Finally it was time to ride Challenger. I had to admit that I was excited to get on his back, despite being somewhat nervous. I was interested to see how brave he was.
As I put on the brown saddle pad on he spooked a little as it flapped in the wind. “You know, you’re not helping my nerves at all,” I murmured. He flicked an ear back towards me.
Mother, who was tacking up Shocker next to me, chuckled. “Little anxious Tessa?” she teased me.
I snorted as I heaved the saddle up. “Why shouldn’t I be? I’m about to get on a spooky horse who’s never really seen much less jumped a log in his life.”
“Ah come on, I’m sure it’s not that bad,” coaxed mother.
Just then a woman came round the edge of the trailer. Challenger raised his head slightly in apprehension. “Oh come on, it’s just Alice,” I groaned as I walked around him to attach the girth.
“Who’s this spooky boy?” asked Alice. She was a stout woman of average height who’d been running her own stable for fifteen years. We specialized in training and lessons, she prioritized boarders.
“His name’s Challenger. We bought him in the hopes of turning him into an advanced lesson horse. We could use another one,” replied mother.
Alice ran her eye over him as I came back around. “Decent confirmation. But he doesn’t seem that experienced,” she remarked.
“He’s not,” I grunted. “This is his first time on a cross country course.”
Alice’s eyebrows raised. “Really?”
“Really,” I replied sarcastically. Actually, despite the bitter front I put up, I couldn’t help being a little excited to ride him. Just a little.
Okay, a lot.
“Up you go,” said Alice as she boosted me up onto Challenger.
As soon as I was up Challenger set off at a fast walk. His head was up and his back was hollow, not the best combination. I shortened my reins extensively.
“How about some one rein stops?” suggested mother. In contrast to Challenger Shocker was as cool as the January wind blowing across my face. She knew what we were going to do and wouldn’t start being excited until she’d popped a few jumps.
“Yeah that sounds good,” I replied as I put my reins in one hand, slid my hand down the right rein, and pulled it to my hip as I let go with my other hand, at the same time pushing his hindquarters to the side.
Challenger was rather surprised but dutifully swung his head round, crossing his hind legs. I’d never done a one rein stop with him before. I was using them to let him know I was on his back, to focus him, and most importantly, I could use them on him should he bolt off with me. As excited as he was I wasn’t going to bet he wouldn’t.
After doing a few on either side, Challenger was more supple and listening to me a bit better. I moved him off at a walk. My hips swung easily with him. I tried to focus on him and not on my anxiety, which for some reason was getting to me more on him than any other horse.
I barely squeezed him and he launched into an energetic trot. I began to circle him, which, because he didn’t have much muscle made him have to think a lot more. Once he was going well clockwise I changed and went the other way.
After this I slowed him down to a walk. I wasn’t sure if I was going to canter him today. I wasn’t sure if he’d bolt or not, and I just wanted this to be a positive experience for him.
I walked him up to a small log and let him sniff it. I gripped the neck strap as he lowered his head, prepared for him to spook.
Sure enough, he let out a snort and swerved to the side, letting out a playful kick. I stuck to the saddle. He wasn’t really scared of it, he was just feeling a little fresh.
I walked him up to it again. This time he just sniffed but didn’t do anything else.
“You gonna jump him?” Called out mom as she trotted by on Shocker.
“Maybe,” I replied.
“I let Shocker go over it first if you want,” offered mom.
I was pretty sure Challenger had jumped before, I just didn’t know how high and how often. I was taking no chances and was going to make sure I grabbed that neck strap, which I had a feeling I was going to be doing a lot of. I had no intention of being dumped in the dirt.
I fell in line behind Shocker, who’d done this many times before with green horses. She easily popped the log in the front of us. Now it was up to Challenger.
I could feel him starting to back off so I urged him on. He tried to swerve to the left, and when that didn’t work, to the right. I corrected him, and just before the jump shoved my reins in one hand to grab the neck strap.
This threw him off a little bit and he almost came to a dead stop, throwing me slightly forward. But I wasn’t going to let him back out of this. I gave him another squeeze and clucked to him.
With a snort he bounded into the air and over the jump, easily clearing it. As he leapt I felt the immense power of him. “This horse can really jump,” was my brief thought before we landed.
I patted his neck. “Good lad. Good lad,” I said fervently. He snorted as if proud of himself for facing the scary log.
“You want me to go over again?” called mother.
“Nah, we’ll try it by ourselves this time,” I replied.
With that I turned Challenger around and we faced the jump again. This time Challenger still tried to swerve, but I refused to let him. However once he was at the jump he did not hesitate and sprung into the air.
We went over it a couple more times, and each time he got braver and braver, till he was starting to rush it a little. At that point I decided to try something else. I was curious to see how he’d react to water. I didn’t think he’d be brave at all.
And of course he wasn’t. He stopped dead in his tracks, absolutely beyond a doubt positively convinced that there was a horse eating monster in there. I didn’t force him in, I knew that would backfire on me.
Instead I circled him and brought him back to the water. Once again he stopped dead. This time I had him just stand stiff-legged and look at it.
Finally he lowered his head down and touched it, scaring himself. I circled him back to it and this time urged him more firmly onward. He tried to dodge, stepping back and forth with indecision. But finally he tentatively jumped in, with me hanging on the neck strap.
Once in he didn’t seem to know what do with himself and stopped again. I smooched to him and tapped him with my crop. With hesitation he took a step, then another. Pretty soon he walked up the other side of the bank dripping water.
“Good lad.” I let my voice roll over the words, the only way they did when I was praising a horse for something good. It seemed to me he puffed himself up, proud of himself for a job well done. I chuckled at his pride and turned him around to try the water again.