I realized that in so many of my posts, I talk at length about what an angel Addy is. She’s so sweet, what a good pony, she takes such good care of me. And I stand by that. Despite our occasional bobbles, she is a wonderful perfect girl, and I never want her to change.
But she’s also so much more than that. Saying she’s an angel and leaving it at that is doing her such a disservice, so I sat down and thought hard about what makes this horse so special. That’s when I realized what it is: Addy tailors her rides to her rider. She responds differently to each different person on her back, and she does it because she’s just so goshdarn smart.
On Saturdays, Addy gives a walk-trot lesson to a very very new beginner. She never gets fast, she halts easily, and turns when the reins are pulled in that direction. Even when they’ve given cantering a try, she loped around a bit and then easily came back to a walk. She is supremely uncomplicated on Saturdays. She knows that she’s got a novice rider, and she expects that they will not be tackling anything particularly challenging that day. And so she is a weekend schoolmaster.
This used to be how she was in my lessons on Wednesdays too: I rode very unsubtly, and she was an unsubtle ride. Even over small jumps she was a babysitter. Contrast that to my current lessons on Wednesdays: we try to improve on our lateral work, bending and counter-bending, transitions within gaits, bending lines and rollbacks and all sorts of more complicated exercises. Addy has shifted into a more advanced ride as the exercises have grown in complexity, the jump heights have gone up, and my aids have grown (slightly) more refined.
Our homework rides are no longer me practicing some circles in two-point, but working on collection and extension, lateral work, and moving more on the bit instead of stretched out. As I’m expecting better work from her, she’s expecting better work from me. If I open a rein without supporting with my leg, she will not move in that direction. If I ask for a halt but don’t reinforce with my seat and leg, she will keep on plowing. We have a difficult time walking in a straight line because the beast gets anticipatory and excited. If I abandon her over a jump she will either duck out, pick a hugely gappy distance, or change her pace. She is always good-natured and tries hard to please, but no longer expects to call the shots. She wants me to be the leader I’m supposed to be in our partnership.
The way she goes now is so different: she pushes to speed up at almost all times, likes to have a more consistent contact, prances instead of moving out if my aids are muddled, and jumps with her knees up by her chin (it’s the cutest thing in the world, but definitely jumps me out of the tack more). I am constantly regulating pace, playing with her mouth, adding leg, adjusting my seat, and shifting to stay over her center of balance.
Contrast that to a few months ago, where we bumbled around on a loose rein and my jumping position looked like a praying mantis. If she had pushed forward or pranced back then, I would’ve toppled off the side because I was riding so weakly. Once I became a more active rider, she became a more active ride. It has been a very gradual process, but I realized that if someone described her to me as she is now when I first got back into riding, I would’ve been terrified of her! A horse that tends to go fast, prefers some guidance to a good distance, and has all these buttons to push? I could not have handled that. I’m still learning how to work with it!
Luckily, she has only given me what I can safely handle. Riding her is like second nature now- of course we are going to hold hard around that corner and leg up to the jump, of course we are going to add tons of leg to control our pace, of course I’m going to play with her mouth a little to get her to soften, of course she’s going to peek at the new jump and leap it like a gazelle. And then of course we are going to have fun, because we are partners in this.
I am so far from being a great rider- there is so much for me to learn and build on and get stronger at, so I’ll settle for “decent” until I can become great. And as much as it pains me to admit it, she is not the perfect horse- she’s not the fanciest and she gets heavy and sticky at times. But I am convinced that as she raises her expectations of me, I will be able to meet them. And as I meet those expectations I’ll be able to raise my expectations for her in turn, which she will no doubt meet with ease.
She has the talent and heart, and I have the drive. We’re just going to keep pushing each other higher and higher.