Today Salut and I had our very first lesson together in a double. At times I could literally feel his hind legs stepping underneath him like we were floating effortlessly, he was balanced and so easy to sit – I felt like I was Charlotte riding Valegro down the centerline. Salut has seen me grow from a novice rider to an ok rider to an “I want to do real dressage rider”. I have seen him grow strong, sick, fragile and now a relatively healthy senior. Today’s lesson was more than just a lesson.
Five years ago I was riding Salut at “home” while taking lessons on a dressage schoolmaster at my “away home”. I clearly remember that Saturday I had the most amazing ride on my trainer’s mount Negra (who I had decided was Salut’s long-distance girlfriend). A beautiful black mare, compact yet powerful, taught me what true dressage was as much as her trainer did. She refused to accept my half ass attempts and only responded when the button was fully pushed, not half way down. We had moments of throughness with power that made me feel as though I was floating down the long side.
Back at home on Tuesday, I rode Salut and practiced my new skills on him, sometime with success sometimes without. Salut was a stiff horse long and I was a stiff short rider – bad combination. He was also not used to carrying himself as he was being ridden by several riders of different levels. I was not a strong enough rider yet to get him supple and round without draw reins. Despite this every ride ended in smiles, as he always tried his best with what I gave him.
On Wednesday, I was walking to meet my carpool after work when I was hit by a car. It turns out not everyone expects pedestrians in the cross walk… who knew! Nothing was ever the same afterwards no matter how hard I pretended it was. Despite the immediate broken bones and bruises, it would be the slowly creeping chronic pain and two surgeries spread over 3 years (yaaaay Canadian healthcare) that would take me down in the long run. There was no riding for a quite a while, and Salut had to find other “jobs” and so he was leased out for the next few years. He only returned to me and his home after he was found very ill even though I was unsure what our riding future would be.
Fast forward to December 2013… under circumstances we had little control over, Salut and I lost our stall at his home and ventured across town to my “away home”. How long will we be here? No one knows, but we are on the list to return when a stall opens up (it’s literally a 5 minute drive versus 1 hour). As unsettling as it was to leave his home and the place that helped me save him from death’s door was, I was very lucky that we found a stall at this facility which was the only other place I truly trusted to take care of him. This would be the perfect example of taking life’s lemons and making lemonade with it. The change in scenery has taken us out of our comfort zone which was good because I had set the bar too low. Salut’s increased energy from unfamiliar surroundings has shown me that we are capable of much more than I thought we were and he’s not as old as he looks! It has also taken me aback by how much his new barn adores him… for some reason I expected his home to adore him (and that they do) because you know… it’s SALUT, good ole’ sweet Salut. But he has already gained the nickname Grandpa and Stuart (don’t ask, but he really does look like he could be a Stuart!) and my trainer is constantly impressed by his effort and abilities (that I seem to hide lol). Just more proof that he really is one amazing four legged creature.
Over the past six months I have been able to check items off of my “dream bucket list” that I never thought would happen:
- ride Salut through in the snaffle WITHOUT draw reins
- take lessons with Salut and away trainer without offending anyone
- introduce Salut to Negra, his no-longer long distance girlfriend (who I cheated on him with once a week)
- ride Salut in a double bridle
Truthfully there were times when I didn’t know if I would be able to ride again. I have many doctors – Dr. Wade Gofton, Dr. JW Pollock, Dr. Don Chow (who’s own battle back from a devastating motorcycle accident inspired me), Dr. Greg Murphy in Kingston (basically my saviour and Pain Doc who never gave up on me), including a psychologist, Dr. Lorraine Overduin, (yes I am publicly admitting to seeing a therapist), Functional Rehab Specialist Andrea Beausoleil, Adam Dunits my chiro who constantly keeps me in line (in more ways than one… what do you mean I can’t go for a 10K run?) and more! It takes meds, regular exercise, a Back on Track back brace, Thinline pad and lots of breaks to get that ride done. But you know what? Today’s lesson made me realize that I’m back and better than ever.