my god, it’s full of bells

I was up late and woke early and XO was out of chocolate croissants, so that although it was a glorious day I felt a bit frail and mostly glad that I would be riding Bella.

But also just a tiny, secret bit bummed, because she’s little and has an upside down neck and doesn’t really come on the bit like the BIG horses.


“Dez,” I said to Dez, our lovely trainer: “should I be using a driving seat with Bella?” This is the sort of rubbish I get out of books.

“You already use too much driving seat,” said Dez, who is lovely. “I want her to move off your legs.”

So off we go, and I am pushing her and pushing her and also messing with the bit, because for heaven’s sake Bella you are a grown horse, do not be ponying around with your nose in the air.

“Leave the bit alone,” said Dez, fountain of loveliness. “It’s more important to get her moving forward.”

Okay, so, this isn’t working, why don’t I do a crazy thing and try what the trainer says. Leave Bella’s ridiculous head in the clouds and ride her off my leg into a light, consistent contact.

Trot without stirrups, counterflexion, circles at counterflexion, true flexion, canter, drop stirrups, flying change. Lots of work at the canter, me trying to sink into the saddle, hold my legs soft and still at her side. Not use a driving seat.

I started to feel her finding her own cadence. I tried to sit still and soft and supple, and actually felt my hips creaking, too stiff to move with her. Dez has always told me I do this, but I never felt it before. I tried to soften, and tried to soften, and tried and tried and tried.

And Bella reached her neck down into the contact.

Well, I thought. I’ll be damned.

She wasn’t arch-necked and picture-perfect like Archie and Dillon and Omni. Her little neck is too short for that. But she was moving off my leg and accepting the contact, and I had done it without my hands, just with patience and my seat.

Next we did a distance exercise and I threw away the reins and she ran out on me in front of a six-inch log, the little brat. But later again we jumped a course most of which was 2’9″ and half of which was oxers and all of which felt enormous to me. And we rode it in that same forward gleeful canter, united in a single purpose, counting strides and hitting good distances and taking off and landing like Fred and Ginger. I eased her into a trot with the biggest grin my face is capable of.

But the biggest happiness didn’t wash over me until later, when we were walking back to the barn, and I looked at the sun shining on her iridescent orange withers and her strawberry blonde mane. She may be little on the outside but don’t be fooled. Bella is large, she contains multitudes; she has infinitely more to teach me.

Showjumping is in and of itself a pointless pastime, I know that. On the drive down, Katie and I were chuckling about our habit of driving thirty miles to ride horses round and round in a small arena, and how we might explain this to our great-grandparents. But equitation is also an art, and like any respectably pointless human activity it contains both nothing and the everything that that tiny point of nothing is connected to. It is teaching me history and psychology and anatomy and genetics. It’s teaching me how to learn.

I propose a third domain of study, beside the sciences and the humanities. I shall call it, the equanimities. The queue forms to the left.

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