Chroi and I went out for what technically was our second ride, but I feel like it was our first.
I say “technically” because our first ride was with our friend, Koren. I was too nervous to get on Chroi myself, especially without backup.
Well that’s changed, and thank goodness! I’m feeling more confident and ready to get to work with Chroi. I have so many plans. Big plans!
I was told that Chroi had spent time with a trainer who started her under saddle and worked her. I was nervous getting on her because I don’t know exactly how much she knows, how long it’s been since her training, how sensitive she might be, and more. My biggest fears were bolting and bucking, and I was afraid I would be too heavy for her.
I asked the owner of the barn where Chroi boards if I might borrow one of her saddles (the one that seemed to fit “best” – read here) to use, until I can get one of my own. She ever-so-graciously said yes. So it was with trepidation and excitement that I saddled Chroi.
I ran into a snag with bridling. I set up the bridle Heidi gave me with Chroi, and I put it on Chroi with extra care when I asked her to accept the bit. I didn’t think we’d have any issues, so I was surprised and a little frightened when Chroi gawped her mouth open with her tongue working as if she was trying to get it over the bit, and bits of saliva and food started to fall to the ground.
Was she choking? Was the bit too loose? Was it too tight?
Where was my confidence now? I felt like my younger self would have known exactly what was going on and how to solve the issue, but my older self had endless scenarios going on in a loop through my mind.
I tried tightening the bridle.
I tried loosening the bridle.
Neither of those seemed to work. My next thought was that perhaps she was just still getting used to a bit and she’d likely settle down once we got going.
I led her out to the arena, up to the mounting block. I was clumsy getting on. I was afraid the saddle would slip. I was afraid Chroi would get pissed off at me. I was pretty much just a bundle of nerves. Would she walk off when I asked her? What would I do if she didn’t?
Too many “what ifs,” not enough riding.
And it was…
Exhilerating. Who knew that riding a horse at just a boring old walk could be such a natural high??
We’s had two very awkward turns around the arena when a car pulled in to the barn. Great, I thought, someone to witness this trainwreck. It was my second ride, and my first ride solo with Chroi, and although I have few f*cks to give I still didn’t want anyone to see how stupid we looked. A girl, I’d guess about 17 years old, hopped out of the car and the car left. She spotted us as she darted into the tack room. She came out carrying a bridle, and I watched as she went and collected her horse and brought him to the arena.
“Mind if we ride with you?”
“Not at all!” I mean, yes I mind, DON’T LOOK AT ME! But it’s a free country and I’m not going to be the asshole who says you can’t use the arena. I just needed to suck it up. I was out here doing my thing, and that if that was good enough for me I didn’t give a damn if it wasn’t good enough for anyone else.
Except for one thing.
Let me change direction for just a minute. I’m in a group on Facebook called “Horrible Horsemanship.” According to the group’s rules, “Photos, comments, and posts by other people made on any social media outlet, videos, quotes, and professional websites may be shared on this page, will be subject to debate, and may appear in positive or negative context.” However, the sole purpose of the group, it seems, is to roast anyone and everyone for absolutely anything horse-related. “Do not join this group unless you are thick skinned.” That statement should give you a pretty good idea of what you’re getting yourself into. Common topics include bits someone considers “severe,” people claiming to be “trainers” when they’re too young or just plain unqualified, backyard breeders, the slaughter debate, and ill-fitting tack. Those are the ones I feel like I see most frequently, although anything is fair game. If you post anything to the group be prepared for strong, blunt opinions!
As I’m riding Chroi, I have Horrible Horsemanship dialogue running through my head as if this newcomer is writing her own post about MY horrible horsemanship.
“I went out to the barn today and our new boarder was out riding her horse. OMG she’s a pony squisher! And the saddle she was using was a nightmare, it didn’t fit AT ALL. That poor horse! Plus, she was too stupid to realize that she was practically choking her horse with the bit because the bridle was jacked too tight.”
And on and on in my head went this narrative.
There was a counter-narrative, though. I was seeing members of Horrible Horsemanship judge this girl.
“Look at her. I bet she thinks she’s a ‘trainer.’ OMG did you SEE that BIT she put in her horse’s mouth?? She’s gotta be a wannabe barrel racer. Look at her ride! One word: STARFISHING!”
(“Starfishing” refers to barrel racers who look like a starfish in a saddle, and it is by far the best term I’ve picked up from Horrible Horsemanship)
I was entirely unsurprised when the chick made her move by riding up next to me.
“Hey, what kind of bit are you using?”
Oh boy, here we go, I thought. I was about to be subjected to a trainer-savant.
I told her I was using just a single-jointed full-cheek snaffle. I tried to tell her that it was my first time out, that I recognized that Chroi was having an issue with the bit, and that I was out there trying to see if she’d settle down or if it was a tack issue.
“You should try bitless! I have a hackamore you could borrow…”
No thanks honey. I have a hackamore of my own and I don’t really agree with them (mechanical hackamores). But you’re sweet to offer.
“When was the last time she had her teeth checked?” Well, I haven’t had her teeth checked yet but I know it’s about time. Thanks for putting that on my radar.
“Well, if you ever want anyone to ride her, I train horses and I’d be happy to work her for you…” This is where I kind of tuned out.
Until she hopped off her horse and adjusted my bridle, loosening it. She didn’t ask, or give me any indication.
The Horrible Horsemanship’ers (HH’ers) in my head had a field day. And me? I sat calmly on Chroi and watched to see what would happen next. And, to my relief, Chroi calmed down and closed her mouth, ceasing to chew on the bit. So my inner narrative changed a little. Wow. Great. This girl must think I’m a total dumbass. I couldn’t even adjust my own bridle. And to my horror, I couldn’t stop my mouth from trying to stammer out an explanation that I do know what I’m doing (but do I? Really? Insert crippling self-doubt here) and Chroi and I are still getting to know each other and I’m taking things slow and I knew something was wrong with the bit, I was hoping to see if she’d settle down but if she didn’t I was only going to ride for about 5 minutes anyway and then reassess.
Good God I should’ve just shut up. I think the more I tried to defend myself, the more this chick thought I was just some mid-life-crisis horse owner idiot who “always wanted a horse” but didn’t really know what I was doing.
Because that’s what I used to think about older riders, especially riders like myself who really just wanted to love on their horse and couldn’t care less about actually riding. Seriously, I laugh at the irony that has me in the exact position that I used to judge people for, and for which this kiddo must have been judging me now.
“Well hey, like I said, I’m a trainer and I’d be happy to ride her for you,” the girl offered again.
“Thanks,” I replied, hoping to sound polite. “Thank you for adjusting my bridle for me. It obviously helped!” And I took Chroi in.
Even though I had a lot of mixed feelings, I was sincerely grateful that the girl had adjusted my bridle. She’d probably seen the issue right away. I admire her initiative in taking action, because it was necessary. Once she had done that, Chroi quieted. I was just horrified, kicking myself that I hadn’t seen the issue myself. All of my years of experience and I myself couldn’t see what was plain to her, that my bridle was too tight.
Good for her! Really! Even though there are folks who would have been appalled at her touching my horse and my tack without telling me, much less asking permission (and yes, I was put off), she did what she believed was the right thing to do. I respect that.
What did I get from all of this? Well, I like to think that my mind opened a little; specifically, I was open to what my barn mate had to offer rather than get my knickers in a knot because of what she did. I own that she saw the problem that I didn’t see, and that’s the thing about life- different perspectives and different experiences have the potential to help us all improve.