I reached my arm around the edge of the door of the indoor arena. The goal: to sneak a peek at the list for the ride. Emma would probably scold me if she saw me at it, but she was busy with the noobs, and I had a feeling…. I had a feeling.
I edged the clipboard around, and, hiding it from the young girls who ride during the same hour, squinted down the list.
Oh. Oh, no. Oh, man. I knew it.
It was going to be me and Tango.
I hadn’t had him for three weeks. He’d been in a couple of lessons, and after having had a chat with Anna, and after having watched Val struggle with him last Tuesday, and largely succeed, well… I had sort of asked for it.
Thanks, Universe. Hey, how about, oh, maybe a million euros— since you seem to be listening.
The previous hour ended, and the usual scrum of wee ones mobbed the instructor, silently hoping and and often vocally begging for their favourite ponies. The kids sorted, I edged up to Emma. And I whinged. A little. And as I suspected, she was having none of it. It was time to Tango, and I wasn’t so sure now that I could make him go.
Accomplishing horse maneuvers in the abstract is one thing. I mean, I think about the canter aid all the time. Whether or not I pull it off is, of course, another thing entirely. I know I’m meant to sit back, but sometimes I do the thing where I think that leaning forward is going to be just the urge the horse needs to drop into it. So thinking about something and doing it in the lesson doesn’t always translate. I find that the pressure to go, to do, to do it right, gets my head all in a jumble, no matter what my intentions are on the ground.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Were I on the road to hell, I reckoned, after about ten minutes, that Tango would be my mount. While waiting to begin, Emma gave me some pointed advice about my attitude, and most importantly learned that she rides Tango herself. She is lightyears ahead of where I’ll ever hope to be, but I felt a glimmer of hope. At least she knows exactly what he’s like, whether or not that was going to do me any real good.
I remembered the thing Anna said, about how he doesn’t hear the leg on the girth. And I employed a little bit of a back kick, and got results… but I couldn’t really keep them up. I managed a couple of swats at his hindquarters, doing the thing I was struggling to do with Rebel, so that was something. [Oh, Rebel! How I longed for you at the halfway mark today!] We were still behind, still having to cut across the arena to catch up, but I did get him going not badly. I found the little back kick thing a bit rough, it threw me off balance, and I would rock back on my seat and undo any of the benefit. Then I realised that he only needed the encouragement around the corners, so I shifted my weight to my outside leg, kicking with inside heel… and we were going.
By the time we got to the canter I had been after him enough so that he knew I was there. And leaning back in my seat, I gave him the aid in the right spot, and no messing, off we went. God, he’s strong! Like a steam engine in the canter, smooth, running on his track, but powerful. Things were looking up.
Then onto the fences. Waiting for Argo and Lorraine to go, Tango and I were standing at… K? I should know this by now. Anyway, we stood, and I experimentally squeezed my heels into his sides behind the girth. His ears went right up, and he took a step forward. ‘Tango!’ I gave him a firm pat. ‘Good boy!’ By the time it our go, he was raring, and we took our following turns at the fences on the left rein, going great guns.
Excellent! Then we switched to the right.
Emma set up a bounce, and my heart sunk. This was the circumstance under which I fell three weeks ago. Okay. Mind over matter— and Tango is a lot of matter to get my mind over. The front of the ride took it, to varying degrees of the horse actually bouncing and not sneaking in a stride. Up at the front of the queue, I gave Tango a little heel squeeze again. Ears up again, a step forward. I think I get this now.
A firmer squeeze, and no hesitation, he went into the trot, and we went up and over, and over, and it seemed okay, except for a bit of a jog over the first fence.
Emma said he’d muffed that one, one leg over first rather than the two, but he finished the sequence for me anyway. ‘Really ride him on the next time,’ she said. ‘He’ll be a little nervous now that he hasn’t done it right.’
Coming up to the first fence, he broke into a canter again— oh, shite, like the last time, when he cantered and then stopped— and stopping, I went off. Not winded this time, I got back on after Emma made me shake my head to see was I dizzy. As I remounted, she began talking about him, in the way I’d been hoping someone would.
She explained. He’d messed up the first time. And it’s his personality to get thrown off if he doesn’t do something right the first time, get nervous, and balk. Tango: who knew that you were my soul brother. This explains so much about him. I’ve always thought of him as the kid who shot up over the summer between first and second grade [he is eight]: he looks like he’s a big boy, and everybody treats him like he’s a big boy, but he’s really still just a little boy. Despite being 17hh and strapping with it.
She lowered the fence, teeny tiny, and I took him over it three times— ‘So he doesn’t carry this into the next time he goes,’ Emma said— and it was grand, I really felt his fear the first time, and by the third he’d had enough of the baby heights and bucked around petulantly. And I refused to go down again, and didn’t.
Learned so much today! That he needs the squeeze on the turns. That he’s happier on the left rein than on the right. And that when he breaks into a canter right before the fence, I better make sure I’ve got him with my legs… which I should do anyway, I imagine, but that’s my signal he’s going to refuse. I think. We’ll see. I’m sure I’ll be thinking about that, anticipating the stop, but it’s the being-on-the-horse, in the midst, as it were, which might make it hard to do. If all else fails, I’ll try to remember to grab some mane. It may stem, or at least decelerate my ground-ward trajectory.
Most importantly! Got a glimpse of his thought process. Of his insecurity. This guy needs a strong rider, a leader. Right from the ground up to the saddle. Someone who gives when he gives. Is this rider me? I’ll say it again— geez, I’m stubborn! I’d like to go with him again.
Now, Universe, about that cool million…