They say you only get one chance to make a first impression and boy that was quite some performance from me that I know Dave has never forgotten. I was never one for mounting from the ground anyway and it was never going to happen on that occasion. Eventually I was allowed a jump block – not much of an improvement as I slid and wobbled on it – but I did find myself on board. The embarrassment was far from over however as now the then alien challenge of riding in a halter with one rein was to follow at walk, trot, canter and back up with changes of rein and help from that other somewhat scary tool - Dave’s flag! What followed in the next 30 minutes or so is all rather blurred – they say that our brain will find a way to delete or at least suppress bad memories and I guess that is pretty much what mine has done. I survived, I learned a lot of uncomfortable truths and I brought home a horse with Dave’s parting words “Well Chris do you think this horse is for you?”
Now my husband will confirm that I can be a little obstinate at times and you may guess that I also came home with the intent that I was about to prove to this cowboy guy that he had underestimated my abilities. I am also however – I feel – intelligent enough to recognise that I was going to need help so we booked onto another 2 day course with Dave a few weeks later. Now if the first impression had been a blinder then this next one must have blown his socks off! By now my young superstar had already shown me a few different methods of how to dismount though thankfully without doing me any damage. I remember once again feeling like a fish out of water desperately trying to come to terms with using ropes and sticks and strings both on the ground and in the saddle. Dave’s words this time seemed to follow the theme of “you are riding like a victim” as well as gentle suggestions as to our suitability as a partnership. We had highs - who would have thought – except Dave and others from the same school of Horsemanship that is – that I would have been popping over a small double of fences the second only being a narrow skinny, and that we would be rating a cow (white fluffy dog toy on an electric pulley in this instance) on a just started youngster. And we had lows as I cried tears of frustration, but once again I lived so I came home even more determined I need to show this cowboy guy a thing or two to get him to change his opinion of me. One week later with some mental preparation courtesy of a friend who had me tapping and my then 3 year old and I went off on a fun ride, once again we lived but with some relief I then allowed myself to turn him away for the winter.
Time is a great healer and I guess it also allowed me to give up on the ego and come to terms with the idea that the man in the hat had been right all along. In the Spring Nando went to a much more suitable and qualified partner who had fallen for his charms having watched my attempts to ride him on that last clinic. Along came my next teacher a 2 year old palomino Quarter Horse Zac – small enough to mount from the ground – see I do learn from past experiences! On Dave’s first clinic here at The Chestnuts in 2010 they were introduced over the stable door and the plan was set for Zac to go to Dudgeley later in the year. The first few weeks coincided with my ranch holiday to Arizona so I just got to see the first saddling the night before flying out – and oh boy, this was going to be some journey (Zac has a whole story of his own to be told another time!) Suffice to say that Zac had maybe just half a dozen rides over a 4 week period that first year. He returned as a 3 year old and was handed over for again just a dozen or so rides before being turned away and then finally as a 4 year old he (we) graduated. The learning curve for me was like climbing Everest. Saddling would be my specialist subject if I ever was on the quiz show Mastermind. If it hadn’t been for Dave then I may not have lived through the process. As a 5 year old I brought him out in the Spring myself – Dave now having reduced his UK stay to only 3 months – and we had an amazing start to the year, I was so excited and looking forward to presenting ourselves to Dave in May as now ready to move up a class when disaster struck and my little horse was found with catastrophic injuries one morning and we lost him. I guess he felt he had done his bit in taking me forward and I now needed to find another new teacher.
So the summer of 2013 was a strange one. I borrowed a horse to start with but my body kept failing me, back, neck, hamstrings, one thing after another and I seemed to be falling apart. I got to watch a lot more though which probably was a good thing. In July along came 4 year old Patrick. Back to a UK stamp of horse – Irish Cob x TB – but still on the small side. One day his wither may push up to 16 hands if he stands on his tip toes. Now Patrick could not be any more different to Zac if he was designer made from scratch. From the totally reactive with extremely strong self-preservation instincts we now have a thinker – almost a plotter! He brings a whole new set of challenges. In many ways he reminds me of Nando but thankfully with a scaled down version of the physical attributes. Anyway, at last I think I am progressing. Not in the least that I have already mounted several times this Summer from the ground in Dave’s presence but all the lessons learned from Nando and Zac as well as my old boys Juno and Ryan who also got to share some of Dave’s clinics over these past 5 years are beginning to come to fruition.
As we closed this last weekend clinic Dave almost had my crying again but this time for a whole different reason as he offered some very kind words as to how I had progressed since we first met. That first impression may never be forgotten but I have to thank the man in the hat for putting up with my shortcomings for so long and continuing to offer encouragement and support as this Horsemanship journey continues. To be learning directly from someone who is so close to the source of Ray Hunt in particular, is pretty special and one of my biggest lessons learned has been to shut up and get out there as there is no substitute for hours spent in the saddle, and of course being able to mount from the ground helps