Having just interviewed Para Dressage WEG contender, Rebecca Hart, for a series of articles, I nodded in quiet agreement as she described the year she found herself suspended with disconcertion after retiring her last horse without a new one in sight. “A horse without a rider is still a horse,” she said. “But a rider without a horse is just a person.”
With pinpoint precision, she hit the nail on the head of my own feelings, and perhaps yours. Being horseless after retiring Forrest last summer, it’s been difficult being ‘just a person’ with no opportunity to ride save the occasional times I’d hop on a student’s horse to demonstrate.
So what to do, Aunty Pam, I can hear, or pretend I can hear, you wail as we commiserate the fact that we’re not trust fund babies or oil oligarchs who can write a large five-figure check for a decent moving, sane prospect. Speaking for myself, I do what I always do: wallow in self pity for a couple of days, vent to fellow horse friends, make a mean margarita, then roll up my sleeves and get to work. When you’re stuck in that abyss of being ‘just a person’ you need saddle time. At least I do. It’s vitally important to find an opportunity to ride regularly if I want to remain relatively effective on a horse.
Being a card-carrying member of ‘The worst that can happen is that they say NO, Club,’ and living close to Tryon which boasts a sprinkling of nationally known and respected trainers, I audaciously stalked USDF Gold Medalist Hokan Thorn online and tried to sound casual: ‘Hey, I’m trying to get some saddle time and if you happen to need any free help either warming-up or cooling down...’
Hokan kindly accepted my offer and asked if I could start in early June. Hold on, let me check my schedule...(rustle papers together). Why, yes, I can! Scheduling my students so that I could ride for Hokan twice a week, I arrived Tuesday morning at the lovely facility where Hokan trains: Katherine Pfaff’s Cross Creek Farm.
What a pleasure it is to ride such correctly trained, and re-trained, horses. Hokan dictates each warm-up I ride: a few stretching transitions here, a bit of lateral work there, maybe ask for a quiet change before the corner...then I hop off and he takes over to do the training. I relish the opportunity of being coached and learn a lot from simply watching him.
I’m particularly fond of his Dutch Harness Horse, Aragon, who has a great backstory. The once competitive driving horse came to Hokan knowing absolutely nothing and after a mere four months of training, not only has his entire close-coupled body completely changed, but he shows great confidence in his powerful movement and balance...Not to mention his fluid lateral work, changes, and a darned impressive start to piaffe!
I continue looking for my own horse, and as I am neither a trust fund baby or oil oligarch, I’ve been looking in the Bargain Basement. But I enjoy turning over rocks looking for diamonds. Don’t you? There’s something very satisfying about finding that sound, safe horse standing out in a field somewhere, or offered for sale at a hunter barn because he’s too big a mover, or someone’s getting out of breeding and selling their entire stock of youngsters. In the meantime, if you’re currently horseless—get out there! Tell everyone you know you’re looking to ride. Maybe a local trainer needs your help. Perhaps someone would like their horse worked, or simply hacked out, while they’re away on vacation. And even if they don’t, the horse world is a small one—someone is bound to know of somebody who has something to ride or, who knows, is even looking to rehome a horse. The equine world is your oyster. Get shucking!