weekend in scotland

I had two lessons this weekend, both on tall dark handsome Scottie. Here’s a video of him jumping at Woodside a couple of years ago. Note that lovely cadenced canter. Note also his serene confidence and unruffled calm. The rockinghorse canter is still in place and a big part of the delight that is the riding-Scottie experience. The confidence and calm? Not so much. Something scared him last year and now he rushes his fences and worries. Colin, the top trainer and resident genius, says Scottie is (and I quote) “chickenshit.” Michelle and I, because we like him very much indeed, prefer to say that he is anxious. We mean that he’s chickenshit.

A year after starting again, I’m still a pretty sucky rider, but I suck at harder things on better horses. Scottie has to be one of the nicest horses I’ve ridden in my entire life – even Colin says he is super-nice – and that hypnotic canter is easily, far and away, the best canter I ever sat. The trick is to learn to give him confidence, which gets harder as we try harder things and jump bigger fences. Yes! I am actually jumping him at last, over teenytiny rails it is true, but high enough that he transmits clear mental images of falling poles and pain and fear. As well as staying on and keeping my position absolutely correct and relaxed and soft, I have to reassure him of my competence and his ability. When he gets too fast I have to slow him, not with the reins, but with the rhythm, making the footfalls slower and more sure by asking for it with my abdominal core.

It’s a miracle to me that I can even try (and mostly fail at) this. A year ago I had never asked for a flying change! Now I am riding this glorious made hunter and I mean really trying to ride him, awake every stride, trying to unlock my arms, keeping my leg on but soft and quiet, doing my utmost to lull him into that beautiful rhythmic canter so he is in a cadenced trance over fences, so he forgets the fear and the falling poles, so all he thinks about is the music of his footfalls. What joy.

(If you like how I write about riding, you should go read Hannah, who says very precisely what I am always struggling to get at.)

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