This spring, I got a new horse. Dundee came to me quite unknown, and he spent most of the summer puttering around the fields while I worked with horses sent in for training. As the summer was winding down, I got to take Dundee for a few test rides. He is nothing like the horse I just retired. In some ways that is good, and in others, it will take some getting used to.
One lovely attribute that Dundee has shown is that he enjoys jumping. It has been many years since I have had a reliable jumping horse. To get back in the jumping saddle, I recently took him to Peppergrass Farm in Newburgh which was holding a cross-country jumping clinic with Steuert Pittman, an accomplished rider and trainer. The clinic was to benefit the Penobscot Pony Club, so I figured even if I was embarrassingly incompetent, the entry fee would be for a good cause. If you are going to embarrass yourself, at least do it for charity.
Like Clark Kent becoming Superman, however, my pudgy orange horse became a jumping machine. Out in the rolling fields of Peppergrass Farm’s cross-country course, I galloped fearlessly with my superhero horse. To be truthful, Dundee himself was not fearless, and was highly suspicious of the giant horse-eating logs and carnivorous blue barrels that made up portions of the obstacle course. Because of his nervousness, I became the reliable one, and my own nervousness was left somewhere back in the driveway along with one of my gloves.
I later found the glove but had no such reunion with my nerves. Dundee trusted my authority and went where I asked him to go. There is an intoxicating feeling of riding a galloping horse. It takes over your whole body. I even began to breathe in the rhythm of his strides. All of my senses were awakened; the smell of the autumn leaves (anyone who has ever been outside in Maine during October knows this scent), the sound of Dundee’s hooves thudding in the grass and splashing through the water, seeing a jump and targeting it for an approach and landing, and the feel of Dundee’s coat, damp with sweat, as I gave him a pat for a job well done, all combined into a thrilling yet centering sensation.
We truly became one unit communicating almost silently with each other. I say “almost” because a horse will respond to a rider’s voice, and the voice can be a useful encouragement when your horse is pretty sure the barrels have big teeth. If you have ever hung around any horse-folk, you may hear the curious tongue-click we use to bring about just a little more movement from our horses. When I felt Dundee backing off a jump with uncertainty, I steadied him with a grip from both legs, tunneled him through the reins and with a little “tch, tch” he powered up and sailed over.
The athletic ability of both horse and rider is absolutely paramount, but to succeed, there has to be a trust in each other as well. I have to trust Dundee that he will go where I ask and be able to balance himself and me as he jumps. Dundee has to trust me that I will not ask him to do something that will cause him harm and that I will not interfere with his balancing act.
On that day, there was no embarrassment; in fact, it was just the opposite. I learned a lot about my new horse, learned some jumping technique and had a fantastic day in the fields and woods of Maine.