Riding Jelly: The Emotional Thoroughbred Experience

So handsome!

I have literally THE BEST FRIENDS in the world. As soon as word got around that Dino was retired, so many friends offered to let me sit on their wonderful horses, one of the first being my dear friend Karen, who is probably the kindest, loveliest, most generous person on the planet. Seriously. You don't get better than Karen.  Her horse Jelly is an 8 year old Thoroughbred event horse, and one of the barn favorites. He LOVES to be snuggled and is like a giant, beautiful, dapple grey 1,200 pound puppy. 

He is also right around 17hh, all legs, and full of feelings. 

So many feelings. 

Feelings that I, a rider of the same stoic 14.1hh pony for the last 11 years quite frankly had a lot of difficulty managing! 

I hopped on (in my silkie chicken print leggings, naturally) after Karen had already schooled Jelly on the flat. I've watched her ride him a lot, and he seemed like a pretty straightforward dude with an elegant way of going. Karen made him look like an easy, uncomplicated ride and I was excited to take him for a spin. 

I was mistaken. He is not. He is a complex being with a lot of thoughts and ideas about how his rider should do things, and I did them ALL WRONG according to Jelly. I don't know how Karen does it, but she makes a difficult horse look downright easy! Much respect to you, my friend. For a lot of the ride it was like we were speaking a totally different language. While I actually didn't feel too small on him (he is thankfully built pretty narrow through the barrel despite being so tall), I was definitely not used to having to corral so many long, lanky body parts. I ended up spending most of the ride just trying to walk and trot Jelly in a 20m circle on the bit, and every time I thought I had him figured out and he'd finally unlock his topline and reach for the bit, something I could not perceive would offend him and Jelly would pop off the contact, or bulge a shoulder, or twist his head, or fishtail his hind end out from under me. I only cantered him for about 20 seconds because he is enormous and his great big step honestly scared me a little! 

Jelly and I having a cuddle last fall

Not being able to ride the horse on the bit at the walk honestly didn't really frustrate me too much, just made me more determined to figure him out!

I also had some issues with the stop button. While eventually I could get Jelly to transition downward, it took wayyyy too long each time and I never really figured out what I was doing wrong, even though I had Karen right there to ask questions of. Despite never really feeling like I found out what made Jelly tick during that first ride, he was a lot of fun to puzzle out and I am so thankful to Karen for letting me hop on! 

Riding a couple different horses over the past week has been eye-opening, and showed me some things I didn't quite realize before about myself as a rider and trainer. While I haven't felt anxious on Dino at all since we stopped jumping, I realized my anxiety as a rider is still very much there when I canter "big" horses. It feels SO fast and out of control and a lot of work to sit, even when going negative slug miles per hour, but that's something I can start to work on as I seek out more opportunities to ride other horses and figure out how to continue to ride and improve in dressage even though Dino is retired.

The other big "ah-hah" that occurred to me was about how much leg it takes to get the average horse to respond. I've always thought of Dino as chronically behind the leg and difficult to get going forward. He was my standard for "behind the leg" and "a serious workout to ride" for many  years. I mean, let's face it, he WAS chronically behind the leg until the last few years! But I was so surprised to get on Basil and Jelly and need a LOT OF LEG to get them going - honestly a lot more than I use with Dino! I had kind of assumed that most other horses would be more sensitive to the leg than my pokey pony, but these two proved me wrong - my own horse isn't the most difficult thing in the world to get to go forward! Which leads me to my last realization: that I did a pretty damn good job training my pony. It may not have been 100% correct all the time, and other horses might not understand what I'm saying with the aids that Dino knows, but by the end of our time as competitive partners I had a pony who responded beautifully and instantly to such small aids (most of the time!), and I'm really proud of that. 

I just hope I'm not a one-hit-wonder and that I'll be able to transfer everything I learned from Dino to another pony someday! 


  1. I really love this, and wish I had more opportunities to ride different horses! It's going to help you know what to look for in your next one for sure.

  2. It will certainly transfer! All horses go just a little bit differently, so there will always be a learning curve. But your hard work will absolutely transfer to your next ride! So fun that you're getting to try out different horses. It will definitely come in handy when it's time to look for your next partner.


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