Since everyone is spending more time at home now, some people have taken up new quarantine activities—including baking, gardening, working out, or crafting and choreographing elaborate TikTok videos.
But Grand Prix dressage rider Anna Buffini has taken it to a new level: She recently added Roman riding to her skillset. “I’m always dying to do tricks and stuff because I was a gymnast and [am] an adrenaline junkie, daredevil,” said Buffini, 26.
She didn’t have to look far to find someone to teach her. One of her students, Steve Paulson, is a horse trainer at Cavalia, a production involving trick riding and acrobatics with horses. Since the show isn’t running due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the horses are for sale, and Paulson enlisted Buffini’s help in training them. After watching Paulson show off his skills, on Aug. 8 Buffini got to mount up herself with the help of a pair of crossbred geldings named Zatara and Zurich.
“They’re just awesome to ride,” Buffini said. “They’re the cutest little meatballs, and they just go around and do their job. I love them.”
In addition to Roman riding—standing atop two horses with one foot on each—Buffini practiced standing on the back of a single horse.
“That was even harder!” she said. “I thought it was going to be easier. It feels like you’re just going to fall to one side really when you’re on one horse.”
Zatara and Zurich are voiced-trained to French commands, and Buffini addressed each by name before giving them instructions, much like a four-in-hand driver would.
“It really feels like you’re going to fall off the entire time, and you have to control the horses,” said Buffini. “One has to go slower than the other; you have to turn them [at different rates]; you have to keep them back together because they start to split apart as you’re riding. So the whole time I’m just like, ‘Where am I going to fall? How am I going to fall? How am I going to dive? What kind of roll am I going to do?’ So thankfully the gymnastics training really came in handy.
“The hardest part was the balancing,” said Buffini, “and then also just controlling where the horses are. They’re super wobbly, and if they’re splitting apart, your balance is going to be gone.”
After her foray into trick riding, Buffini, San Diego, wants to do more. She hopes to build up to doing a backflip off a horse, and Paulson promised he’d teach her how to do a suicide drag, a move where the rider puts one foot through a loop on the trick saddle and hangs off the horse upside down.
“Now that I’ve gotten a taste of it, I’m addicted, so we’re going to start doing a lot more tricks soon,” she said. “To my poor parents’ hearts, I’m sorry. They’re not surprised though. I sent them the video, and they’re terrified but not surprised.”
Buffini said the experience has taught her to let go when riding and embrace looking silly.
“The horse world can be so strict and rigid, like hamster and wheel, and so serious, and people can be so rude,” she said, “It’s just been so freeing and fun. We are also very serious when we train, and we train the horses correctly, but it’s just showing me how much more of a balance you can have between enjoying it, having fun, and also being serious and reaching your goals. It’s been a whole new experience. It made me enjoy the sport so much more.”
This article ran in the August 2020 Hunter Derby Issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.
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