I’ve had a few rides on Hudson since I’ve been back from my summer off. He’s in full competition mode and loaded for cow.
None of those first rides back were normal workouts. I needed to know my seat was solid and my hands quiet. We walked. Until I feel it ‘click’, we stay in the kiddie pool.
He was getting a tad bored with walking. I threw in huge, arena-sized patterns to keep him from going insane. Patterns and sticking to a line turned uber boredom into focused meditation. Whew.
Finally the day came when I slid into the saddle like a plug into an electrical outlet. The Seat Was Back. I don’t know who was more excited, me or Hudson.
Once the electrical circuit settled into a regulated pulse, I had a little talk with my inner Dressage Diva, mentally ticking off the Riding Hudson Rules:
- Don’t touch his mouth
- Don’t fuss with his head set
- All collection comes from my seat.
- 99% of my requests come from my seat.
- Unless I want us to break the sound barrier on the way to Spain, do NOT ‘drape’ my legs on his sides.
When he realized we were going to TROT and CANTER, his body was instantly in roping mode. It’s good I’ve been watching him rope. I knew exactly what was going on. I patted him on the neck: “Sorry buddy, that’s not my job. My job is to relax you. You wouldn’t want me to try, anyway. I can’t rope a hay bale from five feet while standing on the ground.”
This is where it got freaky.
Hudson understood what I said. He ratcheted back down, becoming atypically serene considering we were going to GO. I felt an agenda forming in his mind. Hudson would never bypass instructions, but we have a relationship, and he knows I don’t care if he asks me questions: I’ll let him know if what he wants to do is okay. He asks, waits for a reply, and then follows directions. Whatever they are. Unusual horse.
Apparently Hudson really DID want me to come watch roping practice the other night.
Hudson: Trot now?
Jane: Uh, sure. Here’s the cue.
We go into a quick, rather short-strided trot. It’s a trot that is leaning towards the idea of a canter. But he’s not anxious or trying to get away with anything. I have no sense he would break into a canter. Huh. I have the distinct impression he’s trying to tell me something.
Hudson: Trotting not really my job? See?
I listen, with interest. I slow my seat down, and he automatically drops the quickness and lengthens his strides.
Hudson: Oh sure. Can do this. Not trying to get away with anything. Willing to listen? Want to show.
I give my seat back to him. I’m willing to listen. Just not willing to mess up his workout. I am not a roper, and I am not going to screw up a good roping horse. If he can show me without disrupting what we do together, great.
Hudson: Thank you. Watch.
Very slowly, and with a lot of ear flickering, (as if to say: don’t worry I won’t put you in danger. Going slow here. SHOW. Not doing. K?) he starts to ease his body into a completely different position. We’re trotting, but he’s nearly shoulder fore. He’s bending around my outside leg, trotting a perfect line, and using his outside eye to look off and to the right. Huh. We’re tracking left. OH! I know what this is. This is the canter position for roping on the left lead. He’s got an ear back for imaginary instructions, and an eye on the imaginary cow. At the trot.
I hear Hudson’s voice in my head: Exactly.
Hudson: Okay. Now. Usually we do this a lot faster. I’m not going to do that. Can I canter?
Holy cow, I get it! It’s take your kid to work day: he’s showing me his job. He’s holding my hand, and trying to explain his work day in the simplest possible terms. Wow.
I trust Hudson. I’m going to see what happens.
Jane: (scrambling) Uh, wait a sec, you canter off inside leg aids, let me organize that…not my usual.
Hudson: (patient) …whenever you’re ready.
I get it together, and we go into the gentlest canter imaginable, in a roping frame. Left shoulder a little more open, Left eye looking straight ahead, right side of body wrapped around my right leg, right eye sighting cow distance. He’s traveling perfectly straight, despite the twist in his body.
Hudson: this is what I do, only a lot faster, and I don’t trot.
Jane: Hudson, this is so cool. Thanks for showing me.
Hudson: There’s more. You up for a little more speed? NOT roping speed.
I am so amused by how careful he’s being, and that I’m this kid he’s showing around his office. I’m also kind of touched. He’s taking care of the poor inept dressage rider. I loosen my seat: the signal that more speed is fine. We do not shoot forward. He eases into a cross between a slight canter extension and a slo-mo hand gallop.
Hudson: Okay so far?
Jane: (trying not to laugh) I’m good.
We’re coming up on the short side of the arena. I’ve seen how the header turns at a full gallop, usually with the steer caught and dallied. As we come into the turn, Hudson shortens his strides without losing the pace, gets round and tense in the neck, back and rump, his eye is more focused on the imaginary steer, his ear more intently listening to the imaginary roper, and he’s wrapped tighter around my right leg. He is so ‘under’ me, it reminds me of one of Katherine’s maxims: “in dressage, you want the feeling the horse is so collected and beneath you, that you could ask it to do anything from that stance, and the horse could do it effortlessly.” The light goes on. I saw him in this position at the last practice. At the time, I thought wow that moment looks like the start of a canter pirouette.
Oh yeah! This is where they set up for the heeler! He’s watching the steer, and the other horse and rider, tracking distances and trajectories, and the imaginary rope. He is ready to move in any direction, at any pace. He is perfectly balanced.
Geeze, I guess I didn’t get how involved this is.
Hudson: Very involved.
Jane: You’re amazing.
Hudson: We’re going to the State Championships on Saturday.
Jane: Wow. Buddy, if you guys draw a good steer, you’re going to kick butt.
Hudson: Likely. Don’t worry, I’m not going to face with you up there.
(Facing is the move where the header flips around to face the steer after the heeler has a successful catch. Something like a rollback with 300 lbs of unpredictable and cranky cow fighting you while you flip.)
He’s given me a taste of the mechanics of the run. Without the actual run. This is one SMART horse.
He proceeds to show me other things, all at kiddie pace. He asks if he can do a canter depart from the walk. Odd request from him, but I say yes. I feel all his weight shift to his hindquarters, and his front lighten up as if he’s a predator preparing to leap. He’s humped under me like a tensed cat ready to spring, but low and forward. Not up and forward. Interesting.
He does not blast off. Once he’s shown me the correct out-of-the-box position, he departs flat and smooth into a nice quiet lope. Flat? I’m used to horses that are supposed to jump into the canter with a ton of spring and rocking horse movement. Oh yeah. I remember Bella telling me how roping horses need to come flat out of the box, that coming up and out costs seconds. It’s a timed event. Of course!
He’s relaxes. I drop him back down to a walk. We’ve only done one full trot and canter round of the arena in each direction, but he’s managed to show me his entire job. I am so impressed.
Jane: Thanks for showing me. Feeling is different than watching.
Hudson: Too bad you don’t know how to roping ride. I could show you all this at speed. Someday when you’re older maybe.