I ride because I'm obsessed with it; because I'm addicted to the feeling of connection and partnership; and as my ability to ride improves I'm experiencing an amazing conversation and energy that flows between me and the horse. The conversation has always been there but it has evolved from "do what I say and do it my way," to being able to think about a change in gait, and the thought being understood and executed with no force. ...its rather hard to explain without sounding all telepathic and psychopathic, but horses are incredibly sensitive. When I'm thinking about something, Lucy knows it. I have to be careful that I only think about what I want in the moment. If I think, "cantering would be nice in a bit," Lucy hears "canter" and ignores the part about "in a bit" and then I have to manage her over-achieving eagerness.
2. How old were you when you started riding? How many years have you been riding?
I think this is a trick question so you can figure out my age. I was in fifth or sixth grade when I started riding. There was a boarding stable a few blocks from my home and I spent everyday after school there; feeding carrots and sugar lumps to the horses. The owner of the stable had a one-eyed dappled Shetland pony named Petey. He let me groom Petey and eventually, ride him as well. I rode in the arena, bareback. He was a mischievous, naughty pony but I didn't care. As I grew up, through middle school, I went to horse camp every year. This was at a local riding stable that rented horses for trail riding in the hills in the southern part of my town. I saved all my money to ride there and I still remember my favorites: a tall grey named Pharoah and a chestnut Tennessee Walker named King. In high school, I was fortunate to find an empty nest family with a horse that needed to be ridden. Charco was a grey QH/Arabian mix; very snarky and not very fast but with lovely smooth gaits. I rode her bareback as well; up in the foothills or in a public arena that was close enough to ride to. I loved cantering on her -- I didn't recognize it at the time but it was my first experience with dressage; she lifted her back and carried me along. It was heaven. I rode a bit in college with a friend who had horses and then stopped completely when I got married. I picked it up again at 40 and have been riding consistently since then (I'm 55 now). I guess I've been riding close to 30 years.
3. Your first fall?
I fell off Petey, the Shetland pony, all the time. He would dump me and head for an open stall where I would find him cleaning up some other horse's hay. I probably fell off of him more days than not. He was a brat. He was also very low to the ground.
4. English or western? What discipline (dressage, jumping, trail, roping)?
I am most comfortable in a dressage saddle and I love the one I have now which is a close contact model. There is very little leather between me and Lucy. I'm still most comfortable with the feel of bareback, which this saddle gives me -- plus some security. I did not ride much in a western saddle, other than at rental stables, growing up and I'm not nearly as comfortable in one. I like being able to feel the horse under my leg, to feel the muscles tense or twitch, and in a Western saddle I don't feel as connected. I did some jumping when I was younger but once I discovered dressage, I lost interest in everything else. I do enjoy a short trail ride once in awhile, particularly in a beautiful location, but my heart belongs to dressage, the balanced dance, and that whole unspoken dialogue I tried to explain above.
The last time I rode was Sunday, January 3rd. I rode Lucy in the arena. She was pretty hyper at first but then we were both able to relax and have a wonderful conversation.
6. Have you ever had to put down a horse that you loved?
This is downer of a last question. Jeez. Yes, I have done this. It is the hardest part of horse ownership. We've put down two horses: Strider and Starman. Strider was not emotionally bonded with us and he was in a lot of pain from laminitis. It was not horribly difficult to put him down. Starman was my first horse (I don't count Mr. Mike who was mean and who I sold after a couple bad falls). I loved Starman. He carried me for as long as he could and then Camille rode him. When he couldn't carry her anymore, we got him the miniature donkeys for companions. He lived to be 20-something (his age was never clear-cut). He got an infection, became septic, and despite a week of inpatient care at the equine hospital we couldn't save him. We brought him back home before putting him down. His story is here. I still miss him.