Wow! What a lot has happened since my last post… and it’s been really, really good!
The change began with my return to riding. For my first lesson of the New Year on Sunday, January 13, my regular trainer, Nathalie, was away at a show that day, so I was with her Assistant Trainer, Florence. I rode Rio, the 15 hand Quarterhorse that I’d shared 5 months of lessons with in 2012.
I quickly discovered that “rusty” was a very polite euphemism to describe the state into which my riding skills had devolved while I’d been out of the saddle. The lesson was quite an eye-opener as to how much work was ahead of me.
I had no idea how well I’d do if Nathalie found another sale horse for me to try, but it wasn’t going to be long before I’d find out! My second lesson on Rio was scheduled for Friday January 18. A couple of days before, Nathalie called me to say she’d found and ridden a 13-year-old Argentinian chestnut mare named Lena who is for sale, and she wanted me to give her a try. The mare was stabled in San Marcos, California, at the barn belonging to Michelle Parker, a Grand Prix equestrian friend of Nathalie’s. So we arranged to go try Lena instead of having my scheduled lesson.
I expressed concern about my rustiness to Nathalie. It had been just over three months since I’d tried the spectacular 5-year-old mare Jubilant at Rancho Agradecido. Even though I’d been able to get Jubilant to trot and canter, I wasn’t a good enough rider for her yet. She hadn’t been able to understand what I was asking for.
When we arrived at Michelle’s ranch, Lena was all tacked up and ready to go. Nathalie rode her first to warm her up and then it was my turn. Lena is a little over 16 hands; maybe an inch taller than my old lesson horse Kobe. However, having ridden 15-hand horses for the past year, Lena looked really big to me and it seemed like a long way up to the saddle. At first when I got on her and asked her to walk on, she didn’t budge an inch. Oh, oh! I thought… But then one little tap from my heels and off we went.
After that introductory tap, I can honestly say I don’t remember Lena either missing or misinterpreting a single cue I gave her. And I never once had to kick, use spurs, or tap with the crop. Lena trotted immediately when asked; a comfy trot, not jarring. After a couple of short laps of trotting, Nathalie had me immediately ask for the canter. Lena was amazing! She gave me a super-easy transition on the correct lead, to a very comfortable, evenly-paced canter. Every time after that, she gave me what I asked for when asked, and always on the correct lead. She was everything I’ve ever written about wanting a horse to be: willing, cooperative, anxious to please, and a delight to ride. Not to mention, really cute! She seems… perfect!
As Nathalie pointed out, if I can ride Lena this well when my skills are forgotten, imagine how well we’ll do when I get them back! What a wonderful contrast to my lesson on Rio! What an amazing confidence boost! With Lena, right off the bat it felt like a partnership; we were working together towards a common goal, and she was happy to do it. It was like my magical time trying Renzo last September, except Nathalie said she thought I sat the canter better on Lena than I had on Renzo… and I never thought I’d find a horse that could improve on that ride!
So, long story short, Lena is now at Acorn Farm for a trial period! She arrived Wednesday, 23rd. Unfortunately, it began to rain on Wednesday night and showers continued to fall intermittently through Saturday evening. Nathalie rode Lena the day she arrived and then managed to squeak in a quick ride Thursday between showers. Since then, however, the footing’s been saturated, and riding’s been impossible.
Although the bad weather meant no riding, I think it may have been a blessing in disguise. I had always been wary of riding a horse from another barn too soon after it moved in, for fear of a spook caused by the unfamiliar surroundings. I wanted Lena to have the time to relax and get situated in her new home before adding the stress of riding. The rain gave Lena exactly the adjustment period I’d hoped for.
So as the showers came and Lena was confined to her stall for most of the time, I visited her every day bearing gifts of apples and carrots. After some initial shyness on my part, I was able to halter and walk her around the farm. I slithered along beside her in the mud, and then took her over to the grassy pasture adjacent to the stalls to let her graze. It’s taking me some time to get used to the idea of having a horse-sized (not pony-sized) horse at the end of the rope. Right now, I find it a bit intimidating. Nathalie was so proud of me when she arrived at the barn on Saturday and found me there alone, grazing Lena, that she took the picture below!
A really nice thing that happened when Lena arrived at Acorn Farm was that several of the other riders recognized her. Three of them had ridden her before, and everyone loves her! One rider had tried Lena as a prospective purchase a couple of years ago, but she’s a very tall young woman and needed a bigger horse because of her long legs. Her loss, my gain! 🙂 This recognition from the others was great validation. I could have brought in an anonymous horse from some barn nobody had heard of, and wouldn’t have gotten this tremendous feedback from my peers.
Lena’s not just a boring, flatting-and-cross-rails-only type horse either. She’s one heck of a jumper. She’s shown at 1.10 meters and Michelle Parker mentioned that she believes Lena is capable of 1.20 meters with the right rider. Needless to say, that won’t be me–don’t know if I’ll ever take up jumping again–but Lena will be in full training to hone her skills. My barn buddy Nancy recognized Lena right away, asking me, “Is that Lena from Argentina? I saw Michelle Parker show her and I LOVED her!”
Tomorrow, Tuesday, I’m going to ride Lena at the Farm for the first time. Remembering how well we did last time, I’m looking forward to it. Despite the stress of the move and then the rain-confinement, Lena has carried herself like a real lady. While she may have been feeling fresh on our walks, she behaved herself perfectly. Nathalie rode her today–first time in four days–and reported that she did just fine.
After all this time, and all these daydreams and computer searches for Mr. Perfecthorse, whom I always imagined would be a boy–a handsome Bay gelding like Kobe or Renzo–along comes pretty little chestnut mare Miss Lena from Argentina, who’s knocked my socks off with her ladylike ways and perfect manners. Yep, “Mr.” Perfecthorse could turn out to be a girl, after all. Go figure! 🙂