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February 14, 2013

First Ride Foibles

Chronicle Managing Editor Sara Lieser's first ride on her new off-the-track Thoroughbred had some surprising moments, but showed a promising future. Photo by Eric Lieser

Common sense has never been my strong suit, and that sometimes makes for some entertaining times on the farm. Let’s just say that my first ride on Eli/Sweet Roll, my new off-the-track Thoroughbred, didn’t go quite as smoothly as I might have hoped.

I did start with a sensible plan. I picked a warm weekend day for our first ride. I talked my husband into being my ground person and videographer. But I began to veer off course as soon as I brought Eli in from the field.

Eli likes mud—a lot. He enjoys smooshing it into every part of his body, particularly his ears and face. Since I was planning to video this first ride, I wanted him to look his best. That meant a good 45 minutes of grooming. Eli is generally amiable, but baby off-the-track Thoroughbreds are not known for their patience, and he soon grew bored. Then I decided I needed to finish by pulling his mane. Boredom turned to outrage and violent protest. My husband helpfully showed up to video as Eli tried to fling the terrible mane comb into the next county with me attached.

We survived mane pulling and moved on to tacking up, but by that point Eli had also sprayed my grooming area with liquid poo. So I decided I’d tack him up outside where he could poop to his heart’s content. It seemed like a good idea at the time?

You can guess what’s coming. I successfully got the saddle, girth and breastplate on, but when it came to bridling, Eli was less interested. We were both feeling a bit short-tempered at that point. So when he tried to nail me with his head as I was doing up the noseband, I reacted with a whack, and in an instant one completely tacked up horse was headed for the hills minus his dolt of a rider. My husband again helpfully videoed as I went in search of grain.

On the plus side, I know Eli is feeling much better about life. It took weeks after he first arrived before I saw him trot or canter in the field. On this day, he cheerfully showed off his fanciest gaits as I stalked him with a bucket of food.

When I finally did catch him, he behaved like a perfect gentleman. He stood at the mounting block with only a little assistance from my husband. He walked down to the arena on a loose rein.

Things went beautifully to start. He steered, mostly. He stopped when I pulled on the reins. He didn't feel nearly as small underneath me as I’d feared. In fact, his trot felt great! I began to get cocky again…

So I tried for canter. He fumbled a bit, then found his stride and continued right on out of the arena. OK, the steering at the canter was a bit worse than I’d anticipated, but the brakes were still in fine working order. We returned to the arena.

I attempted canter in the other direction. He left the ring once again, this time heading for a sprinkler on a tripod that happened to be ringside. Crunch. My husband turned to me and said, “That horse is no longer free,” referring to Eli's purchase price. He’d mangled the tripod quite thoroughly, but with no harm to himself, and that’s the important part, right?

I managed one more canter in the ring, this time choosing my transition spot more carefully so we could come back to trot in time to stay in the arena. And then I figured I might as well push my luck again, so I introduced him to a pole on the ground and carefully worked up to a single cavaletti. At first he wondered why we’d want to go over such a thing when there was plenty of space on either side, but he soon figured it out and was cheerfully trotting back and forth with no hesitation.

I called it quits with a big doofy smile on my face.

All in all, I honestly couldn’t have been happier. Turns out Eli is a pretty fancy little guy with more athletic potential and training than I’d anticipated. But next time I’ll tack him up inside.

Each Thursday, we'll feature a blog from a member of the Chronicle staff. We're just like you—juggling riding and competing with work and family. A graduate "C-3" from Penobscot Pony Club (Maine), Managing Editor Sara Lieser spent a year working for Denny Emerson before attending Amherst College (Mass.) and is now learning the sport from the ground up by training her own horses. She and her husband, Eric, share their 20-acre farm with two dogs, three cats, and an ever-changing numbr of horses. 

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