The Route to Incredible Is Perilous

Jeannette Bayer is a working student at Denali Sporthorses in Iola, Texas. She has been eventing for a year with her OTTB gelding Pandamonium (“Panda”) and is the founder of Warm Up Ring Bling. Jeanette sent us this story about her experience as a working student and how the things she has learned along the way gives her hope for the future. Keep up with Jeanette on her blog here, and if you are looking for a working student position yourself, don’t miss these recently updated summer listings. Thanks for writing Jeannette, and thanks for reading!

Panda through the water

I started writing this post to avoid figuring out how to work my sewing machine. It didn’t come with instructions, and I had it in my mind that if I couldn’t figure it out all by myself, then it wasn’t worth doing. I’d just go back to hand sewing the ears on my bonnets forever and suffer in my one person sweatshop while this technologically advanced machine sat staring me in the face.

There was one point where I felt like throwing things against the wall. Then I “took a break” to go to the barn. Both of these things happened shortly after getting the machine out of the bag and finding a plug for it, to put into perspective my level of patience with learning this new skill. I started feeling a bit guilty that I had put off finishing three bonnets for over two weeks because I was “trying to figure out the sewing machine,” so I got back to work actually trying.

Long story short, I am not the kind of person who can do things by magic. A short YouTube clip later and I had grasped how to thread the upper and lower portions of the machine and also found out that I was making it much more difficult than it needed to be. Who would’ve guessed?

So what do sewing machines and horseback riding have in common, other than the fact that I’m using mine to make horse related material? Let me tell you.

My horse, Panda, has been in rehab for the last two weeks after an injury he sustained almost a month ago. Since I can’t ride him, I’ve been picking up some rides on other horses where I can to fill my schedule and stay sharp.

I took a lesson on one of the horses from my dressage trainer last Saturday and was so excited to work with her on him. When she looked at me sitting as tall and straight as I thought I possibly could she said, “He really brings out your crookedness.”

Panda, moments before getting beat up by a girl.

Panda, moments before getting beat up by a girl.

I was shattered. What? I mean I guess I haven’t been thinking super hard about my crookedness recently, but I thought we were over that. I thought I was better than that. I thought I had aired out the skeletons in my closet.

I wanted to get off and say, “Never mind then. I want to go back to the barn. I’ll take a lesson when my horse is back in business.” But that’s the problem. I can sit a lot taller and straighter on my horse because I ride him all the time.

To become a truly good rider, you have to be able to take what you know on one horse and be able to do it on all the horses. And I don’t mean get the horse on the bit and leg yield it around the arena.

I mean sit tall, on your seat bones, engaging your core while staying loose in your hips and shoulders and keeping your thumbs up. You have to ride well, no matter what the horse knows. You cannot sacrifice a good position just because you’re riding a green horse.

Panda Pine Hill Dressage

For an hour and a half we worked on sitting the trot and canter without stirrups. At the end I was grasping concepts, but also gasping for air. It makes the sewing machine seem a lot easier. At least for my machine, there is a 15 minute video to watch, and as long as you follow the direction, 2 + 2 always equals 4.

With horses you have to explain what 2 + 2 means and they still may offer you the answer 5 sometimes. It’s part of the reason horses are an addiction, but also part of the reason so many people never make it to the upper levels.

It isn’t easy. You think you’ve got something, and then you sit on a new horse and you found out you’re not as super as you thought you were. Or you find out you do have it, but there’s 2,000 other concepts and subtleties you need to master in order to ride the movement correctly.

It’s simple. Nothing requires acrobatics, or yoga instructor flexibility. Yet holding your wrists just right, not overarching your back, and keeping a long leg might as well be contortionist movements when you throw in the fact that you’re on a horse.

To get better, you have to either have a very good sense of humor, or the ability to go home, cry, and come back and try again. Or you have to be ok with the level you’re currently riding at. There aren’t many other options or ways around it.

It’s easy to quit. It’s hard to get back on the horse and work on your skeletons when progress is nearly invisible day to day. That’s why, for all the hundreds of thousands of people who ride horses in America, there are only a handful whose names you know.

I want to be the handful, not the masses. And I am willing to watch the YouTube video, read the directions, get back on the horse, and develop my sense of humor in order to become the handful.