To many of you, it might seem like a small thing. I was in a jumping lesson with my instructor. She had started by taking our stirrups away and asking us to jump a little six-stride combination, just crossrails—no biggie.
“How many years has it been since you jumped without stirrups?” she asked.
I shrugged. “Not sure,” I said. “Decades, probably.” After jumping the line, we got our stirrups back and the lesson progressed to a small course, starting with one line, then adding another, then a vertical and at the end (if all went well) a fairly sharp left-hand turn with a change of lead to the last vertical.
My little mare, Lady, can get quick, and we’ve had some ugly rounds when I’ve lost control of her. As we approached that last vertical, I could feel her starting to surge underneath me. This time I took a deep breath and put in a strong half-halt, being careful to release her afterward and keep my leg on.
And guess what? She listened. We got a nice approach, and the course ended the way all courses should—no drama. Oh my goodness, no drama. I can’t tell you how good that felt.
To understand why this seemingly small thing was a big thing to me, you need to know a few details: I am 68 years old. Lady is 23—though you would never know this by her demeanor, her soundness or her athleticism. She is still a force to be reckoned with. (She is, after all, a Thoroughbred.)
And the instructor is my daughter, Ruby.
Both of us are Horsemasters with Portuguese Bend Pony Club in Southern California. Horsemasters is a chance for adults, many of whom were U.S. Pony Club members as young riders, to enjoy all the educational and team opportunities that the USPC has to offer. Ruby started in Pony Club at 7 and stayed until she aged out at 25.
For me, our story really begins about 15 years ago when Ruby outgrew her pony and we found Lady, a little OTTB mare who hadn’t done much except have a baby, but she seemed kind. She turned out to be one heck of an athlete, and it took years for Ruby to learn how to ride her. They had a blast eventing up through Training level and finally getting their B Pony Club rating (which requires all the components of Preliminary). But by that time Lady was 18, and Ruby, who was attending college, didn’t think it was fair to keep pushing her. So then she was mine.
I’m one of those Pony Club moms who used to hang out wistfully on the edge of the arena for all my kid’s lessons. Back in my youth I would have given anything to be in Pony Club if I’d known about it. Once I started riding Lady, I joined Horsemasters to get the experience I craved. Ruby, who became a regular jumping instructor at our club, and I started sharing this adventure in a way I never thought would be possible.
Ruby helped me with Lady, who is kind but a lot of horse and she doesn’t suffer fools very well. Just what the poor little mare needed: an elderly novice with anxiety issues. Like many adult riders, I’m not as brave as I used to be. But I’m getting there.
We’ve entered a few local events at Grasshopper level, and I can’t tell you how amazing it felt to take that mare cross country. It’s her absolute favorite thing, and flying over open land on her, feeling her lock onto a fence and surge underneath me—oh my. Despite my weenie tendencies, I would so much rather be on a horse who is hungry for the fences. I’ve spent years working to be good enough for her. And now it’s finally paying off.
After all those years of eating rice and beans so we could pay entry fees for Ruby’s horse trials and envying my kid even as I loved watching her progress, I have my reward: this amazing little horse and a gifted instructor who knows both of us better than anyone. I have this awesome little club full of great kids and like-minded, horse-crazy adults who are pretty serious about becoming the best riders possible.
And if Lady and I manage to hang in there for another 5 years, we’ll be eligible for century classes. Life is good.