Top Banana

Mar 9, 2012 - 8:17 AM
Ella, shown here in 2009, is back on top in Michael Barisone's eyes. Photo by Jessica Buchanan.

It’s become a running gag. When I first started riding with Michael it was because he’d seen—and liked—Midge. Midge was pretty neat, he thought. And then he met Ella, and while Midge was pretty neat, it was Ella who was going to take me to the top.

And then he started working with both horses more, and while Ella was really a top horse, it was Midge who was going to be special. Until I left Ella in his barn for a few months over the summer, and then while Midge is really special, it was Ella who was going to be the star. Every three months or so, the red hots flip flop in Michael’s heart as to who’s the best.

Midge, with his rather smug roster of wins over the last few weeks, has held the top dog spot lately. Until today.

Ella’s been super. She’s such a good girl, and she tries so hard, but lately she’s been really developing skill to match the talent and oomph that she brings to her workouts. That bridge between hind legs and bridle just gets better and better, stronger and stronger, more and more reliable. I rode her in lessons on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then wanted to bring Midge over, so he got the lesson spot Thursday, and I rode Ella on my own.

I decided to work on the passage, which I’ve been trying to make high and short, instead of big and open and ground covering and sprawly. And this weird mental image came to me (warning: weird, gross mental image ahead): think of my body as being like a plunger, sucking up her back every step. (Yeah, gross. You were warned. But if you can turn off the bleck factor, it’s really pretty good.)

So I rode the passage, and I rode it posting, trying to suck her back up into the air every step. It felt pretty good; I was riding out in the field, so no mirrors, and so I don’t know if it was actually successful.

What I do know is that when Ella went for her lesson today, and I sat back for that first passage, Michael let me ride for two steps, shouted “Walk!,” and then, “Hallelujah!” Victory is Ella’s! The girl is back on top.

They know, of course, that they’re both at the top of my heart. And Fender’s getting in on the action, too. He and Ella are SO much alike, and I’m benefiting hugely from all the work on her about connection, hind legs to bridle without getting dragged around, not letting the big powerhouse hind legs lock in the back and bear down in the hand. He needs the same lessons, except he’s getting them at not-yet-6; Ella didn’t hear them until 10. Makes the future pretty exciting, huh?

I mentioned that to Michael, that Fender was reaping Ella’s rewards, and he said something I liked. It’s like learning a language. When you’re really fluent in it, you think in the language. You don’t have to take the time to translate. I added this: When you can think in a language, even if you don’t know a word, you can easily “talk around” it until the right word is found. Fender’s learning to think in Grand Prix language, even if he doesn’t know all the words.

This training stuff, it’s exciting!


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