on a horse jumping, and he assumed it was me (it was).  We saw the plane and waved madly with no idea if he could see us.  Turns out he could, and he tried to make the plane wave back.  I thought I saw a wobble, but it wasn’t as dramatic-looking as it felt to him.

Anyway, it was cool, and it made for a good afternoon.

Even a stopped clock…

Had a lesson today, and something felt weird as we went over the first jump in a course.  I dropped my right rein right before we went over, let it dangle and reached for Tigger’s mane (to hold on), and then gathered the reins up in time to go over the second jump.  The rest of the course was great, and as I finished it, Wendy asked me why I muttered “that was terrible” right after the first jump.  I told her it was because I dropped the rein, but Wendy said I did exactly the right thing.  Something didn’t feel right, but we were committed to the jump, so rather than pulling tight on Tigger, I trusted him to take us over.  According to Wendy, I have the instincts of a great rider.  According to me, it was a total accident.  (It was a total accident – I’m pretty sure I fumbled the reins.)  But now that I know, I’ll try to do it on purpose next time.  Next time something is weird, I mean, not next time I ride.  But I think you knew that.

So then Wendy showed me this video, and I don’t feel as bad about it.

Of course, I only had one low jump to deal with, and I did NOT take it with my arms out to the side like that.

I get a little teary on Derby Day

I have just had the BEST afternoon.  To start, it’s a beautiful spring day.  John is in the recording studio with his band, hopefully having a good time.  I went for a run right after he left.  Temps were in the low 50s, and I did a respectable distance at a respectable pace.  Lovely scenery, which I was able to enjoy because I wasn’t pushing myself, and I found purple flowers blooming and I was listening to a fascinating podcast – all good.   I came home and made tortilla pinwheels for tomorrow’s SWV NOW potluck: cream cheese, sour cream, shredded cheese, green chiles, green onions, and a little garlic.  SO GOOD.  And so done and ready for tomorrow.

Run: good, chore: done.  Let’s not forget it’s Derby Day, so after I showered, I went to Steelhead to watch the race. They had NBC coverage on half the TVs, but they told me they only turn the sound up for Oregon Ducks games, so I left.  Next stop was a sports bar a couple of blocks away that I’ve never been to.  It was practically empty, and the bartender changed the channel to the Derby on four or five TVs and turned the sound up, and I was happy.

They were out of mint, so I ordered champagne.  Corey said I should go fancy and order a French 75, but this place was decidedly not fancy.  I didn’t chance it.

Me and my champagne

I had a wonderful time watching the race while texting with Mel and Corey (and Christine by proxy).  My horse (McCraken, chosen because he was the prettiest) didn’t win, but that’s true every year.

Text conversation with John:

Me: My horse did not win.

Him: To be fair, Tigger wasn’t in the race.

I left the bar after the lady with the antenna on her helmet interviewed the winning jockey while riding alongside and cut through 5th Street Market with a vague idea of buying myself a rose from Rhythm and Blooms.  They didn’t have any roses (out – I’m sure they have roses), so I kept walking and hey, there was a wine tasting table set up. Wine tastings always appeal to me, but especially after two glasses of champagne, so I stopped, tried the wine, LOVED the zinfandel (which I bought), and had a nice conversation about running with the woman in charge of the tasting.

It’s still a beautiful day, and when John gets home, we’re going to take a leisurely bike ride so I can show him the purple flowers I found.  Then dinner.

Here is where I’m spending my time

For Dad:

That’s Tigger, up there.  Stubborn pony who’s almost a horse (he’s just under 14.2 hands).  And just below here, that’s me and Tigger after my lesson on Sunday.  No joke, he is licking my t-shirt.  I don’t know why.

Down there is Tigger in his muddy blanket.  This is from last Tuesday, I think.

This is Dobby, Tigger’s frenemy.  Another pony.

And this is Willow, the first pony I rode.  She does NOT like to jump, so Wendy switched me to Tigger when I got to that point.  I should have gotten a picture of her in her winter coat.  She looked like a goat, with a beard.

