Monday, December 3, 2018

Thoroughbred Thrills

A few weekends ago, I made my biannual pilgrimage to DC to visit Austen, the floofs, and the horses. It was well-timed, too, because while sun was prescribed for my home forecast, warm temperatures certainly were not! I was eager to trade in my Canaan-Valley-cold-weather card for a weekend in DC's forecast that was a good 20-30°F higher! While we didn't get the sun we thought we'd get, it was infinitely better than windy and 30°F that home had.

In past trips, I have felt ill-prepared for the weekend's adventures. Many folks think I cram a lot into a day/weekend/week so far as activities go, but my abilities pale compared to Austen. Good gracious can she jam-pack a day! My dogs and I always come home tired (and sometimes cursing under our breath.)

Fortunately, this go-around, I asked Austen what she foresaw for the weekend. The answer? Copious horse time with a healthy side of PHOTOS. In fact, she informed me she had a brand new 64GB memory card ready and was clearing off a second as we spoke.

Challenge accepted.

Aside from taking copious photos, the plan was for me to ride not only Pig, whom I've ridden a time or two before, but also Bast!

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October 2017, a lesson on Pig I never wrote about or shared. Thanks to some observations Austen shared with me after this
ride, I began really focusing on more yoga in my life. What a difference it has made!

I'm an adept rider. I've got pretty fair balance and proper mechanics. I'm still learning, as we all are, but something about riding someone else's horse these days isn't as easy as it once was! I imagine that's just life when you have your own horses. I catch rode exclusively for the first two decades of my life. But that isn't something I do much any more! In fact, after hitting the dirt hard about 4 years ago, I swore off riding other people's horses unless they were ones I knew well or were horses I could learn something from. Read: their training supersedes my own.

Pig's training far supersede's my own and Bast is trending that direction quickly under Austen's expert guidance. And hot damn are they both SO FUN to ride. I dream of the day I am able to have my horses so tuned into riding off my seat alone. Sadly, my resources and education for learning and training that is in its early stages still. But that's why opportunities like those Austen offers me (full of fun and free of charge), are so very valuable.

Firstly, she worked Bast.


He's come so damn far from the last time I saw them ride earlier this year. Such a little adult!

As such, when the moment came and Austen, grinning, told me, "Get your helmet!" I didn't feel any apprehension. And from the moment I climbed aboard, Bast was a complete gentleman.

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He's just the cutest

It was so very cool to ride Bast and compare him to past experiences on Pig. My education within dressage has grown leaps and bounds since my last ride on Pig in October 2017. Comparing and contrasting the stage of Bast's training to Pig's 4th level abilities was really cool. I understood the building blocks that made up Bast's foundation and could see how the rest of the training would build neatly upon it.

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What a good boy!

Overall, riding Bast was as similar as it gets to riding Grif. They're at a similar-ish place training-wise which lent me a lot of comfort as I rode him around. There weren't a million different buttons or heightened sensitivity to my micro movements in the saddle to worry about at all. Communication was much clearer, which is always a plus! He's just such a cool freaking horse and such a good boy.

After short time, I turned the reins back over to Austen to nab some more fun photos of her and Bast galloping. This one is my favorite.

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The epitome of an autumn color palette!

With Bast thoroughly exercised for the day, it was Pig's turn!

Austen gave me an inquiring look that asked if I wanted to just go ahead and jump on to which I rapidly shook my head, "Nope! You!" She laughed and climbed aboard.

Austen knows I know what Pig's shenanigans look like and knows they intimidate me. See, not unreasonably, Pig isn't fond of a handsy rider. And when he throws his little fits, I get handsy in my attempt to simultaneously pull the horse up and curl into the fetal position. Which, of course, causes him to escalate his opinion. And I'll give him that. Totally fair.

No hands necessary!

But my baggage isn't unfounded. I grew up riding a LOT of horses with a bucking problem. The first horse who really bucked - and I mean really bucked to the point where the whole audience of judges, instructors, parents, and riders at our 4-H shows would gasp and gape (ironically, this horse's registered name was Buck Destiny) - could easily be brought out of it if I pulled his head up. Thus, from a young age I've learned to pull heads up as opposed to giving more leg when a horse bucks. But I'm still learning, I'm improving, and I'm moving forward, but shit ain't quick or easy.

So, when it came time for me to ride Pig my mind and body hit a bit of a "block". I know I can ride a horse pretty well, but this horse is just so sensitive and well-trained that I worried I'd screw it all up and hit the dirt. Rational brain decided to take a vacation for a few minutes, what can I say?

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Austen is so helpful though. She knows me and the horse so well and put us through our paces appropriately to warm us both up.

Slowly my rational brain returned from it's momentary vacation and my body realized that, oh hey, I do know how to do this horse riding thing. And, in fact, the horse riding thing on this horse wasn't so hard after all. A year's worth of yoga with an emphasis on my hips has done wonders. Sitting with a more open hip angle and making micro-adjustments with my pelvis to cue and communicate with Pig was infinitely easier than it had been the year before. Crazy, I know.

