Every Wednesday and Friday I teach in Middleburg, at the farm belonging to my student who is leasing my Billy, my older statesman Grand Prix gelding. Every now and then I hop on him, and I’m always struck by how amazing he is. Billy was no easy ride as a younger fellow—he was hot and firebreathing and tight in the back—but his canterwork is unbelievable, textbook, and his natural gift for passage gives a rider an incredible feeling.
My recent rides on Billy, over the last year, have not only been fun but very helpful. Riding his passage has improved Cleo’s passage. How do I sit on him? What do I do with my calves, my knees, my wrists? What do I do when I want the passage to be more airborn, versus more ground covering?
And his canterwork has helped Ella, who isn’t so intuitive about the canter pirouettes, one of Billy’s real highlights. How do I keep Billy’s shoulders from turning too fast? What does it feel like when he’s really balanced on the outside hind leg, instead of toppling over onto the inside one?
I’m so blessed to have such a professor in my life—he taught me everything I know about the Grand Prix, and he continues to teach me today. So as I contemplated Cleo’s schedule for the next few weeks (and joy of joys, there’s nothing on it! Hoorah!), I decided to spread the joy a little and let my mom hop on her.
My mom is a skilled rider, but a VERY timid one. She started riding as an adult, and she can be very rigid and tight in the saddle. Cleo has two great qualities when it comes to being a schoolmaster for my mom: her basic training is impeccable, so she handles like a Ferrari instead of a Yugo, and she’s very comfortable to sit. And with her very high sense of her own importance, I think Cleo gets a kick out of bestowing a little of her majesty onto the greener rider—she is incredibly patient and kind.
My mom is having the time of her life.
She’s feeling changes and pirouette canter like she’s never sat on before, but even more fundamentally than that, she’s softer in the hand than I’ve ever seen her ride. And unlike her wonderful Spanish horse, who is, shall we say, lacking in the self-motivation department, Cleo has “go” to spare, so my mom is learning to not grip.
And I see the improvements in her riding of her own horse, right away. She’s insisting that Tres be in front of her leg, instead of nagging him; she’s getting a lighter touch in the hand and riding more from her seat.
I get emails all the time from riders looking to take lessons on schoolmasters, and it’s moments like these where I wish I could provide one for them. There is nothing like it!