the oxer

There’s a vertical fence – three blue and white poles stacked one on top of the other. You come into it by way of a long, easy half-circle on the right rein, and then you are supposed to land on the left canter lead, loop around a small gate and tackle another vertical.

Sounds so simple! I cannot get this right. The first time, when I was sort of on my game, Austin landed on the right, incorrect lead and did a flying change in the first stride out. Acceptable, but things have gone badly downhill from there.

This time he is taking the left turn on the wrong canter lead, curving his body to the outside. It’s like trying to ride a bicycle shaped like an irritated banana. In my eagerness to change his canter lead I have completely forgotten the second vertical, with this utterly predictable result: Austin sees it before I do and picks a long spot, more or less at random.

He launches into space. I am what is called “left behind”. His forward movement over the fence catapults me from the back of the saddle onto his neck and we land in complete disarray. I fail to fall off by purest luck.

Of course the next fence, an oxer with a pole in front and back, is the biggest and most imposing jump on the course. I have a Thing about oxers. It is an entirely irrational Thing, because horses like them perfectly well and they often jump better than plain old verticals. Nevertheless I can’t quite believe forward movement will carry us over. I think I picture a Wile E. Coyote species of fall, where we hover gallopping in the air for a minute or two before looking down in chagrin and plummeting into the gap between the two rails.

This by way of digression. I am, you will recall, hanging around Austin’s neck trying to recover the steering and brakes before the giant fence ahead.

I begin at the beginning. Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. My entire riding life passes before my eyes, every lesson to be reapplied. Heels down, getting my calves back on the horse’s sides and my thighs and butt back in the saddle. Eyes up and locked onto our track. Back straight, shoulders back, chest out, hands low and forgiving and forward on the horse’s neck. The lightest check on the reins, to tell him I am back in business, and pressure from my restored calves, to bring his canter up and bouncy and strong into the oxer.

This time I am not left behind. This time I am taken up in the Rapture.

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