I was out riding Girlfriend this afternoon practicing for the show next week, and Sabine (one of the teenagers who's pretty advanced in her riding) was riding Sparky. Sparky is a beautiful, very large thoroughbred who is also very spooky and neurotic. But he's sweet. He's just big and spooky and only the most advanced students ride him in their lessons. I had at first thought I would never ride him because I'm too old to ride a spooky horse. But I thought I would like it if Sabine would ride Girl because it's been really good for her having other people (who know how to ride) ride her because each time someone knew rides her it seems to build up her confidence. When she first came to the stable almost two years ago now she really didn't want anyone to ride her except me but now she's a lot more relaxed with new riders.
Sabine thought that would be great, so instead of just holding Sparky I figured I should ride him. But since he's my instructor's horse I needed to ask her permission first. I thought she'd say "Oh, well you're used to hot horses with your horse so no problem," but instead she said, "Well, let me think for a minute. Sparky is really spooky and can be unpredictable. That's why only my most advanced riders get to take lessons with him. If you do ride him you can not under any circumstance grip with your legs and he still might try to bolt with you because he will act like a thoroughbred sometimes." I said, "Well, then I'll just stop him like I do when Girlfriend bolts," and she said, "Ok. Well, just know he's spooky and hot and give it a try, I guess." and I said, "I will just walk with him and see how it goes."
So, I got up on him and realized that for a kid Sabine is really tall so I had to shorten the stirrups. And he was difficult to mount. With Girl I have to pull the reins back as short as they go when I mount her, but as soon as I picked up the reins Sparky backed-up. Sabine said with him you had to leave the reins loose and he wouldn't walk away but it was the only way to keep him from backing up. I was not convinced because in my head, not holding a good short rein when mounting a horse is dangerous, but I also wanted to actually get on Sparky and every time I took the reins in my hand he moved back before I could get my foot up to put in the stirrup. So, I did it Sabine's way and sure enough he just stood there.
Once I was up on him I didn't want to go through all that again to mount him so I had to shorten my stirrups while in the saddle. Plus, Sheryl was helping one of her students train one of the babies in the arena and she is always pestering me to not dismount if I need to change my stirrup length or tighten my girth. I didn't feel like having her call me on getting off Sparky just to change my stirrup length while I sputtered out whatever excuse about being afraid.
I got one stirrup adjusted with Sparky just stomping his front feet a little. But when I started on the right stirrup he started to do a little angry dance and gave a little buck and threw his head down as far as it could go in a very obvious "Can I send you flying over my head now?" move. It was slow enough and mild enough that I didn't lose my balance but it was very obvious what he had just tried to do. So, I walked him out into the arena a little bit to get him in a new environment, then quickly finished up adjusting my stirrup while thinking the whole time, "I'm totally going to get thrown off this horse. What the hell was I thinking?"
Judy passed by the arena and said, "Oh, you're riding Sparky! He has the best canter ever!" to which I said "I'm way too chicken to canter with him." We walked around a little bit and he was fine and we trotted a little bit which was really odd because it was so smooth - freakishly smooth after riding Girlfriend who is short and squat and so bouncing that sometimes in a sitting trot it looks like I'm posting just because I'm bouncing so much. Then - completely forgetting that Sabine had said at the beginning of her ride that Sparky was being extra spooky today - I wanted to see this canter of his. So, I tried to signal a canter and he just ran away at the trot because I did not signal hard enough. Once again. The perpetual problem for me with cantering on a regular horse is that with Girl I just let her canter but with typical horses I have to actually use my leg and the crop. But the second time we actually got a really good canter going and it was amazingly smooth. Unfortunately, right after that Sabine got called away to help with barn chores so I didn't get to ride him anymore after that. But I was proud that I left my scared little comfort zone and tried riding him and even cantered with him.