Wendy has plenty of horses (not just ponies), but I don’t know them very well.

These next few pictures are from Sunday (a beautiful day, obviously).  Random pic of the farm plus some of the outdoor arena.

And here’s the indoor arena.

My last three lessons have been GREAT.  I rode with someone (Robin on Casino) on Tuesday (a week ago), and even Wendy pointed out that I had a great lesson WITH someone.  I jumped the biggest jump I’ve ever jumped, and I handled Tigger’s minor tantrums well.

Then I rode with someone else on Sunday (Kelly on Mac) and alone today, and even though I felt weird on Sunday (I kept holding my arms wrong and Tigger’s head felt further away than usual (like I was taller?) – I blame the allergy medicine), both lessons were good and I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable.  Of course, I should expect to see big improvements if I ride three times a week, but I can’t really afford that.

Anyway, this is the biggest jump I’ve jumped so far.  Wendy says I’ve jumped that high (2’3″), but this one is set up like a pyramid and is 2’6″ wide.  I haven’t jumped wide before, and it was really really cool.

This is what I normally jump.  Or the Xs you can see in the outdoor arena.  Jumping is so cool.

And, for atmosphere, this is the view past the indoor arena on a stormy day.  John says it looks like Scotland.

Look! Horses!

I’ve been meaning to take pictures out at the horse farm for a while, but I keep forgetting (sorry, Dad).  I leave my phone in the car, so even if I remember mid-lesson, I don’t have it with me.  (Not like I’m going to take pictures mid-lesson, but you know what I mean.  Although I did see a couple of students using their phones while riding (pre-lesson) a few weeks back.  Totally weird.  One took an actual phone call.  The other was texting.  And today, I saw a girl sitting bareback, reading a book while her horse ate grass.  I’m a little jealous of her.)

Just before I drove away, I remembered about the pictures, so I took some of the two horses nearest my car.  Neither of these horses is Tigger.  And one of the dogs.  Also not Tigger.

This is Foster.  He looks entirely too much like Riley here.


Yesterday’s lesson was the best lesson I’ve had in several weeks (although it’s been two weeks since my last one, so I suppose that’s not saying as much as I want it to).  We used the pelham bit, which is more restrictive and gives me more control, and you know what?  It totally works.  I’m not saying Tigger didn’t give me any trouble, but the couple of times he did I was able to win back control and exert my will without nearly as much effort.  Wendy says it’s definitely not my fault – he is going through a phase, and he’s doing it with everyone, including her.  That’s somewhat reassuring.

The other thing that went well was cantering.  I’ve had this tendency to post while cantering, and apparently that’s sometimes fine and sometimes not so fine.  It depends on the horse, the day, the rider, maybe the weather…who knows.  In yesterday’s lesson, it was while starting to canter that Tigger would head for the middle of the arena, and Wendy decided it was because I was posting, leaning too far forward, and giving him too much leeway in the reins.  She suggested I sit the canter, which made me heavier in the saddle, and kept more pressure on the reins.  As soon as I started doing that, he stopped acting out.  It was great (because I felt in control), and not uncomfortable.  A little bouncy.

Oh, the jumping was good yesterday, too.  Everything about riding yesterday was good!

I’m still learning how to be in charge

My riding lesson with Tigger last week was pretty bad.  Lessons like that are certainly instructive for me (not fun, but helpful), but Tigger was being a jackass even when Wendy was in charge.  At least it wasn’t just me.  He didn’t do anything new (and I didn’t fall off) – he did the same old refusing to stay along the wall, veering off in the wrong direction thing, and all my leaning back and yanking the other direction (to Wendy’s shouted instructions) did nothing.  Over and over and over again.  At the point in the lesson where I would normally start cantering, I told Wendy that I wasn’t feeling terribly confident about that part and while normally I would try not to let my lack of confidence get in the way, maybe we could skip that part…?  She had already come to that conclusion, so I didn’t have to worry about that.

