You’d think that after two decades of being together, Mimi and I would have a seamless partnership. In part, that is true. I know, for example, that she is probably the overall best horse I will likely have in my lifetime. I may have others in the future that end up better in some specific regard (more suited for 100-mile endurance rides, for example), but as far as the overall “hit every box for what I need and want in a horse,” she’s set a really high standard.
The danger of a 2-+ year partnership, though, is complacency. Of late, I’ve been guilty of just “going through the motions.” When you’ve “been there, done it all” and there’s nothing new on the horizon, it’s easy to slip into a mode of boredom with a side of “don’t give a damn.”
And she deserves better.
I owe it to her — 20+ years of packing my butt around and putting up with my shenanigans and foolish ideas — to still keep pulling my weight. It’s hardly fair to expect her to put in a good performance when I myself could be accused of being “barn sour.”
Yesterday felt like an eye-opening refresher. I had access to the big pasture, so rather than subject her sometimes-questionable mechanics to the soft sand and tighter turns of the area, we were able to have a lot more room to move out (getting and keeping her momentum up seems to be the trick now in getting a reasonable canter out of her), and she didn’t have to work as hard at lifting her hind toes on the harder-packed turf as she does to clear the softer arena sand. Case in point: she didn’t trip or stumble at all yesterday.
As for myself, I’ve gotten so caught up in paying too much attention to fine details and minutiae that I’ve forgotten to to just sit up and ride. As a result, I’ve gotten more and more tense, overthinking and trying to force the issue, letting myself get into a downward spiral of believing I don’t know what I’m doing and don’t really know how to ride.
I don’t really know what changed, but a couple weeks ago, I had glanced at one of my ride photos I have hanging on my bedroom wall, and my takeaway impression was “What are my lower legs doing?” A closer look at some of my other photos all revealed the same consistent error. Apparently I’ve forgotten I have lower legs, and that they have a job to do in the saddle.
Lightbulb moment. Way too much gripping with the thigh/pinching with the knee, not enough “heels down, lower leg as a solid platform under you.” No wonder all my ride photos have me pitching forward, with lower legs swinging back. I’ve gotten so comfortable in my defensive, curled over, “cling like a monkey” default riding style that riding centered actually feels like I’m in a chair seat.
So the past couple of weekends have been spent paying attention to the basics of keeping my lower leg solid and under myself, with a side order of “heels down, shoulders back, eyes up.” Y’know, all the stuff I learned as an 8-year-old.
And wouldn’t you know it, as long as I kept a solid lower leg in place, everything else just came together as it should.
This is why my pony should be sainted. 20+ years later, she’s still tolerating me with good humor.