I had the opportunity, after reading The Adult Rider, to submit some questions to the author in brief interview form. Transcript below.
Jane: Many of us start out riding, say, in western saddles and end up thirty years later riding in a completely different discipline, on a radically different sort of horse. I’m always curious what paths other people have traveled in their horse lives. What have been the chronological changes in your own horse life?
Sarah: On the surface, there has been some consistency, in that I trained primarily in Pony Club with the expectation that I would be fox hunting and participating in horse trials, and 30 years later, that is what I am doing.
But along the way I’ve made some interesting stops, because once I returned to riding I felt much freer to experiment. So I’ve ridden Western, and on a trip to Provence several years ago I had a lesson on an haute ecole trained Andalusian and tried out movements like piaffe and passage (very badly!). I went to Greece last year and rode Haflinger ponies in the Ionian Sea, and most recently I’ve started polo lessons.
Jane: What draws you to horses?
Sarah: Everything. I always think of what the alienated psychiatrist in Equus says: “A horse’s head is finally unknowable to me.” They are completely mysterious and grand and powerful, and at the same time gentle and generous, and then they become marvelous partners who make you grander, bolder, and more generous than you would be on your own.
Jane: Is there a basic horse personality that holds more attraction for you than another? (i.e. I tend to like forward horses that may need to be calmed, rather than laid back horses that need to be energized.)
Sarah: I’m with you. I like bold horses who are to some extent self-reliant – I’m riding a big Irish Thoroughbred now who really knows his job – but will still acknowledge me if I ask for something. Martha Graham said she liked male dancers who embodied “the divine normal”; and I think that’s what I look for in a horse. I’m very drawn to draft/TB crosses because of this – big and gentlemanly, but with flash. Sort of like George Clooney.
Jane: If a reader could take away only one or two concepts from your book, what would you like those concepts to be?
Sarah: First, don’t give undue emphasis to your physical limitations (other than being cognizant of safety issues). Instead, believe that everything that has brought you to this point as a developed human being – your intelligence, and ambition, and empathy, and impatience, and sense of humor, and parenting skills, etc. – will help shape and clarify your riding experience.
Second, learn to put yourself first. One thing that prompted the writing of this book was the spectacle of all those self-sacrificing mums (and occasionally, dads) at horse shows and barns, acting as chauffeurs and grooms, who seem to have misplace their own riding lives. I want to say, “Get out there with your kids!”
Jane: Your book is painstakingly comprehensive in a way that I find unusual and groundbreaking. Few horse books even acknowledge the ‘social culture’ that surrounds horses. The Adult Rider gives a taste of the basic social culture of each riding discipline the rider is likely to encounter. This is something I wish I had known before starting my life with horses. Is there anything you wish you had known?
Sarah: Two things. I started riding in traditional circles in which riders were viewed as somewhat hearty, and themselves viewed more cerebral people with some suspicion, so I was always a bit of an odd girl out because I was bookish. I know now that these two impulses – towards a sporting and an intellectual life – are not irreconcilable, and indeed I’ve met marvelous examples of such integrated personalities in my riding life now.
The other thing is that I really emphasize in the book the importance of investing the time to find a good instructor. There are exciting, thoughtful teachers out there, and if you are persistent you’ll get to work with one or more of them.
Conversely, a bad one will eventually leech the joy from the experience for one reason or another. When I started riding again, I was stuck for awhile in a dependent relationship with a not-so-good instructor because of the context in which I was riding, and I didn’t know enough to realize that I could step out of the frame.
Thank you Sarah, for sharing with all of us!