He continued to be a pain in the ass, though, so eventually Wendy switched out his normal bit for something called a pelham bit, which is more restrictive.  I’ve looked it up, but there are so many variations (and I don’t know what kind of bit we were using before) that I don’t really know what’s different about it.  EXCEPT THAT IT TOTALLY WORKED.  From the second Wendy put that thing on him, he behaved for me.  It was great (considering that we started the jumping portion of the lesson after that), and since Wendy thinks he’s going through a phase, we’re going to keep using that bit for a while.  So on the one hand, I’ll have to be careful and gentle with the reins (which I need to be better at anyway, so this will be good for me), but on the the other hand, I won’t have to fight him so much.  Yay!

Then someday we’ll switch back to the gentler bit and he’ll take his revenge, but that’s Future Me’s problem.

The mighty motormouth

I couldn’t make myself stop talking today.  (Yeah, yeah, you’re a bunch of comedians.)

I talked the ears off people in my work meetings, I asked a ton of questions during my riding lesson, and I kept up a constant stream of chatter directed at Tigger when Wendy wasn’t handy.  I’m usually self-conscious about talking to the horse, which is why the nonstop babbling caught my attention.  I talked to him while catching him, walking him to the stable, grooming him, walking him to the arena, while cooling him off and walking him back to the stable and feeding him treats.  He didn’t toss me today, so I hope that means he appreciated the attention.

It’s more likely I wore him down so much he didn’t have the energy to shake me loose.

I’m going to jump all the jumps

After I recovered from my fall yesterday, back on Tigger, back in charge, right back into cantering, it was time to jump.  We did this thing I’ve never heard of* called gymnastic jumping.  It’s lining up a bunch of jumps together, and it’s meant to help me focus on my jumping form.  There are probably other reasons for it, too, but that’s the one Wendy told me about.  So she set up the jumps in two long lines.  The first time, there were only two jumps, one stride in between.  Horse goes over the first jump, takes one stride, goes over the second, and then we come back around and do it again.  Then she added a third, another stride away, then a fourth.  The fifth jump was four or five strides past the fourth.  That’s the top row in the sophisticated diagram below.

Not to scale, duh.

All of that went pretty smoothly, 1-foot jumps, way fun.  We took turns running through it, Daisy and Dobby first, then me and Tigger.  There was one incident…Wendy set me and Tigger up to go through that set of jumps after Daisy and Dobby, but Tigger could still see Dobby at the far end, and since we’ve already learned that Tigger wants to be near Dobby all the time, you can probably imagine the speed at which we barreled through that set.  It was exhilarating and scary and fun and TOO FAST FOR ME, especially since it happened maybe 10 minutes after I fell off.  We adjusted so that Dobby was well out of eyesight before Tigger lined up for the jumps for the rest of the lesson.  That helped.

Oh, and then Daisy, wunderkind, jumped that set on Dobby with her arms held straight out from her sides.  Like she was flying.  It was AMAZING.

I did not try that.

Then we switched to the second line of jumps (the bottom line in that diagram), and in addition to setting up the jumps in a close row, Wendy raised two of them to 2’3″.  TWO OF THEM (the ones with the double x).  I’ve jumped that high twice only, in one lesson weeks ago, and it was a single jump.  Like before Christmas, so months ago, really.  It was SO COOL.  Exhilarating again, but in a less scary way.  I can’t wait to do more of that.

So, yeah. My lesson was exciting.  I’m curious to find out how afraid I’ll be of getting back on Tigger next week.  Right now I feel okay, but when I’m standing in front of him, knowing how he gets, knowing that I can fall off, will I be scared?

*It’s safe to say that nearly everything I’m learning is a thing I’ve never heard of.  Even if I’ve heard of it (dressage, for example), I probably don’t really know what it means or what it is, and I certainly don’t know how to do it.

I got it over with

Well, today was exciting.

