After the loss of her equine best friend of 20 years, Honeycomb, Jessica Fox didn’t think she’d ever ride again. This is part 5 of the story of her climb back into the saddle.
I never thought of myself as a cheater.
When my family bought me Honeycomb, I was a 12-year-old committed to a horse for life. Sure, I flirted, like with Sonic the Irish Hunter whose winged gallop carried us across Connemara’s gleaming, packed sand beaches, but he was just a dalliance. Honeycomb was the only horse for me.
Which was one of the reasons I was sure I’d never ride again after Honey passed away. As a one-horse kind of girl, I couldn’t understand how other riders switched mounts every few years, or even for the day. Didn’t it break their hearts?
That is, until now.
It all started innocently enough.
Lessons with Playday and Jill the Dressage Jedi Master were going well. We’d finally (mostly) kicked the catawampus habit and were moving on. Though Playday wasn’t for sale, I was sure she was the horse for me, and couldn’t imagine finding another nearly as special.
And then, Jill dropped the bomb.
“Next lesson, I think you should ride Bailey.”
Bailey? The I’m-too-pretty-for-my-stall Welsh Cob? The one with the big circus-canter and dressage moves? He was so… fancy. Like a hothouse flower. Definitely not the charging-up-mountains-with-insouciant-abandon type, like Playday.
“It will be good for you to ride other horses. The more horses you ride, the better you’ll get.”
Who could argue with that? I mean, I did want to become the best rider I could be… right?
Lesson day arrived and, after plying Playday with absurd amounts of carrots and promising her my Bailey ride was strictly business, I toddled over to the prince’s palace. Slid back the door with a satisfying east-coast barn rumble, and said hello.
Bailey dipped his head, helpfully nosing into his halter. Playday never did that, though she did stand quietly while I maneuvered her big ears into it. As I groomed and tacked up, Bailey struck Breyer-horse poses and, blowing softly and delicately, accepted carrots. Not, I reminded myself, that Playday didn’t have great manners. Just that Bailey obviously was a Ritz-Carlton kind of guy and should be wearing a bow tie.
Ten minutes before my lesson, I led Bailey, who had developed the air of an attentive Victorian gentleman, into the ring. I was sure any minute he might spout off poetry. There would be no hopping on this horse – he might swoon. After negotiating myself into the saddle, we moved forward.
As Bailey slunk his dressagey way around the ring, I tried to get over my shock. This was the coolest feeling! And we were only walking! Glancing guiltily in the direction of Playday’s paddock, I began to daydream about what it would be like to lease or even own a horse like this. We’d prance around, piaffing and passaging like pros. I patted Bailey’s mane. How handsome he’d be, all braided and shiny!
Then Jill walked into the arena and got down to business, asking me to trot.
At first, I couldn’t keep him straight. Every shift of weight sent him hither and yon. That delusion I’d been indulging in, featuring myself as a backyard dressage star in the making – poof. Instead, Bailey pointed out just how much work I had to do. Unless I asked him correctly, it wasn’t going to happen, or if it did, it wasn’t going to be pretty.
For the next 30 minutes, I did my best to follow Jill’s directives:
“Loosen up your right side – you’re getting all contorted.”
“Look over your left shoulder and see if you’ve brushed his tail…”
“No! Not just with your chin!”
“Yes, that’s better”
“Quit arching your back! Get him moving – he’s falling asleep!”
“Post side to side. More to the left.”
“Good. That’s a nice trot. Now what are your hands doing?”
Playing the piano part of the Clash’s Rock the Casbah, of course.
Then, for a flash, the cogs clicked into place, synchronized. Hind legs reaching beneath him, Bailey trotted forward, light and easy as Fred Astaire.
This. I wanted this. All. The. Time.
“Good. Now canter.”
After a couple false starts, I got it. That bounding, coiling canter was heaven.
And so my secret Bailey-crush began.
I didn’t tell Playday at first.
But when lessons on Bailey turned into a riding him additionally (just to practice) once a week, then sometimes two or three, I knew I had to come clean. Though I’d been riding Playday right after Bailey or on opposite days, I felt like a fair-weathered friend. Hadn’t I been SO SURE she was the horse for me? Didn’t we have the most fun rides ever? Who else would gleefully tear down trails and do her very best to comply – even when she didn’t understand – with everything I asked in the ring? How could I have been so easily swayed by fancy? Given the chance, Playday could have the moves like Jagger, too.
She knew, of course. Since when did we spend so much time in the ring? Who was I trying to impress? And why else were there so many more carrots? And apples?
But, because of Bailey, my schooling rides on Playday got better. For me, this was the first real sign that my riding was improving. Which made me hungry for more rides on Bailey.
It‘s a vicious circle, really.
Lucky for me, Playday, a true BFF, doesn’t mind, and I have the luxury of riding both, which is good for my cheatin’ heart.
About the Author: Jessica Fox is a freelance writer and novelist-in-training who dreams of the day she can sit a trot without flailing about. She currently lives in Los Angeles, CA where she writes as much as possible to feed her increasingly voracious horse-habit and almost rides Dressage. www.foxywrites.com