As a novice rider at age 42, I decided to learn English hunter. Given my age, I rationalized that my opportunity to jump over random objects while riding on a large mammal was fading fast. Hence, I procured an amazing, 17 hand thoroughbred, Winston. As an accountant with a panache for fashion, I considered it kismet that his registered name was Account in Style! My inner love-struck, doe-eyed, teenage equestrian knew we were going to be the perfect couple.
My first riding objective with this experienced, 16 year old gelding was building my confidence at the canter. I had not yet dared to even step my new, noble steed over a ground pole. During a group lesson, on a hot and muggy July Saturday morning, I struggled cantering the perimeter of the arena. So in this outdoor show ring, set-up with various jumps for our lesson’s diverse students, I elected to circle him at one end (mistake #1).
ME: “Heals down, relax my hinny, hands still and over withers, thumbs up, tight abs, legs still, follow his stride, weight in legs evenly, shoulders back..”
WINSTON: “Wow, we have really been trotting a lot lately, but we are DEFINITELY cantering a courtesy circle, so hang on sweet cheeks…”
…and he veers straight out of the circle, as he had done a thousand times before with other riders. I look up and set my gaze (mistake #2) at the three foot jump he has locked upon. Uttering an expletive that doubles as a religious idiom, I grab mane and squeeze my eyes shut (mistake #3).
Now riding by braille, I feel my rump smack the saddle as he lands. Still (barely) on, and Winston bolts to build speed for the next jump. My trainer formulates how she will defend my lesson-prompted fatal heart attack to her peers.
As any remaining shred of my balance fades, I slide off the saddle, throw my reins, kick free of stirrups, and roll toohkus over teakettle twice, before halting in a seated position. Winston backs away from the scene of the crash, looking side to side at the witnesses wide-eyed, before turning to head back to the stables, (correctly) assuming the lesson is over.
Evidence that it is truly better to be lucky than good: Even though my underwear contained enough dirt to grow potatoes, my physical injuries were limited to a sprained thumb and a small scratch on my nose.
Many hours back in the saddle were required to mend my confidence. I can now reflect on this fateful experience with humor and understanding. Overcoming fear and self-doubt as I pursued my riding goals was a test of my character and fortitude. Despite this rocky start, Winston and I persevered and bonded into the perfect (winning) couple my inner teenage girl believed we could be. Glad I listened to her. I can’t wait to see what she talks me into next.