I shared my riding lesson today with Daisy, which was helpful for me in a couple of ways and a bit of a hindrance in just one.  She’s the 14-year-old I’ve mentioned before.  Having Daisy ride with me teaches me about sharing the arena, riding etiquette, and other small things I won’t pick up riding alone.  Watching Daisy ride shows me what I can look forward to doing as I get better.  It’s actually Daisy’s horse that causes the one hindrance.  She rides Dobby, who shares a pasture with Tigger, and who Tigger always wants to be with.  So if we’re trotting around the arena, Tigger trots faster to keep up.  If we’re cantering around the arena, Tigger canters faster to keep up.  Tigger is pretty lazy most days, so faster is usually what I want, but I DON’T want to deal with the traffic jam that will occur when Tigger tries to run up Dobby’s butt.  So that part was a little stressful.  Manageable, thanks to Daisy’s experience (she peeled off to cross the arena the one time we got really close), and I learned from it, but still a bit stressful.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but Tigger can be…difficult sometimes.  Willful.  And I’m still learning to assert my will when that happens.  Today, we were cantering around the edges of the arena, after I’d managed to put some distance between us and Daisy and Dobby, and I lost the stirrup on my left side.  It happens occasionally, and Wendy swears it happens to everyone.  Usually, it happens to me while we’re trotting, and I’m enough in control that I can either get it back or slow Tigger down and get it back while we’re walking.  Today, while cantering, not so much.  So I lost my left stirrup, we were going faster than usual, I started to lose my balance a bit because my seat isn’t steady without that stirrup, and Tigger decided he didn’t want to stay on the edges of the arena anymore.  When he does that (it’s his preferred method of acting out – going where he wants), I’m supposed to yank hard on the rein in the opposite direction.  Well, two things: first, I’m not good at the yank hard thing because I don’t want to hurt him, and second, I wasn’t secure enough in the saddle to have any leverage.  I pulled instead of yanked, and I pulled again, and I got him to slow to a trot mostly, but he was in the middle of the arena, so I concentrated on steering him around the jumps.  I was still trying to regain control of the steering, of course, but the last thing I wanted to do was go over a jump with one foot just dangling.  I was totally failing to regain control of Tigger, and Wendy headed my way and reached for his bridle.  He jerked sideways and spun around, and I didn’t go with him.  It’s like he stepped to the side out from under me.  I’d say falling was about 10% my decision – there was a point where I was like, “well, I’m going to fall.  Go with it,” which I think helped my landing.  I fell off to the right, just sort of leaned over and out, and I landed on the meaty part of my right thigh and hip.  It was jarring, but otherwise didn’t really hurt.  Tigger ran away, I got up, and Wendy caught him and corrected him, and before I knew it, she had him back at the mounting block and I got back on the horse.  (I’m sorry – I had to say it.)  I was still shaking a little, but I got over it, and after a few steps walking, I got him to canter again and it was all over.

My first ever fall off a horse is behind me, and it wasn’t so bad.  And that wasn’t the only exciting part of the lesson!  But I’m exhausted, so come back tomorrow for the conclusion to our tale.

Moving on up

Guys, I jumped over 2 feet today! Well, the horse did, but I stayed on! Things are progressing on that front.

The jump looked like this, but not as fancy (there’s not much fancy at this place):

I have no idea if Tigger and I look like that horse and girl. We probably don’t look that cool. And actually, that might be higher than 2 feet, so you know? I probably don’t look anything like that.

I got a glimpse of my future today, too. I shared my lesson with Daisy, a 14-year-old who has been riding for half her life. (I don’t think becoming a 14-year-old is in my future.) We were basically doing the same things, but she was doing them better, faster, and then Wendy had her jump the same course WITHOUT STIRRUPS. What kind of leg muscles do you have to have to canter a course of eight 2-feet jumps without anything to brace your feet?


