New horse in the barn. 15 years old, longtime show horse, purebred Oldenburg gelding. Lesson with Colin on Sunday morning. Colin rode in the Seoul Olympics. It is at once shaming to be the worst rider in the lesson by far, and inspiring to be in the lesson at all. Colin always has something trenchant to say, like a Zen master. This time it is that I am hanging on with the backs of my thighs. If I stop doing that, my heels should sink.

Which reminds me of an exercise we’ve been doing lately: three-loop serpentines at the rising trot with no stirrups. The point is to make you stop hanging on with your legs. Of course when you think about it, if you can’t hang on with your legs, and you don’t have any stirrups, the only way to rise to the trot is by periodically levitating. Which is impossible. We do it anyway.

I bounced around on Archie’s back at the canter until I suddenly found a place to sit like a centaur. I should have bookmarked it, because after every fence he stuck his head between his knees and bucked. I only just barely stayed on each time, but kept going out of childish pride. The challenge was to keep my heels down and my hands quiet. I tried. Colin said: “I can see that you’re trying, and no trainer can ask more than that.”

Afterwards I said: “I was pretty sure I was going to eat dirt.” “You had me worried a couple of times,” he said, grinning.

Francis asked what it’s like to have lessons with an Olympian versus with a regular mortal, and the answer is: they’re the same, only the jumps are higher and you’re expected to do everything to a much higher standard. But we walk, trot and canter on each rein exactly like beginners. It would be very boring to watch.

I rode Archie again on Tuesday night and he didn’t buck much. I had more trouble getting him to move off my leg. But I also got a little bit of nice work out of him. I forgot to blog one particularly good ride I had on Omni, where I started to get a feel for keeping the reins alive and having a conversation with him through them. I tried that on Archie as well (smarting from a comment of Colin’s, perfectly fair, that I let my hand go dead sometimes) and he seemed to respond.

That feeling of surging forward into contact, with the horse round and soft under you and no coercion anywhere, just flow: it’s good. I went a whole hour without mourning the tsunami victims or being sick with fear for my family. It’s an unforgivably elitist pastime, I know, but nothing’s better at forcing me to let go and live in the moment, attentive to the phenomenal world.

Archie is a hugger. He will rest his head against your chest and you can put your arms around him and hold him and breathe into his mane. He reminds me, a lot, of Alfie and Noah, the best horses ever. Sarah says he’s too nice to stay in the lesson program long, and not to get too attached. Check.

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