“The path to becoming a successful rider is in riding every horse. Every single horse that you are offered. This is the simplest way to bettering yourself.”
We have all read a status similar to this on Denny Emerson’s Facebook page. I know I have. Every time I read them, I am forced to reassess my goals, my strategy, and my game plan. I am one of those people who craves riding horses. Tricky horses, easy horses, big horses, little horses, dressage horses, jumping horses, they are all desired by me.
So it came as no surprise to anyone when I posted on my own Facebook page that I had been coerced into catch riding a new horse in a clinic.
Back track — I now currently have three horses. Mak, or my “big horse,” is just now coming out of winter vacation, Nixon, my Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover horse is trucking along in his training to become a (hopefully upper level) eventer, and Kennedy is a newly off the track project who has had approximately 5 rides. These three horses entertain me, fill my days with smiles, teach me how to be a better rider, and at the end of the day, they drain my bank account.
So when I saw that world renowned instructor Mary D’Arcy was coming to town to teach a clinic, I checked my bank account, shook my head, and closed the invitation. I knew I couldn’t afford a clinic right now. I sent a text message to the woman hosting the event, and painfully explained to her that I would not be able to ride. I half jokingly told her that she should just take my horse, and instead of laughing, she responded “really? Can I?”
And I agreed. I knew that Alexa was a fabulous rider, she has ridden Nixon a handful of times, and they click so well. He is just as smitten with her as she is with him. And that is not common. Nixon needs a solid rider, but with a soft hand. A brave soul, but with a calm heart. He is extremely athletic, but like most of the great’s, he is tricky.
So I hauled him to her farm on Friday to let her brush the cobweb’s off of their partnership, and as they hacked around, she mentioned to me that she had this pony. This amazing little pistol of a pony who needed sold. But she was having a hard time even getting training rides on it, as the pony was 13.2hh, and Alexa was 5’8. I laughed at her and said that I would ride the pony. Any time. Any day. My 5’3 little person status might as well be used for something good, right?
And that is how I got entered in the Mary D’Arcy clinic on a *horse* I had never ridden.
Alexa offered to give me a spot, and what was supposed to be a simple weekend of hauling a horse to and from a clinic quickly became a Pony Club rating on crack. Alexa would be riding 17.1hh Nixon, having ridden him probably 5 times in the last 6 months, and I would be riding Polly the Pony, sticking at 13.1 1/2 hh, a pony I had never ridden.
But, true to her reputation, the weekend went beautifully. Mary is an amazing clinician. From the Beginner Novice group to Intermediate, she was full of words of wisdom and homework. The ability to truly assess a rider and horse duo due to her simplistic tools and longer sessions made the clinic feel like private lessons. The sessions were made up of smaller groups, with a full hour devoted to dressage, followed by an hour of grid work. The second day was coursework, and everyone walked out of the indoor today begging for Mary to return.
There was no overfacing of young horses, as the courses and gymnastics started extremely small and were built up. Mary was tough but fair in assessing each individual riders weaknesses, and not only assessing them, but addressing them. I learned in just 3 hours of riding on a horse I had never seen before that I tilt my upper body down before a fence. Something that I get away with on a 17hh horse, but something that becomes quite costly on a pony who still has a stride left before take-off. Each rider left feeling reflective, contemplative, emboldened, and excited for the homework that lie ahead. And that is exactly how I hope all clinics would end.
Nixon was fabulous for Alexa, letting me know that I have finally created a horse that is not only beautiful, but rideable, and that makes me so happy. I want him to be at a place where ANYONE can ride him. We have him there on the flat, and he is getting there over fences.
And me? Well I have a new lover. Her name is Polly. I can’t believe I’m admitting to loving a mare, nonetheless a chestnut mare, but this creature, this mythical being of shorthood, was just amazing. She rode like a Dutch Warmblood that had spent too much time in the dryer. Soft in the aids, able to skip down a line, and brave as can be, I couldn’t remove the smile from my face. She is for sale, and it was so tempting to just trade my 17.1hh Nixon for this little dirt bike. I could have my own personal Teddy O’Connor, only 6 inches shorter. Our colors would be pink and silver, and it would be fabulous!
I learned so much this weekend. I learned that Nixon, my sales horse/project/future Rolex winner is exactly that. My adoration for him was reaffirmed by Mary, Alexa, and everyone who watched him. I learned that I will ride with Mary if and when she ever returns to Lexington, as she is now a member of my rather short list of clinicians that are worth every penny of the time and money that is spent on them. And I learned that Mr. Emerson might be onto something. Maybe the best thing for you really is riding as many horses as you are able to, especially with eyes on the ground like Mary’s. Maybe we all should live a little bit outside of our comfort zone. Maybe the best thing for all of us would do a little horse swap, a la Pony Club rating style.
And maybe, just maybe, the biggest lessons that are learned are found in the tiniest of packages. Polly taught me this, and for that, I am forever grateful.