19 April 2010

you may recall i was a serious horsewoman

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Came across this image here on the pipes. I am almost positive that piece of art on the far wall was drawn by Alex Sysin, Colonel Alexander P. Sysin of the Russian Imperial Cavalry, the man who taught me how to ride jumpers, serious-ass, no-kidding, world-class jumpers, before I actually could even ride properly. He now lives here, of course, and I miss him to itty bitty bits.

He was the cutest little old man, exasperated with my equitation, because I'd just been a wild indian, riding bareback all over hill and dale until my parents finally indulged me in my wish to master the hunter/jumper thing. He set me on horses that would jump anything at which you aimed them, and aimed them at fences that were six feet high, and some of them eight feet wide, and hollered, YEELS DOWN! TOYS UP! YELBOWS IN! at the top of his lungs while sending me sailing over huge hurdles and wailing with not very terrified glee. For the entire hour with him each week he was extremely stern with me and only yelled that mantra, said his horses would train me, and they damn did! He trained them and they trained me, but he is 100% responsible for me being able to steel myself against any potential calamity, no matter how vertiginous it gets.

With the exception of car troubles, which still turn me outright insane really quickly, I am definitely the person you want around in any emergency. I take care of business and flip AFTER the crisis passes. So Colonel Sysin spent most of those weekly hours with me, busy keeping my mother from passing out. After it was over, he'd show us his drawings. They were exquisite. I'd give anything to have one... actually... I'd rather have a picture of him!

He was a very big deal in the horse world, and his book is still in print. I learned all the finer points of dressage and equitation from Bitsy Shields whose mode of teaching was somewhat sterner than the memorial there would indicate. I loved her, too, though. She taught me that a mistake, a bad performance, is NEVER the horse's fault... and, though I didn't believe her at first, I definitely came to understand it perfectly. She was RIGHT. You just have to get good enough to be able to see it.

She called me "The Clamp". From all my wild indian ways, and all the wild horses I'd ridden, there was no throwing me off any horse... maybe had a better future in rodeo... a few times, in the early days, I wowed the crowds, upside down under a horse's neck, but not letting a foot hit the ground, and wild cheering always nearly brought the house down when I'd managed to squirm my way back up into the saddle and finish the course, but then I finally hit the zone. No thinking. The Zen of horseback riding. They threw every impeccable maniac horse nobody else could ride at me and we won and won and won. A horse who would dump anyone who got on his back, probably the most beautiful animal I ever saw, never even started to offer to act up on me. It was bliss. Just the gentlest tightening of a certain part of one leg or the other and there was instantaneous response. No one could see me asking anything of him and we just sailed through every step. Not a missed beat. Never took off too soon or too late. Never remotely trying to squeeze in an extra half-stride on the in-and-outs... perfection.

Even after not riding in many years I got on a huge Dutch Warmblood nobody could handle and, since I was rusty and weak, he did act up a little, but in short order all was magnificently well. Then a thousand years after that I got on one of my mother's colts who was way tall and too damn sleepy and slow for the track and trained him to become a champion dressage horse.

One of my students, who has reverted to his BAD habits, almost made the Olympic Team last time, notwithstanding his appalling seat and hands and feet... yeels NOT down... toys NOT up... yelbows marginally okay... leaning back and steadying himself by hauling on the horse's mouth, the reprehensible fuck. So. I guess it would be more appropriate to state that his HORSE almost made the Olympic Team.

Anyway, I know my shit on horses.

I'm afraid to ride now that my neck is bolted to my body with a titanium plate, but I wonder sometimes if I shouldn't do it anyway. Exercise someone's horse for them, or train their kid.... I get the fittest the fastest, riding horses, and maybe that would give me back the juice to go covering the hillsides with redwood saplings again every winter....

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