I’ve been riding at McIntosh long enough now to have a sense of the changing seasons. In summer, the poplars sparkle in the sunshine and we jump vast fences, laughing at danger. Then one day in October someone flips the switch and it’s winter. The horses have the wind under their tails and riders faceplant in the mud.
By November the outdoor arenas are knee-deep in wet and lessons are in the indoor, where the insane horse-traffic is punctuated by ponies having hysterics on the longe line, and where I cannot ride for toffee.
I’ve had three consecutive Tuesday evenings in the indoor on Louie, who it appears I have not introduced. Louie! Where to begin. He is a black Arabian gelding of extreme typiness. His head is very dished, his ears are small and point together, his eyes are like liquid planetoids melting with expression, his muzzle would fit in a teacup, his coat is velvet, his hoofs are porcelain, his tail is a silken black banner.
He’s the very incarnation of Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion, and when I was a child (and very pro-Arabian horse) I thought that kind of beauty would be an ALL SHALL LOVE HIM AND DESPAIR sort of experience. In fact, hunter/jumper barns consider exquisite black Arabian horses to be pretty much hilarious, and the standard reaction when people see him is more in the OOGLE WOOGLE OO IS AN ICKLE WICKLE PONY end of the spectrum.
I must say Louie doesn’t do much to undermine hunter/jumper stereotypes with respect to the Arabian horse. For the first few weeks he was here, every time he jumped a fence he would duck his head between his front legs so that he could glare at it as he went over to make sure that it didn’t move. He’s gained confidence since then, and his big schtick now is Being Alarmed By The Shadows, Being Alarmed By Creaky Sounds In The Roof, Being Alarmed By Those Fence Poles Stacked Over There, and Just Generally Being Alarmed. He bucks, he stands on his hind legs, he twirls. It’s not as scary as it sounds, because he’s probably only 15hh or 15.2 at most, and even my little short legs can wrap around him and stay on.
He makes me appreciate Bella and Dudley (who it appears I have not introduced.) Those guys are experts. When I give inexpert aids, they fill in the gaps. Louie’s not dumb (probably? A bit hard to tell. Excitable! Filled with glee!) but he was a parade horse; he has no very deep understanding of what it is we are trying to do. Bella and Dudley have theory. They can slice up courses and nail distances better than I can. Louie is always being surprised by poles. He hasn’t figured out yet that the poles are the point, the poles are part of a pattern, the pattern is the way people and horses play games and solve puzzles together. So I have to tell him more, explain things to him.
What’s really lovely about Louie is how responsive he is, how light my aids can be, how he does exactly what I tell him to do. What’s endlessly funny and humbling about him is that when he slams on all four brakes, snorting fire like a young and intemperate dragonlet, then Harrier Jump Jet vertically takes-off over A SINGLE POLE ON THE GROUND it’s because, oh God the shame, that’s exactly what I told him to do.
The way I know I love riding is that even when I am terrible, even when the horse is going backwards and sideways, even when I need three days of Ibuprofen to iron out the consequent kinks in my back, I still had more fun that I would have had doing almost anything else.