Learning quickly

My horseback riding lesson is the highlight of each week.  I started on Willow, learning to catch her, groom her, saddle her, etc.  Around week 4 or 5, I switched to Tigger, a younger and occasionally more difficult horse.  He has opinions, and I’m learning how to show his stubborn ass that I’m in charge.  I switched back and forth between the two for a few weeks, re-learning how to post, learning two-point (prep for jumping), and trotting courses through and around the jumps in the arena, with all the horizontal poles on the ground so I could get better at directing the horse where I want him to go.

All of that was going well, and I was really enjoying it.  Then one day, lesson #9 I think, I had just finished a course with the poles on the ground, and then Wilhemina (name changed to protect the innocent) set one of the jumps up to one foot and said, “How do you feel about jumping today?”

SUPER EXCITED was the answer.  So I did, and it was awesome.


The middle of that X is a foot off the ground.

From there, she set up all the jumps like that, and my courses around the arena have included LOTS of jumping, and I just can’t tell you how much fun it is.  (Hint: SO MUCH FUN!)

A couple of weeks ago (lesson #11, maybe), she had me pick up the speed a little so Tigger starts to canter when he lands the first jump, and the week after that (or maybe it was the end of that week?) I could canter the whole course (starting after the first jump).  It’s incredible.

So then this week, she was describing the course she wanted me to take, no different than the others that I noticed.  She had me going over two jumps straight down one long side of the area, making a wide turn, and then taking the jump at the far corner on the way back and angling diagonally across the arena to another jump, then stopping at her end.  It’s about half the course and pretty typical of what we’ve been doing.  I did the long side, took the one in the corner on the way back, and when I was about a horse-length in front of the last one, my brain went HOLY SHIT THAT ONE IS HIGHER.

It looked kind of like this one, except not nearly as picturesque.  No uprights on either side, just kind of a dirty white low wall.


The jump went fine, and weirdly, it didn’t feel any higher than the other jumps, which is the first thing I said after stopping.  She swears it’s 2 feet high, double the size of the jumps I’m used to.  So then I did it again, and THIS time, it felt higher, which is also the first thing I said when I stopped.  Turns out I’m not crazy or imagining things just because I knew it was higher.  Wilhemina said that the first time we went over it, the distance perfectly matched Tigger’s stride, so he just cantered over it.  The second time, the distance wasn’t perfect, so he jumped it, and yes, I actually went higher that time.

I’m jumping two feet!  Okay, Tigger is jumping two feet, but I’m not falling off!  It’s so cool.

Also, I’m riding Tigger all the time now because he loves to jump, and I guess Willow doesn’t.  It means I get more practice enforcing my will, which is something I really need to be better at.  There was one point last week where we took a jump because he wanted to, not because I wanted to.

This past week was lesson #13, and it’s wonderful, and I love it.

The perfect place to learn

After my super uncomfortable but personally triumphant (because I didn’t shrink into myself and run away) lesson at The Stable That Doesn’t Care, I let a couple of days go by to decompress and then I googled riding in the area. I emailed three new places and left voicemails at one or two more. This time, the email went like this (and at this point, I would take English or Western lessons – I just wanted to learn):

I’m an adult beginner, and I’d like to take riding lessons. I have ridden before, but basically only trail rides. I’d like to learn to ride, take care of a horse – general horsemanship. I’d be happy with one-on-one or class instruction. Either is fine, as long as there actually is some instruction. 🙂 I have found myself in situations where my abilities are assumed, I’ve been left on my own, and I’ve felt somewhat lost. I’d prefer not to go through that again, but I’m sure that’s now how you operate.

If you do teach beginner adults, can you send me some details? What are your rates? And when we could start? I’m usually free after 2:30pm on weekdays and pretty flexible on weekends.

I got two responses pretty quickly, and the second one was PERFECT. The woman who wrote back (we’ll call her Wilhemina) told me everything I needed and wanted to know in her first email back to me. (If only I could get people at work to answer emails so completely.)

