History of the Horse.

Or, "How I Started to Love Big, Angry Bay Thoroughbred Geldings."

When I was nine, my parents, my brother and I were driving in our minivan on a road not too far from our house.  I'm not sure where we were going or why we decided on this road, as this area wasn't very commercialized at this point.  And we passed one of those lit-up marquee arrow signs, advertising riding lessons down a scary dirt road.

I begged.  I pleaded.  My mom relented and offered to call to get information.  I still remember: $20 for a two-hour lesson.  In today's standards (or the standard of trainer that I would use today), that is absurdly cheap.  Even then, back in 1992-1993, it was still pretty cheap.

For my first lesson and for the first several months, my instructor was Bev.  Something was always a bit off about Bev, but I didn't know better.  (This "off" has nothing to do with the fact that she was the first lesbian I ever met.  Or, at least, that's how I remember her.)  I remember that Bev always rode during our lessons and, sometimes, things progressed too quickly.  For example:

  • When teaching the canter (though we didn't know what diagonals or leads were), she slapped helmets on our heads, gum in our mouths, and put us on the lunge line with one of the regular lesson horses in a halter.  Maybe the lunge line is an okay way to teach the canter, when you're ready to learn.  None of us were.
  • After learning to canter on the lunge line, it came time to canter in our lessons.  One girl (who I later competed against in IHSA and whooped) (I was always jealous because her family has money.) wasn't able to get Duffer, the old, bucking quarterhorse, to pick it up.  Bev came cantering behind her with a crop and smacked the tar out of Duffer, who proceeded to gallop and buck off.  This girl ended up under Duffer's neck, holding on for dear life.
  • Bev sent a large group of us out on a trail ride, with no consideration for the skill set of that group.  A trot out of the woods (led by moi) resulted in one girl's horse (Duffer, I think), bucking and cantering off.  She fell.  Her foot stuck.  She was dragged.  This was a shining moment for me, one I remember distinctly twenty years later: dismounting, going to her, screaming for one of the better riders to gallop to the barn to have Bev call 911.  Holding her hand until the ambulance came.  That was the first time I met E, as she was untacking the horse I always rode: Teddy Bear.
I cried the first time that Bev made me ride Teddy Bear.  He had a horrible reputation.  Kids fell off left and right.  He was a dirty stopper.  He'd get pissed off at the slightest provocation.  I think I fell in love in that first lesson, as soon as I was brave enough to trot.  I'm pretty sure that he was the first Thoroughbred I'd ever ridden.

Shortly after the fiasco with the girl getting carted off in the ambulance, things at the barn went downhill.  Bev left.  E took over.  Without knowing me, without knowing how well I thought I rode Teddy, E didn't approve of me riding him.  This is when I learned that Teddy was her horse.

After a few lessons and a few people rejecting the idea of riding him themselves, I was finally reunited with Teddy.  I continued to ride him for the next eight years.  Mostly.

There was a point that E pulled me aside, in the harsh, unwavering fashion she had, and told me that I was ruining her horse.

Looking back, I see what's wrong with this picture.  I'm the student.  She's the teacher.  If I'm fucking up something so badly and so routinely, I need better training.  I wasn't ruining the horse; she was letting me ruin the horse.  (To this day, though, I'm still not sure what I was doing wrong.)  So I spent a month, tearfully, riding other horses before she determined that I could get back on Teddy.

We showed frequently.  I always rode him.  I loved him.  He set the foundation that later made me able to be Archie's owner.  I can't count the number of times that he threw me.  And I know that I was upset any time that I had to ride another horse, though, by years of riding him, I was capable.  There were only a few horse shows that I showed other horses or fox hunts in which E rode Teddy herself.

I didn't go "off" to college, as I stayed in the same city, but I lost the financial backing that had allowed me to take those $20/two hour lessons.  And after nearly a decade at that barn, I left it.  I stopped riding for about a year.  I bought a car.

When the equestrian team started up and I started riding again, I contacted E to see if I could have one last lesson on Teddy.  He was significantly older in this short amount of time.  I remember his knees popping when I picked up his feet.  And E told me to jump him, so I did.  After taking the tires out of the ring, I remember walking to where the water troughs were and sliding off of him.  My first anxiety attack.

The old man died a few years ago, still deeply loved by E and retired.

Foxhunt on Duffer.
Realized years later that I'd jumped the oxer backwards.
Already eliminated because he refused the first fence.
This is my favorite of us.

In the Archie news, we had a beautiful ride last night.  Short.  Downward transitions with a smaller walk break between the trot.  Here's to hoping it's working.

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  1. Replies
    1. Thanks! I never realized what a good photographer my mother was! And there's a definite gap - she only came to one fox hunt (the blessing) and stopped going to shows when I was old enough to drive.