Equestrian U: Riding for college credit

Breanne Long, a senior at North Caroline State University, is taking riding lessons as a PE elective this semester and has agreed to let HN tag along.

From Breanne:

I had a new horse this week, Princess! Well… kind of, turned out she was lame. So I got another new horse, Artie.

I grabbed Princess’ tack, glad I had slipped some apple slices in my helmet, and headed into her stall. Princess is a chunky bay Hanoverian mare. After saying hi, I went to pick out her feet and noticed some swelling and a cut on her right hind leg.

Princess (photo from farm website)

Once I found the barn manager, she concluded that Princess shouldn’t be ridden and scrambled to find another horse suitable for me to ride. All the bigger school horses were already assigned to other students and the rest of the school horses are ponies, too small for me at 5’9″. Finally, she decided to assign me Artie.

I had overheard another student complaining about Artie the week before and had secretly been thankful I hadn’t been assigned to him. Artie is a chestnut thoroughbred who raced in Brazil until he was eight years old. After that he came to the United States and was retrained to jump by his owner who boarded him at Hunting Oaks. Artie is now in his late 20s and was donated to the riding school after he was retired from his jumping career.

The only problem with Artie as a school horse is that Artie bites. There is a big sign on his stall door (right next to the muzzle) saying no one is allowed in the stall until a staff member has Artie muzzled and cross-tied. He wears a grazing muzzle because it’s softer than the metal basket type muzzles which can seriously injure a person when he whips his head around to attempt to bite (which he did, frequently).

The whole time I groomed and tacked him he swished his tail, pinned his ears, and would reach around as far as he could to try to bite me. (He was especially unhappy when I tightened his girth, even though I buckled it just tight enough to keep the saddle on). Surprisingly, he accepted the bridle very willingly and seemed pleasant enough when I led him out to the ring.

Artie (He looks guilty, right?)

Once mounted, we began our warm-up exercises, which include posting the walk, vertical position, two-point, arm circles, ankle circles, etc. The ring is covered, but can still get quite wet in certain spots where the wind blows rain in. It’s graded/groomed every day and we’re the first class of the day, but there were still some really soggy areas. For some reason Artie gravitated toward the wettest, soggiest areas and didn’t want to follow the rail like most school horses. Since there are almost a dozen riders in our lesson we are constantly circling and I just decided to ride along the interior of the arena. As most riders know the interior usually has deeper footing than along the rail (at least at a lesson barn), also true for this arena. Given Artie’s tendency toward the muddy areas, the deeper footing, his need to have his nose 18’’ from the ground, and his age, I suppose it shouldn’t have been a surprise when he tripped. And I don’t mean just a misstep, I mean he stumbled and went down.

I kicked and tapped him with the crop and pulled his head up, I had dropped my stirrups and was getting ready to bail when he finally picked himself up again. The instructors had called for everyone to halt and came over to check Artie’s legs. Apparently he had gone to his knees and then tripped again when he tried to get up off his knees. Luckily Artie was fine and we continued on with the lesson, but I was much more alert and kept him hustling along for the rest of the class!

Note: After our lesson the instructor came and talked to me while I was untacking and mentioned that that was why Artie was no longer used for our classes anymore, apparently last semester he stumbled so badly that he went all the way down. His rider wasn’t able to jump off in time and ended up with a twisted ankle from where Artie rolled over on her foot. That sure would’ve been nice to know BEFORE I got on!

About Breanne: I started riding at age 8, following in my older sisters footsteps. My first horse was a cranky 32-year-old appaloosa and my last horse before college was a bay TB mare. I showed hunters but stopped riding once I started college. Now I’m slowly getting back into the horse world and would love to try eventing in the future.

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