Yes, I work with many adult beginners. We would work one on one in the beginning, until you felt confident enough to ride with another rider (this usually takes a while). Our lesson sizes are rarely larger than 2 or 3 – and I only combine riders into a lesson when I think it will actually enhance their learning experience. All of our horses are ridden English, but for those who want the security of a western saddle we do have a couple available to use. Our lessons cover everything from catching and haltering the horse, grooming, riding, horse psychology, and basic care of the horse. Our lessons are $50/lesson.
I have some openings on weekdays at 3pm, and some availability on weekends as well.
If you would be interested in coming out to my stable to meet me and the horses, feel free to let me know what day and time you would like. I live on the property, so I am here pretty much all the time.
I look forward to hearing from you!

I was SO EXCITED to get that email. I made John read it right away (he was equally excited), and I made myself wait a whole hour before I emailed her back. She gave me excellent directions, and I went out to meet her the very next day.

Wilhemina is so great. Super nice, super understanding, about 60 years old. She and her husband bought 30 acres a while back, and now they own and board around 30 horses, and this is all she does. (She told me yesterday she almost never goes out.) She gives lessons and spends the rest of her time working on the place. She doesn’t have any other employees, but some of the boarders and people who have been taking lessons for years help out regularly.

I told her what happened to me – without naming the barn – while we were talking. She was appalled but not surprised, and she guessed which barn right away. Apparently, this is not unusual for them. Coincidentally, she taught Roxanne (trainer who basically ignored me at that barn) how to ride. I spent a pleasant half-hour with Wilhemina, and I set up my first lesson with her for the very next week.

Her feeling is that riding should be fun. The rider and the horse should be having a good time, be relaxed, be there because we want to be. She doesn’t make any money at it – everything she brings in goes right back to her horses – but she loves it. It was obvious within seconds of meeting her that I made the right call to leave the other place and come to her.

I rode a horse and learned something about myself

After we got back from our Florida trip (with all the Harry Potter and Disney World and Star Wars and oh yeah friends and wedding stuff we could wish for), I googled riding lessons in Eugene and left voicemails with trainers at two local stables.  One of them called me back (let’s call her Roxanne), so I told her I’m basically a beginner, that when I was around 12 I spent a couple of weeks at a day camp learning to ride Western, and since then, I’ve gone on maybe half a dozen trail rides spaced every 2-3 years, the last one in 2011 or 2012 (family trip to Georgia).  I told her I’ve never ridden English, but I want to learn.  She told me she has an adult class of beginners of various stripes, I said great, and she said come out next Sunday for the 12:30 class.

My questions for her:

  • What do I need to wear?
  • What do I need to bring?
  • Where should I park?
  • Is there anything else I need to know?

Her answers:

  • Jeans and some kind of boot – no special riding clothes needed
  • Nothing
  • The barn is at the end of the long driveway.  I’ll see other cars.  Park there.
  • No

The class started at 12:30.  She told me to arrive at noon, so around 11:45 I turned into the long driveway, right behind another car.  And boy, was I lucky there was another car turning in just ahead of me.  Turns out there was a gate with a keypad across the top of that driveway.  Would have been nice to know the code.

I parked at one end of a really really really big L-shaped barn.  There was no one outside, no sign.  I poked my head in through a doorway at the end near me and found a couple of guys cleaning stalls.  I said I was here for a class, looking for Roxanne.  They shrugged and pointed down to the other end of the barn, in the middle where the L takes a turn.

When I got down there, I could see the arena, and it looked like a class was going on in there.  Just on this side of the arena, there were 4 or 5 young women milling around an office and the open space in front of the arena, so I kind of asked, generally, if any of them could help me find Roxanne.  One of them said she was in the arena, teaching the class.  Okay – was I supposed to go in there?  Interrupt?  So I said again, generally, I’m here for the 12:30 class.  Is there something I’m supposed to do?  Fill out?  Another one of the women handed me a release form and a pen.  I filled it out and turned around to hand it back, but she was gone.  Does someone in particular need this?  Another woman (maybe the first one?) took it from me and put it in the office.

I should mention here that they were all perfectly nice to me, but distant.  I was not their responsibility.