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Take this human off of me immediately. - Pig, probably
Regardless, when it came time to canter the red fire engine, my rational brain went on strike again for a few moments. See, my stirrups were quite long and the sensation of having to constantly reach for them at the canter was quite unnerving!

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My white knuckled grip is my favorite and tells the story of my insecurity at this moment lol

Austen knew just how to get me to loosen up about it though, joking with me in a way that got me to goof off for the camera before I stopped to adjust them. Once they were adjusted to lend me a much more secure feeling, off we went again to give it a whirl. And I even started to relax a bit!

Except, then Pig decided the day was lost if he didn't express at least one opinion:

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I'm all smiles, starting to relax. Pig is about to express himself...
And no, I tried to not touch that curb rein at all. Also, my finger to brain connection about having
two sets of reins was something along the lines of, "?!!!??!"
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The appearance of my double-chin demonstrates my realization of how crap is about to go down.
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And now we've entered triple-chin territory where I believe death is imminent.
Meanwhile, Pig is like the girls in that Dane Cook skit about dancing, "I JUST WANNA DANCE!"
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"Throw my shoes on the floor, stand in a circle and just DANCE!"
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Uphill much?

And I mean, honestly, it wasn't so bad in hindsight. But it did intimidate me in the moment. But not so much that I couldn't immediately laugh about it. He's a good boy. Absurd, but good.

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Much more focused and relaxed.

From this moment, Austen started niggling me more about really galloping the little fire engine. I was still hesitant though. What exactly I was afraid of at this point, I don't know. It wasn't logical, that's for certain! Just one of those times a part of the brain overrides the logical part and says, "No," while the rational side tries to ask, "But why?" and is ignored.

Fortunately for my rational brain, Austen chose this moment to note, "Remember, my biggest fear with a horse is getting run away with. Pig is not going to run away with you. Sit up and he'll stop."

Cue singing unicorns and sparkling rainbows. My mind immediately clicked back into place in this moment and went, "YEAH! Okay. Let's DO THIS."

And so I did. And I think the photos tell the story from here...

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My face. I die.
But seriously, this is the same look all of us wear when we do something that simultaneously terrifies us and thrills us. 
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And this is the exact moment joy broke through the fear and decided to rule the day.
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Pure, unadulterated joy
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It was easy after that. 
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And it's funny how relaxation creates better riding. I mean, look! I can even manage to hold both sets of reins like something resembling an adult and not an inept child.
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I'm a step above stalker, I AM Austen. I've got the dog. The horse. The tack (the double!). A vest. In Maryland. At her barn.
Austen 2.0. ENGAGE.
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Pig clearly loves this job so, so very much. His ears are simply the happiest in every. single. photo.
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We conquer! And I didn't even grab mane with at least one hand...
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Oh, I'll GO. - Pig, probably
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And a true sign of my absolute relaxation at this point? One hand off the reins. 

It's an understatement to express how much freaking FUN I had. Damn. What a thrill!

And honestly, it isn't surprising. I used to gallop Stan around full bore all the time as a teen. I used to race my friends in their cars for Pete's sake. (As such, I know that a car speedometer clocked Stan and I rocketing along at 35mph for few hundred yards.) And I didn't wear a helmet then. What should I fear now?


And so, I'm really looking forward to springtime when I head back for another visit. Plans are already in the works for a full bore gallop session on both boys in a magically green landscape. I can't wait!

Thank you, Austen, for letting me experience the thrill and joy of galloping a thoroughbred. What a magical experience!


  1. Aaah! I am so glad we were able to be make this happen! ❤️❤️

  2. You look so happy!!! What a wonderful way to spend a day in late fall.

  3. This is exactly why we need horses and friends in our lives, right??? So awesome. I love the photos!! My favorite is probably where he's still cantering and you have one hand off the reins. THAT is a great feeling! What a fun adventure!!

  4. yassssss i LOVE this!!! there is NOTHING BETTER than being able to just let fly with a good horse <3 <3 <3

  5. This is so awesome. I remember galloping an Irish sport horse across the mountain in Ireland. My first thought was that I was going to die. My second was that I didn't care. I got into two point. grabbed some mane and off we went. It was pure joy. Your photos brought that memory all back.

    1. That sounds freaking AMAZING! Thank you for sharing! ❤️

  6. You two must have had the most fun day!! Looks like a total blast!

  7. What a fun day and fantastic scenery!

  8. You face! Just makes me want to count how many chins I have when I enact similar emotions (IE dunking my critter in a 4ft water hole?! lol)

    This was a fun read. Also, I keep thinking, "If I'm intimidated learning/riding with Liz... I better just drink with Austen" LOL!

  9. So much joy in those post. Gorgeous pictures (and humans and of course horses and dogs) too :)

  10. This experience looks like heaven! I'm so jealous. And I wouldn't know what to do with all those reins either. :P