High School Reunion

Cristina and I have been friends since we were two years old. We grew up in the same small town, went to school together, stood in each others' weddings, and took riding lessons at the same sketchy lesson barn all through our teenage years.

Then, for various reasons, once we hit college I kept riding and she took a long break. Over the past couple years, she's been making her way back into the saddle.

Coming back to riding as an adult is hard. As we age, the sense of our own mortality gets stronger, and fear and anxiety we never had as bulletproof teenage idiots comes creeping in. Cristina wanted badly to get back to having fun in this sport, and it was a rough haul for a while as she struggled to find her confidence and a training program that truly worked for her. Eventually, I helped her network her way to her current barn where she has been absolutely thriving. To celebrate, we scheduled a lesson together with Cristina's wonderful trainer along with another riding buddy, and the day finally arrived this past weekend!

I cannot accurately express how happy it made my heart to see Cristina in such a fantastic program. She has transformed from a veritable ball of nerves into a stronger, more relaxed rider who is learning a ton and having fun doing it. The schoolie she gets to ride each week is absolutely lovely and SUCH a great teacher, and her trainer is devoted to helping her be the best she can be while instilling confidence and teaching great horsemanship. Getting to see all of that this weekend just made my soul sing!

Homegirl KILLIN' it jumping verticals at the canter! 
But of course, in addition to glowing over my friend's success I was also asking myself the following questions as I hauled out to the lesson: How will Dino behave in a group lesson at a fancy H/J barn? Will we totally embarrass ourselves? Will he jump the jumps? Will I freak out? Will the fancy H/J trainer wonder why in the world I, a 30 year old woman, ride a pony? WAS THIS ALL A HUGE MISTAKE!?

I will tell you right now that everything turned out fine.

Actually, it was more than fine because my pony was perfect and everyone loved him and we had so much fun!

Fancy H/J Trainer asked me about myself and Dino, and I gave her the rundown. I told her that we were both hunter ring rejects, and now focus primarily on eventing, dressage, and foxhunting, and that Dino's biggest fault is that he gets stuck behind the leg and then I have to fight him about it.

Dino very promptly made a liar out of me, and was practically lapping Cristina's sweet little OTTB and our other friend's normal-sized horse in the flatwork portion of the lesson. I wasn't even carrying a dressage whip as I usually do, because I felt weird going to a jump lesson at a hunter barn with anything other than a short bat. And Dino was quite enthusiastic.

While the social aspect of the day definitely overshadowed the riding that we did, I really loved the trainer's approach. She puts a big emphasis on proper flatwork, and did a really excellent job of coaching each of the three riders in the lesson to their respective abilities. As we worked our horses, she would pull each of us onto a large circle at one end of the ring by turn and give specific instructions to each rider. I got called out almost immediately on my too-long reins and sitting the trot to shorten the stride instead of remaining in posting trot. It's good to know that professionals observe my faults consistently!

We worked on basic exercises of shortening and lengthening the stride in trot, leg yields from the quarter line to the wall in walk, leg yields in the corners in trot, and finding and keeping a good rhythm in the canter. Fancy H/J Trainer encouraged me to slow down the leg yield in the walk to keep it straighter and more powerful, which was a totally foreign concept to me because it seems like I'm always pushing Dino to go faster. However, the technique really did help improve the movement, and Dino moved solidly into my outside rein and felt much lighter up front after a few repetitions. Again, nothing groundbreaking, but good, important stuff!

Getting impatient waiting for our lesson buddies! 
Dino was fabulous in the canter, and after letting him go forward in half seat in both directions, I was able to sit and put him together on the right lead and maintain a really nicely connected, round canter. He was even better in the trot, and every time I glanced in the mirror I was thrilled with what I was seeing! Dino was moving beautifully forward up into the bridle, nose on the vertical, lifting up through the base of his neck and pushing strongly from behind. He looked like a legit dressage pony, and not a HUS horse or a tense, balled-up, behind-the-vertical mess.


The jumping portion of the lesson began with a wee little baby crossrail with guide poles on the takeoff and landing sides to help the horses stay straight. We were to trot it the first few times, and I had a heck of a time keeping Dino actually trotting to the base instead of sneaking in a canter stride or two and then launching over the microscopic fence. I don't think I can remember the last time I had to half-halt him in front of a jump! But eventually we actually trotted the trot fence, and got to jump a couple little mini-courses.

The fences were all very small, 2' tops with the last oxer maaaaaybe barely squeaking in at 2'3. But it was a great opportunity to work on rhythm, pace, and track. Aside from needing a couple simple changes in the first three-fence 'course', Dino was absolutely perfect, took me to every fence, and was generally a superstar. Our last little course (video below) added on the oxer, and I mentally committed to just getting it done before we even began to jump.

And it was pretty perfect. I got a little defensive with my seat a few times, but with some reminders from the trainer to stay light and keep my hands out in front of me, Dino jumped beautifully and took me right to every jump in a lovely forward canter. He jumped the snot out of the oxer, and I was just tickled that we were able to ship out to a new place, jump some jumps, be successful, and have fun doing it!

To top it off, the trainer absolutely LOVED Dino, I had a blast riding with my friends, and we were invited back to take a lesson or meet the team at a jumper show for coaching any time. I am so excited to go back again when the weather gets a little better and we can take advantage of the huge, beautiful outdoor arena next time!



  1. everything about this makes me so happy!!! i definitely know where your friend Christina is coming from in feeling the struggle of getting back into a program after some time off - it's surprisingly HARD as an adult! sounds like she landed in a great place too! and even better that Dino worked so well that you could really focus on enjoying your friend's company!

  2. I love that your friend found the right place to get back to riding! Sounds like she's thriving there. That's so fun that you were able to take your pony and lesson together! So happy to read that you and Dino were confident and jumped right around like no big deal.

  3. Look at you guys cruising in that canter! You look great!!

  4. Awh so good to hear! And you are so not 30!


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