So then I asked what I should be doing next, and one of them (the first one, or the third one who might also have been the first one) beckoned to a fourth woman and told me that she (Caroline) would help me.  Cool.  My new buddy Caroline came over to me, leaned into the arena, and shouted to Roxanne, who was half the length of the barn away, What horse is Susannah riding?  Once Roxanne was reminded of who I am, she told us to go get Bijou.  So I followed Caroline back up the way I had come, out to where we parked, and over the opposite end of the barn to go get Bijou.  On the way, she asked me about me, I told her how little I knew and what I was after, and she seemed pretty nice, super helpful.

I led Bijou back to the first side of the barn, with Caroline, of course, and when Bijou reared at the sight of a dog bed the barn owner was carrying, I handled it pretty well.  (It freaked me out a bit, but I kept that inside.)  We (and by we, I mean Caroline) got Bijou in the cross-ties, and then Caroline said something about finding her saddle.  Well, for one thing, I don’t know where anything is, and for another, I don’t know what to do with it once I find it.

Caroline helped me get everything I need.  Then Caroline helped me groom Bijou.  Then Caroline helped me saddle Bijou.  Then Caroline helped me put polo wraps on Bijou.  Then Caroline helped me put Bijou’s bridle on her.  All along the way, I thanked her for helping me and apologized for being useless.  I don’t think she realized that I knew NOTHING when she volunteered to help me.

By then it was about 12:30, so I led Bijou down to the arena, and then someone (not Caroline) helped me lead Bijou into the arena and over to a mounting block and helped me get on the horse because I have NEVER MOUNTED A HORSE WITH AN ENGLISH SADDLE BEFORE THAT VERY MINUTE.

So, to start with, Caroline was wonderful and friendly and patient.  Then I looked over at my fellow students, and hey, there’s Caroline!  So no, Caroline doesn’t work at the barn, and no, Caroline doesn’t teach this class, and yes, Caroline helped me out of the goodness of her heart.

I got my first glimpse of Roxanne, the only person I’d seen so far who I was sure actually worked there, after I was on the horse and in the arena.  There were three other women in the class, including Caroline, all ahead of me, but not crazy ahead of me (I can say now in hindsight).

Anyway, the class itself was okay.  Well, no.  In comparison to before and after the class, the class was fine.  Compared to actual lessons I have had since, it was a total waste of time.  During the class, I wasn’t nervous.  During the class, Roxanne had to be reminded that no, I’ve never ridden English before, and yes, the last time I was on a horse was four or five years ago, and YES, I’M A BEGINNER.  She didn’t need the reminder because I wowed her with my skills – she couldn’t SEE my skills (lack of) because she was staring at her phone the whole time.  I spent an hour walking or trotting around the arena, not really learning anything.  Towards the end, she noticed I was holding my reins upside down (how is that even a thing?), and she helped me fix it, but she didn’t really explain in such a way that I knew how to get it right or notice when I got it wrong in the future.

Then the class was over.  The other students disappeared so quickly, and I was left sitting on the horse, by myself in the arena, with Roxanne still staring at her phone on the wall.  The next group of students was coming in, and I’m like, Well, crap.  I guess I have to get off this horse and figure out what happens next.  I managed to get down without embarrassing myself, got Bijou out of the arena, and stopped.  What was I supposed to do next?  Someone (another student) took pity on me and handed me a hoof pick.  Hey, I remember those!  Something to do with standing next to the horse’s leg and picking up each hoof and scraping out the crap that accumulates in there.  Well, I was standing facing the wrong way (you face the back of the horse, not the front) because IT’S BEEN OVER 25 YEARS SINCE I LAST DID IT, so whoever handed me the hoof pick turned me around and helped me out with the first hoof.  That chore done (probably badly because of the lack of supervision or teaching), I brought Bijou back to the cross-ties so I could unsaddle her.

Thankfully, Caroline appeared again, and I used her shamelessly to get everything back off of Bijou and put away.  She asked me if I was comfortable taking Bijou back to her stall (I was) and said she’d meet me right back by the cross-ties so we could clean the tack.

