This post was originally published on my former blog “A Blond, Brunette, and a Redhead” on October 4th, 2014, and was one of my most popular posts to date! I’ve updated it a little, but the sentiment remains the same.
You’ll never guess what I did last week.
I rode a Saddlebred. No, not in a dressage saddle, either! I had a crash course in saddleseat riding.
Don’t believe me? Will this convince you??
I knew no one would believe me, so I made sure to get photo and video (below) evidence to prove it. Yes, I’m a self-proclaimed Dressage Nerd. I have never really been interested in trying out saddleseat, much less riding a Saddlebred. Everybody knows they’re absolutely crazy and barely under control and blah blah blah blah…
Well, I’m here to say that I’ve learned a ton at my job at this particular Saddlebred farm. Granted, I’m just doing the basics – feeding, stalls, turnout – but with somewhere around 20 stalls filled with mostly Saddlebreds, I think it’s safe to say I’ve now had my fair share of exposure to the breed during the past several months.
Last year, I would’ve told you that they were not my favorite – not because I had any bad experiences or anything, but simply because they aren’t really my type. (gasp) Personally, I’m drawn more to the warmblood/baroque types. Also ponies – not usually to breeds that are of a “leaner” build.
And Then…Things Began to Change
The more I got to know these entertaining creatures, the more I wanted to try riding one. Saddleseat started to look kinda fun to me. So, on Thursday night, I showed up for “Ladies’ Night” at the barn, ready to ride. I was assigned to Lucy, one of the lesson horses.
When I first got on and started walking, it was totally weird. Sitting towards the back of the saddle, legs more forward, hands higher, lighter seat/leg…whoa. I walked several laps, just trying to get a feel for what the heck I was doing. It probably would’ve helped if I had stopped overthinking it, but that’s not how I roll. Trust me to make things more complicated than necessary.
My first trot was probably atrocious. I don’t even know what happened, except that I had to work hard to keep from scooting forward in my saddle to be in a more “dressage” position. But then I got going, and once I felt more in sync with Lucy’s bouncy trot, it was really, really hard to think about anything else but GOOOOOOOO!!! BECAUSE IT WAS SO FUN!
- They want their horses to do everything from light aids, just like we do. Ask, get an answer, reward. Repeat.
- Forward energy is a huge component. My experience showed me that riding a Saddlebred can teach you how to use excess energy from a “hot” horse to your advantage. You can’t just be a passenger on a Saddlebred. When you say “go”, you need to be committed!
- Guess what? You still need to ride from back to front. You still need to create impulsion and send the horse forward to the bridle. In fact, I think students who have trouble feeling this in their dressage practice may find that lightbulb moment by trying saddleseat. Learning to create and then contain and direct that energy can be a lot easier on a horse that is naturally more forward…again, this can’t work if you’re just a passenger!
- Along those same lines – one of my biggest struggles learning to ride was developing the confidence to take the driver’s seat and actually influence the horse’s way of going. I was very shaken by spooking horses and had been in runaway situations a few times. I think that riding a good Saddlebred lesson horse could help some people going through a similar learning experience. It’s like the jumper saying that you need to throw your heart over the fence first and your horse will follow – same rules apply. Commit, be confident, and go
As I look back on the past few months, I think about how much my perspective has changed. Who would’ve guessed I’d enjoy working at a place so different from my usual? Having great people to work for/with has a major influence on the kind of experience one might have, and the people at this barn are particularly great.
Plus, I’ve enjoyed getting to know my Saddlebred friends. They are ridiculously intelligent. Yes, they are energetic creatures. But, they are insanely smart, bred for a purpose, and they are good at what they do! There are exceptions in every breed, and as we all know, training/handling plays a huge part in how a horse turns out. Now, I can’t shake the idea that it would be a blast to snatch one of these guys up and start teaching him/her dressage. Next project horse, anyone?
Here’s one dressage rider who is a Saddlebred convert.