BY PUBLISHER PIPER KLEMM, PHD
I don’t get to ride very much. Between constant travel, late nights processing photos, perpetual emails, and trying to keep an ever expanding (incredible!) team running smoothly, I rarely actually swing my leg over. Every time I get to ride, I feel happy and blessed to have friends that invite me to ride their wonderful animals.
When I actually do get on, I feel timid, weak, and indecisive. I imagine myself as this brave amateur, but I am not. My body does not listen – I do not spend enough time in the gym between riding occasions and I do not eat healthy enough on the road. My mind does not listen – I see the perfect distance and then panic and pull. I get anxious over head shaking. I worry about the horse moving off my leg and about him not moving off my leg. I have ridden enough bad ones and greenies to know how it can go wrong – and my memory retains those experiences.
So, last year, I was elated to have the opportunity to ride not just a good horse, but the best horse. Seriously, Sundae already had the hashtag #Sundaethebesthorse. He has a whole fan club. I had never ridden a horse of this quality. Ever. I had constantly mooned over him and gushed when he won in the 2nd Years and Conformation Hunters during the circuit.
When I rode Sundae, it was an education that I could not have imagined. I had no spurs and no stick, and he moved off my leg perfectly in a way that never inspired fear. He organized himself in the corner and flowed up to the perfect spot out of the turn. He was straight as an arrow down the lines and into the corners. I truly sat there and focused on myself, the ultimate indulgence in learning. I came around the turns and instead of anticipating the things he might do, I was working on holding my body down to the jump and putting weight into my stirrups.
These two rides changed how I watched hunters all last year. Every time I was at a horse show, I would compare each round to how Sundae felt. I noticed many horses not moving off rider’s legs, which I came to see as a training issue and not “laziness.” I saw a lot of horses fail to stay straight, and again saw it through the lens of a training issue, not just rider error in that singular instance. I went back to my own ponies and, as they returned from lease, sent some back for a few more months of training before they went back out on lease again.
In 2017, for the rider in me, lightning struck twice: I was able to ride Sundae again. After a whole year of watching and learning, I was so excited and so nervous to see if I had actually learned anything – or if it was a fluke. I arrived to the task at a level below last year – my appendectomy this fall left me with no core strength. I was armed primarily with my mind and my wits.
Sundae is known as the best horse for good reason – he was perfection and totally covered up for all of my nerves and weaknesses. I trusted him and he rewarded me by somehow elevating my confidence level to match his.
How can I preach that a few rides on a good horse can make such a colossal difference, when I also am always saying excellence is the act of being excellent over and over? Well, we have to start somewhere and improvements are always incremental. My path to excellence in my own riding will be long, wiggly, slow, and frankly, I might never get there.
But, no matter the outcome, the thrill of riding the true greats here and there, the opportunity to practice, and the love of the whole process is enough. I am a lifelong supporter of this sport and, in return, this sport gives me an education that will last my life long.
CLICK HERE to read the TPH March 2017 Young Rider Style Issue
About the Author: Piper began her tenure as the Publisher of The Plaid Horse Magazine in 2014. She received her B.S. with Honors in Chemistry from Trinity College [Hartford, CT] in 2009 and her Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 2012. She is an active member of the hunter/jumper community, owning a fleet of lease ponies and showing in adult hunter divisions.
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