Great.  Cool.  LOVE Caroline.  I was able to get Bijou back in her stall without incident, but when I came back to where I left Caroline, she wasn’t there anymore.  I can’t blame her – it wasn’t her responsibility to help me.  She had gestured in the direction of the arena when she mentioned cleaning the tack, so I picked up Bijou’s bridle (helpfully, it had her name on it) and headed back that way.  There were more people milling around, watching the next class, so I just up and asked someone for help again.  A nice woman, older than the rest, showed me what to do (and then showed me when I did it wrong anyway).  She was the mother of one of the younger students.  Finally, I finished with that and put the bridle…somewhere…and then I leaned on the gate with the mother and a couple of other people to watch the two teenagers practice jumping (which was really really cool).  Eventually, though, I needed to get home, and I hadn’t yet paid for my lesson.  I asked the people near me if anyone in the general area worked here so I could pay someone.  The mother I’d been talking to introduced me to one of the barn’s owners, who asked me if I knew how much I owed.  Are you KIDDING ME?  The website had said it was $45 for a class, so I said yeah, and she said I could just write a check, made out to the stable, and pin it to the bulletin board.

Okay.  Done, I got in the car, drove home, and breathed again.  Then I went round and round for days about whether this completely ridiculous experience was one I should return to (because it can only get better, right?) or if I should find another place to ride.

Now that I’m months away from it, I can be comfortably outraged, but right then, in the moment, I was SO out of place, SO uncomfortable, SO unsure if this was something I could do.  I didn’t want to throw a fit, and I didn’t want to just decide to find a new place because what if every other place was horrible?  What if this is just the world of competitive show-jumping, and there’s no other method for learning to ride English for people who don’t necessarily want to compete?

Now that I’m months away from it, it’s obvious they were terrible (it was obvious then, too, but I was worried about those other things).  They weren’t terrible just to me, the beginner student who needed someone to actually teach her, but to themselves, their barn, and their horses.  Who the hell was I, to be left alone to take care of their very expensive horses?  I could have gotten hurt, I could have hurt the horse, and all of it would have been because they weren’t paying attention.  I kept asking for help, and while I did get it, I didn’t get it from the people who were responsible for helping me.

Did I go back?  Of course not.  Am I riding somewhere else?  Stay tuned again, while I continue the LONGEST STORY EVER.

Just do it already!

I’ve been talking about taking riding lessons for years.  Like, over a decade.  I always put it off because it seemed like a hobby/skill that wouldn’t go anywhere since I’m unlikely to buy a horse.  Guitar lessons?  Sure, we own guitars and it’s a skill I can practice on my own and keep up over time.  French lessons, same thing.  Tap dancing?  Well, it counts as a skill I can practice on my own, even if it has less use than most.  Horseback riding requires, you know, a horse and a place to ride and even if we weren’t planning on moving around a lot, what happens at the end?  Let’s say I get pretty good at riding.  Will I compete?  Almost* certainly not!  Will I own a horse?  Almost* certainly not – WAY too much work.  It’s not something I can practice on my own, so do I just keep laying out money forever?

So I put it off, and then I put it off some more.  And then it had been 10 years, and we’re in Oregon, and I STILL put it off.  And then I met Lindsey, the wife of one of John’s high school friends, at that wedding we went to in August.  Lindsey rides.  Lindsey used to ride competitively.  Lindsey rides English and jumps.  Lindsey teaches riding at a place in Rhode Island.  So I talked to Lindsey all weekend about horses and riding and what she’s done and why she does it and what I know (which is practically nothing) and why I haven’t done it, and she said the same thing John has been saying for years: “What’s the hold-up?  You enjoy it?  Go do it.”  Also, she promised she’d give me advice.  🙂

We got back from our Florida trip Labor Day weekend, and the Sunday after that, I rode a horse.  It was not a good experience.

Stay tuned.

*Never say never.