I rode my first hunter this weekend. I’ve never ridden a horse whose job is to eat up an arena and fly over fences 3′ 6″ and up. I don’t know how to jump. I, um, have never ridden hunt seat. (See post on Jane Learns to Ride by Falling Off a Lot.)
Molly, with extraordinary generosity, asked if I’d like to try her handsome retired show hunter, Mel (Melody). Let’s be perfectly clear: Molly is giving me a gift. This isn’t a please-exercise-my-horse catch ride. This is: want to wear my diamonds? I watched Daisy train with him on the flat last week, they were beautiful together. He is willing, kind, and a hard worker. He’s clearly opinionated, but listened when Daisy said “Dude, you’re going to travel in a frame.”
Daisy showing Melody pre-retirement:
Underneath his winter fuzzball appearance is a gorgeous, tough, strong, intelligent horse that could easily light up a small city with the voltage of his personality.
I learned my Rome lesson. I asked a lot of questions. They weren’t the right questions, but hey, I asked.
Jane: (For the 400th time.) Is he really in my riding range?
Daisy: Stop bugging me. You can ride this horse.
Jane: You did tell Molly how I ride, right? That I’m just an adequate rider, right?
Daisy: If you say one more time that you can’t ride, I’m going to poke my eye out. No. I’m going to poke your eye out.
Jane: (trying not to wheedle) But this is hunt seat? I don’t know what the ground rules are for hunters?
Daisy: Look. It’s just RIDING. He’ll be easy because you’re not jumping. He’s fine on the flat.
Jane: What is he like over fences? (I’m looking for any info on how hunters travel that might be different than what I know.)
Daisy: He gets…strong…over fences. I’ve shown him. (Pause) He’s lock-n-load when jumping. Which you are not going to do. So stop worrying.
I’ve asked Daisy lots of questions about jumping, enough that I can translate “strong” and “lock ‘n load” into: He’s one helluva bold, brash, forceful dude on course who has his own ideas on how to take the jumps, and you have to challenge him for the right to make the decisions. I know how Daisy rides. She is understated. If she says he’s strong over fences, he can be a handful. She’s also brutally honest. If she says I can ride him on the flat, I probably can ride him.
Saturday was super windy and brisk, clear and chilly. Molly was on board when I arrived. Bless her, how kind is that? For a try-out ride, a semi-tired horse is a good horse. I watch him canter right past the crackling, wind-whipped tarp without a glance. Molly and Melody look GREAT. Um, I’m not going to look like that. I have to fight the urge to back away.
Daisy asks me if I want a leg up, and I say nah. He’s not that tall. But, uh, in hunt seat, the stirrups are a lot shorter. Hopping around on one foot while trying to stuff the other foot into a stirrup around shoulder height started looking rather…un-riderly. Daisy rescues me and says, “I’m going to give you a leg up.”
Problem: It’s been so long since I’ve had a leg up, I kinda forgot how it works. I missed the count of three. There was no light leap upward while balancing off Daisy’s arm. Pretty much, Daisy picked me up and “Oofed” me into the saddle. She walked away clutching her lower back. (I should stop by with more ice, ibuprofen, and videos.)
Great first impression.
Hobbling towards the rail, Daisy casually says (to the mini-crowd of supportive spectators), “Who has that video of Melody’s win? The $10,000 purse? I want to watch it again.”
WHAT?! I’m going to get off very slooooowly and carefully. I won’t muss up a hair.
My supportive spectators see The Face of Horror and cluck furiously to get Mel moving before I can get off.
Mel’s initial reaction:
Uh…you have got to be kidding me. I don’t know her, and I am always ridden by people I know. I don’t have to take second-rate riders, because I am a top-notch hunter. No offense? But I’m not feeling the love. (Clucking, and more calls of “walk on, Melody!” He circles calmly around Molly.) Mom? Someone stuck a stray on me, could you please remove it?
When mom said: “That’s the plan, Melody.” He shrugged his shoulders and walked on.
The walking was excellent.
I tried mightily to figure out the balance point of the seat, and surprise, it was in the middle. Duh. What was I expecting? We moved on to trotting.
The trotting was…uninspired.
Mom? Stray human?
I surprised us both, by posting naturally with a reasonably steady lower leg. Melody evaluated the hand/balance/leg combo and decided I might know how to ride. He switched gears a little, and moved out onto a bigger circle. Nice mover, if a little slow at the moment. Suddenly, we shoot forward, and I hear Daisy yelling “Sorry!” and realize she’s thrown a dirt clod at his rump.
We’re engaged now! And this is FUN. WOW this is fun. Can we say exhilarating?
Uh-oh. Shouldn’t I be asking for a frame? I ask. The uninspired trot returns. As we come around the turn where Bella is standing off to one side, she says quietly, “Hunter. Let go of him. Don’t try for anything until you have forward.”
I let go, we shoot back into Power Trot. The posting is so effortless I could go forever, and it feels fantastic.
Note to self: beat the crap out of Tiny so I don’t have to climb Mount Everest with every stride.
Molly calls out “Try some figure 8’s.”
I start on some arena sized figure 8’s. Both Melody and I are acutely aware of the location of the lone jump. I’m avoiding it as one would avoid a radioactive cloud, and he’s leaning into it like someone waiting to lazily push-off onto a pool floaty. I pay no attention to the ground poles. What? They’re just ground poles.
Remember the part where I don’t ask the right questions?
Mel zeros in on a ground pole. I feel it before I understand: Lock N Load. At the trot. Holy crap. He’s focused like a laser missile on the ground pole. I might as well be sitting in the grandstand. He’s locked onto the pole, figuring out the approach, the take off point, the landing point, the amount of power he’s going to need from behind to haul my inept butt over the jump. I pick up the reins.
Mistake. Now I have his interest.
Really? You know how to jump? Wanna? A little fun? C’mon.
Gulp. I know he over jumps at 3′ 6″. How high would he over jump 4 inches? I immediately drop the reins. No change. He’s scoping. I leaf through my brain for jumping information. It’s bleak: look up and past the jump, do something or other with two-point and take off, and for all that is Holy DO NOT HIT HIM IN THE MOUTH. Oh sure. Plenty of info to take a jump.
Without missing a beat, we float easily over the ground pole in a lovely suspended trot. Melody is laughing at me. But it feels good, like he’s teasing me in fun, not like he doesn’t like me. He knew exactly what he was doing the entire time. He was having me on. He read me to a T and had some fun with it.
I have a glimpse of how much horse he must be to handle over a jump.
I’m in love. He is a saint for carting me around (not kidding, he’s used to the best), and clearly he has a mischievous but very kind sense of humor.
I didn’t fall off, or apparently look too horrible. Unbelievably, Molly offered to let me ride him whenever I wanted. (Um. That would be daily.) As soon as I can move again, I want to learn hunt seat equitation. OW ow ow ow ow. You guys use your muscles differently. I thought I’d feel it in the abs and legs. Nope. Hips. (Nice way of saying WOW the sides of my butt hurt!)
All you hunter or jumper riders out there: you are AWESOME.