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We Are Flying Solo

September 12, 2009

He Changed The Course Of Things To Come, Pt. I

It was a humiliating ride.

I had just spent an hour watching the group before me with lovely, springy round horses and a sinking feeling in my chest. Looking around me, there wasn't a horse to be seen that wasn't trained to the nines and not a one looked like it would sell for less than $10K. I was the only person there with a rattly stock-side trailer and a backyard horse. Most folks were friendly -- a few gave me The Look, that one wealthy people give their staff. Yeah, you know the one.

A bit of background: I actually grew up riding dressage on school horses, German trainer and all. It turns out dressage is easy when you are a 10 year old with no bad habits. It's a bitch when you are 27 and lopsided. Plus four years of college riding hunter eq...well, that dressage seat was so far gone it was like it never existed.

Looks like a 10 trot to me!
As I entered the ring with the others in my group, I was, as mentioned, slightly petrified. Solo obliged by being stiff, crooked, and notably uncooperative. Note the chestnut in the background on above. That's what we were supposed to look like. Also note Solo turning around going, You've got to be freaking kidding me.

We looked more like, well, the backyard pair that we were, sigh. And our canter, true to form, went something like this:  

Me:  Solo, for the love of god, please oh please canter nicely in front of Mr. Olympics!

Solo's response: buck-buck-buck-bolt-transition-sidestep-ugly-strung-out-canter-at-high-speed.

The man hides his face in agony - let's pretend there was a fly...
Awesome, thanks, buddy.

Then came the charming, lilting Scot words I was hoping for from Ian: "If you don't mind, I'd like to have a sit on him." I couldn't slide off fast enough and hoped he didn't really hear my effusive begging oh-please-please-fix-us!

Now Solo is a very gentle, loving horse. But he is very cautious with his trust -- he will pack around a dead beginner oh-so-sweetly, but if the person on his back knows a thing or two, Solo worries that they might hit him or rough-house him (he is NOT a horse you can force into things).

Ian Stark is an exceptionally strong rider who likes hot, talented horses like the legendary Murphy Himself, the talented Irish-bred grey. So he gets on Solo and wraps those legs around my stiff red horse and says, "Excuse me, but you WILL move forward into contact." It progressed just like this:

I don't think I like you
Who the hell are you?
You shall receive one warning only.
Get off, bossy man!
Get the f@ck off, devil man!

Looking back, I wish I had stepped in a little. Ian gave him a mighty crack with the dressage whip (accompanied by an exclamation of "Bloody horse!"), which, given some past incidents of abuse, Solo did NOT receive well and I can't blame him. Hindsight...

But overall, Ian gave him a fair and consistent ride and they ended up looking like THIS:

I never got that trot!!
And I drooled. And then I had to get back on and feel what a dressage horse is SUPPOSED to feel like. And it was amazing: I could feel Solo's back up and swinging and he was THERE, in my hands. And he was FORWARD. It felt like super-speed, but I was informed, no, that was where we SHOULD be.

Oh and all of a sudden, our canter reappeared. So apparently all we needed was a world-class rider to climb up and find it for us again. Good to know.

We can do the bendy thingz!
I left the ring that day deep in thought -- I needed to ride my horse FORWARD. I needed to bend him, I needed to sit up, I needed to change, well, everything.

I also left that day with my jaw set, DETERMINED to redeem our poor showing in the two days of jumping to follow. I knew this was where our strengths lay and I was going to show the doubters why we did indeed deserve to be part of all this.


  1. Wow, what a transformation from the "Pre-Ian" Solo to the "Post-Ian" one. That man sure can ride! Solo looks all round and stretchy - like a proper dressage horse!
    I'm sure it was difficult seeing your boy get cracked with a whip, but it looks like it did the trick. As long as it isn't abusive, I don't have a problem with whips.

  2. No comment about Ian's lack of helmet?? I would have thought that the helmet-nazi would have had a say about that! hahaha

  3. Oh I offered him mine twice, molly! I guess he doesn't feel any student's horse can be naughtier than his own were. But he came within a fraction of an inch of being thrown off by Solo. I was praying "please dear god don't let my horse kill Ian Stark." You should have seen him in the jumping phases, he hopped on 4 y.o. OTTB's learning to jump and leaped them over logs -- in loafers and shorts!

    Frizz, I don't have a problem with whips either, I use one for dressage. But Solo is a horse that you can tap or pop, but you do NOT whack, he shuts down and goes defensive and panicky. I also later learned that saddle was too narrow for Solo, so part of his resistance to lift his back was probably due to that as well. I'm such a bad mom...

  4. No, you're not a bad mom - all evidence to the contrary.
    Live 'n learn, girl. ;-)

  5. Oh man, I couldn't help but actually laugh out loud at this one...I could just picture it! The things Solo does remind me so much of my horse (must be the TB in him!!, especially the NO I will NOT! Boy, have I seen that before when someone else has gotten on and tried to get him to do something. And wow, does he ever look great in those last few pictures. Absolutely gorgeous!

  6. Solo does indeed have a beautiful roundness when he is convinced into it. Really lovely. No more just a backyard horse.

    different Molly

  7. I suppose that if you are an Olympian rider you can ride without proper safety equipment and no one can give you to much crap. I'm glad you offered your helmet though, it would have tainted you reputation had you not!

    Jackson's Molly

  8. Oh, and where might I find one of these Olympian riders in Iowa? My horse needs a tuneup...

  9. Solo says thank for the compliments -- although he hated every second of it! Hmmm, Olympians in Iowa, that might be a tough one...

  10. Just started reading you blog. How do you get such awesome pictures? Do you carry a professional photographer along with you wherever you go?! Or did the clinic provide one?

    On Ian's bare head: my old trainer never wore a real helmet. She always made us wear them, but she said after 50+ years of riding BEFORE "approved" helmets, if she was going to have to die anyway she might as well do it riding. Same old-school thinking, probably.

  11. LOL SillyPony, if I had been riding for 50 years, I reckon I might agree...I think I'd rather be knocked dead quick doing what I love!

    And on the pictures, I trained my photographer, upon whom I shall lavish praises in a future post. I taught my dear SO to use my big fat camera and it turns out he really has a natural eye for timing and a knack for equine photography -- who woulda guessed?

  12. Wow! The transformation is great! I bet that was awesome to feel and see what your horse is capable of!