Friday, January 24, 2014

Sarah and Angelica Are Friends

Last weekend I went to a riding clinic taught by my trainer Angelica. I last worked with her a year ago, in winter, and frankly it was a bit of a mess. Angelica had some stuff going on; it was surprising she was able to teach me at all (and, indeed, I got some hostile, "She's teaching you?" remarks from people who ride much better than me.  But whatev). She was not very happy, which means she was snarkier than usual; when she met my darling mare Sarah for the first time, her first words were, "That thing should be pulling a cart. Why on earth did you buy it?"

Now, I knew going in that Angelica's view of the horse I should buy and my view were somewhat different, but I was the one riding the horse, so I bought what I wanted, which was something I could hunt first flight right off the bat, that wouldn't kill me cross-country or when I screwed up working by myself for months at a time. Angelica most likely feels I could have bought all that in something weighing less than 1200 pounds that wouldn't make the ground tremble when it galloped on its forehand, but whatev. I wasn't bothered. "Her name's Sarah," I said.

Angelica frowned and said, "There are too many horses named Sarah."

"Here's another," I said.

I might have felt indignant over Angelica's dismissiveness except 1) she had some stuff going on; and 2) Sarah acted like a complete ignorant unbroken fool every time she got within 600 feet of Angelica.  She was awful. For two straight weeks. I'd be working at the neighboring farm with my other trainer, Betty, and Sarah would be all lovely and soft and would be trying really hard, and I'd feel terrifically proud of her, and then we'd ride over to Angelica's and Sarah would go stark raving mad. We spent one lesson galloping in circles with Sarah's nose in the air while she screamed the most annoying horse whinny in the world. For forty-five minutes straight.

So they didn't part friends, Angelica and my sweet mare.

This last weekend, at the start of my group's session, I told Angelica that some of our progress had stalled, because Sarah's full-on enthusiasm in the hunt field wasn't translating well back in the confines of the ring. Angelica pointed out, to the large crowd of auditors (she's good enough that people pay to watch her teach--seriously), how Sarah's back hip conformation makes it markedly harder for her to canter with collection than the horse who was standing beside her (and markedly easier for her to gallop like a fool). She said, "Kim'll make this into a good horse, but it's going to take work. She bought a horse that you could tell was going to struggle with collection."

I said, "I bought a made field hunter."
Angelica said, "That couldn't canter," and we nodded with perfect amity, because this was the non-snarky truth.

When we did canter Angelica said I'd brought her a long way, and I could see how far I had yet to come. It's hard to explain for nonhorsey folks, but by the end of the lesson I knew where I had to go, and how to get there, and why, I just couldn't do it yet. That's an awful lot to get out of a single lesson, so I was pretty thrilled. It's one of the reasons I love Angelica.

The next day was supposed to have been cross-country jumping, but, due to the wretched weather and footing, we stayed indoors. Some of the riders were unhappy; I was jubilant. Sarah and I had a chance to put things together. And we did. At one point Sarah hesitated at the start of a jumping exercise. I got out my whip and whaled her, feeling virtuous: Angelica hollered, "Put that stick away! She's not stopping, she's thinking!" And then we did it again, and it was lovely; later, lovelier still. We finished, the four of us in my group, with a twisty difficult course of a dozen jumps; Sarah couldn't make all the turns at the canter, but I was not to punish her if she took them at the trot. And the last time through, myself the last rider, we went around the final hairpin turn, and held the canter, and cantered the jump, and halted square on the other side.  "Good job, Beautiful," Angelica said, to the horse, not me, while rubbing Sarah's forehead, and Sarah dropped her head and sighed.