Friday, March 13, 2015

Riding Vicariously

by Meghan Namaste

When I was learning to ride, I always wanted to jump. I romanticized jumping, and as I learned the basics of posting diagonals and cantering and mastering the all-important 20-meter circle, I pictured myself as a show jumper. Tight turns, high speeds and explosive jumping efforts appealed to me.

Finally, once the basics of flatwork were instilled in me, I began learning to jump. I had pictured only the glory of jumping, the sense of flying, and neglected to account for the fact that jumping is a lot of work. I found it wasn't so fun after all when reality set it. I hated the two-point position, the hours spent standing in the stirrups with my calves burning, and when it came time to go over fences, I was a timid jumper. Something about riding down to that obstacle was nerve-wracking for me. I maxed out at about two feet, and I had no desire to go any higher. I soon found I had no desire to jump, period.

Around the same time, I began taking the occasional dressage lesson with an itinerant instructor - a real, classical dressage person able to convey the true heart of the sport - the concept of riding from the seat and leg, the lightness that can be achieved, the art of cultivating balance and beauty in whatever horse you sit upon. I realized what dressage was truly about, and I found my niche. I wasn't a daredevil after all, into cutting corners and pushing the limits - higher, faster, better. That kind of riding didn't thrill me. It made me a wreck. I wasn't a jumping fool, I was a true dressage addict. That feeling, after weeks or months of struggle, when all my aids aligned and my horse and I moved in balance, two beings who looked better, who moved better than before, that feeling was my weakness.

I came to understand two things about myself. I wanted my butt in the saddle (not hovering above it in the hated two-point), and I wanted to learn to ride with lightness.

So, I took several more years of lessons, focusing on dressage, and then I bought my first horse, a $750 grade Paint mare, pony-sized and carting around considerable mental and physical baggage, but with a good heart and the will to try, try, and try some more. I didn't end up with a perfectly sound horse, but it was a sound decision, because she turned out to be my equine soul mate, and 6 years later, we are still trying together. And we recently started taking dressage lessons, taking the next step in our journey.

Sofie and me last summer, dressagin'. Yes, I'm wearing jeans and work boots. Shhhh.

Interestingly enough, dressage doesn't factor too much in my writing. Dressage is training, and there is plenty of training chronicled in my books, but you won't see my characters hanging out at USDF shows (well, except for that one time). My protagonists both specialize in sports that feature a lot of action. My male lead, Lawrence, is a high-goal polo player, and my female lead, Erica, is a hunter/jumper trainer now riding at Grand Prix. Just because I personally don't care if my horse ever moves faster than a collected canter (no, seriously, if you're reading this, Sofie, please don't) doesn't mean I can't enjoy writing a good galloping sequence, or recapping a fast-paced polo match. And just because staring down a two-foot-three-inch jump fills me with anxiety doesn't mean I don't love writing about soaring jumping efforts, tricky courses, and those all-important, nail-biting jump-off rounds.

What is your riding discipline of choice? And what are some of the ways you choose to live vicariously through your characters?


  1. Enjoyed your post about finding your niche in dressage. But for me, dressage is too much like school, which I did not like at all. IMO, dressage is meant to perfect a rider's ability to communicate to a horse and once mastered gives that rider the freedom to enjoy many things with many horses. My passion is competitive distance riding with 3-day 100 mile rides my favorite. But, back to dressage. I think it is enjoying an increasing following is proportion to the dwindling countryside available for horse activities. A satisfying dressage workout can be enjoyed within the small confines of a ring. When I first learned to ride, I was told I had to master basic dressage before being allowed to venture outside the ring.

  2. I love jumping huy also max out at a certain point. I've competed around 3'6" but am more comfortable at 3'. For me my niche was riding in hunter jumpers because you can be consistently successful at low heights (2'9-3') without being pressured to move up since our local shows max out at those heights. And I love the perfectionism and training required to nail a good course. Helps that my horse is a beautiful jumper with a good length of stride and judges love him. Unfortunately just as he was coming into his own he had a ligament injury and was out for most of the seasonbut we came back last month and luckily he hasn't skipped a beat and has had 3 shows for 7 wins and 2 seconds from 9 starts :)
    As for my characters, they all ride in the classes I wish I'd had the pony, the support and the courage to ride in myself back in the day, the Pony Grand Prix circuit which is 4'-4'6" and open to riders under 17 and ponies under 14.3hh. Culminating each season with the Pony of the Year class which is the Holy Grail of pony show jumping here in New Zealand. I love watching it and writing about it allows me to put myself inside the action!