By: Alex Gesheva
Some days you get really lucky. Take a set of very unfortunate circumstances that left my horse stranded in Canada, mix it with the kindness and generosity of Sue and Dennis and I somehow found myself sitting on Jagger at Sand Canyon. Anyone there may have spotted me glowing like a lit-up Christmas tree of enthusiasm.
The interesting thing about sitting on A Great Horse: you know with absolute certainty that you’re the limiting factor in your relationship. There’s really nothing to worry about, except fixing yourself. I could marvel over Jagger’s heart rates (thank goodness for the heart monitor, or I wouldn’t believe it; also, Dennis can estimate them within 5 beats without even being in the saddle). Pair that with the chance to ride with Dennis all day and pester him with questions, and I had possibly the richest day of learning and rider self-reflection in years.
Dennis doesn’t eat or drink anything while riding. From what I can tell, he has figured out the bare minimum needed to stay alive, and just does that. I assume he does some form of concentrated self-care at vet checks, but I can’t actually confirm that because he was always doing things for his horses. He doesn’t apply sunscreen, snack, or take photos. A few times, I tried to offer him water and he just gave a dark chuckle and kept running.
Did I mention the running? Let me tell you the story of how I learned to trail run on a 50-mile at Sand Canyon. Dennis runs by choice, I don’t. But I really enjoy learning, and I thought “when in Rome, learn from the strange running Romans.” On this particular ride, I estimate Dennis did maybe four miles plus of hop-skipping up and down rugged, rocky terrain. My calf muscles tell me I did fifty miles, but it was likely more like a mile less than Dennis. At that point, I admitted defeat and dragged myself back on Jagger, which is really one of the best places in the world to be. Seriously, that horse is made of cool.
Dennis also has a nifty 3-second routine for switching between riding and running. One, he decides he’s going to dismount. Two, his feet touch the ground. Three, he’s running. Each time, I lost a few seconds thinking about how the ground kept getting further away. The whole day was a fascinating blend of complete focus and pure relaxation, because everyone involved agreed on the job at hand and worked to get it done.
So, beyond the long list of excellent equipment hacks I picked up, I really noticed that I’ve been holding my horse back. On a normal day, when I’m not riding to live up to Jagger’s superhero potential, there are at least three key spots where I dawdle. Not because my horse needs it, just for me. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the scenery and taking it easy … as long as I stay honest with myself, make it a choice and don’t pin my ride times solely on my horse’s training or capacity. We’re a team, my own great horse and I. If I want him to reach his full potential or decide to speed up and ride harder, if I want to ride with respect and gratitude for his effort, I’ll want to put in at least the amount of try that he does.
I think I’ll train a bit harder. Heck, I might even practice running a bit more, even if I never do learn to love it.