As you know, my poor pony, Stella, is suffering from gastric ulcers, so she’s been off for a little bit while she recovers. My coach, Wylie, is helping me slowly but surely bring her back into work, but I hadn’t actually sat on a horse in about two weeks (TWO WEEKS!!!). So, during a discussion about the fact that I really need to get on a horse, Wylie looked at me and said those three magic words I’d been waiting to hear: “What about Tigger?”
Tigger is one of AEC‘s most beloved school horses. He’s a super little morgan, originally trained as a western horse, who came to AEC through a stroke of luck and began a new career in the dressage world. His roster of riders runs the gamut from little tiny beginners to very accomplished dressage students, and I have always wanted to ride him.
So, I had my weekly lesson on Tigger the next Friday. And the Friday after that… and the Friday after that. I just can’t get enough of this little horse. He’s not fancy. He’s a little girthy and likes to make horrible faces while you’re tacking up. He’s crooked to the left. He’s crooked to the right. Trying to sit square while he canters is akin to what I imagine herding cats would be like. And I am absolutely smitten.
I’m smitten because Tigger is “one of those horses”. He knows, instinctively, what each rider who climbs onto his back needs. If you’re a teensy little beginner, he knows he needs to go v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y so you can learn how to keep your balance on a moving horse. If you’re a strong intermediate rider, he knows he needs to listen carefully to your aids, because you might not be meaning exactly what you’re saying, but he’ll figure it out and give you what you’re trying to ask for anyway. If you’re more advanced, he’ll throw a little more at you, making you ride so correctly that you get off feeling like a better rider.
And if you’re me… if you’ve been stressed to the absolute max, if you’ve spent your drives home from the barn in tears because your beautiful pony is standing miserably in her stall fighting horrible pain that she can’t understand, if your last ride ended with a pony standing on her hind legs and dragging you around the arena, if you have no idea what’s going to happen next, or how you’re going to get your dressage dreams back on track, well, then Tigger knows exactly what to do.
He quietly goes to work, giving me little problems to solve, offering tiny sparks of brilliance here and there to tell me I’m on the right track, and reminding me, over and over, that everything is going to be just fine. Because, in the end, here I am, on a Friday night in a quiet arena with my favourite coach and this generous horse.
Somehow through those rides, I began to remember why I love schoolies. Here was this sweet little horse, responding to my aids, listening to my every word, working his behind off for me, just because I was asking him to. Like I said, he’s not fancy. He’s “just” a school horse. He’s just Tigger. But he has as much to offer (maybe more) as any big expensive warmblood out there.
Most of us don’t need a better horse. We need to better ride the horses we have. We need horses who understand that they have a job to do, and who can figure out what that job is. We need horses who are smart, and kind, and who give us what we need, when we need it.
Sometimes, we need schoolies.