« Welcome Wagon & Gossip! | Main | Planet Madonna »

August 27, 2010

Just (insert word ending with "ing") Do It!

from Jacqueline

The past year or so seems to have been so jam-packed, I am limping towards my vacation in a couple of weeks.  I started writing a new book last December (having barely breathed between ending one manuscript and starting another), and in the middle had to travel to the UK a couple of times to see my parents, who had both been unwell, and I embarked upon a six-week book tour that had me on a ‘plane almost every day.  It’s a wonder I managed to produce an email or two, let alone a manuscript – but you know how that goes; making the ends meet is what we all do, isn’t it, whether we're talking about time, money, family or whatever?

But somewhere in there, I make room for another passion – my horses, and my training in the equestrian sport of dressage.  Though I was always one to leap on a horse, it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve really put a lot of energy into the sport, and it came about partly as a result of my writing – I found I was getting too much “in my head” and I wanted something I was completely committed to every day that got me away from the desk to a place where I didn’t constantly worry about whatever it was I was writing.  I have always loved horses and riding, so it was an obvious choice – and I had always wanted to do dressage.  The level of communication between horse and rider, the discipline, the almost spiritual connection to the training fascinated me.  I have two horses – Sara, a 15-year-old Dutch Warmblood/Thoroughbred cross, and  Oliver, a 6 year-old Friesian.  Sara has had health problems over the past four years – mainly due to a sinus infection that almost killed her –  so we’ve been through quite a lot together. I bought Oliver just over two years ago, when he was almost four years old.  And those two equine partners have taught me so much, and not just about riding, but lessons I could apply to my writing and, indeed, to life.

With Ollie

Last weekend marked a big step for Ollie and I – we went to our first real dressage show.  We’d attended a small schooling show about eighteen months ago, but this was different – this was a real show.  Friesians take a little longer to mature than some breeds – at six, Ollie is still growing, and still finding the balance to do this kind of work, which is a bit like Pilates for horses (horses trained in dressage are among the fittest and longest living horses), and he is a bit of a goofball – he loves to play, loves to be hugged and is quite a comedian.   But we have been training really hard for this show, and I was worried as we could do each part of our two tests, but we couldn’t seem to put it together – especially getting the collected canter, which always seems to take longer to establish with this breed.

Here’s where I tell you about the gang I ride with, the other dressage enthusiasts who train at the same place. With a couple of exceptions, we are all women on the powerful side of fifty – in fact, Ann, one of our number, only took up dressage in the past year at the age of sixty.  We call ourselves “the old girls.”  We are all committed to improving, to working our way up the levels – and above all, to having fun while we do it.  But that’s sometimes hard to do when you are nervous before a show.  In fact, if I told you the things some of those women do that do not make them nervous, you would find it funny that the prospect of riding in a show renders each one of us jelly-like.  One of our number is a cool-as-a-cucumber surgeon (who, just as an aside, fractured several vertebrae in her neck last year when she was thrown from her horse, and is now riding again, as well as learning to tango), another is a real estate agent; there’s the gal who caters and manages special events, and a PR executive.  

So, en masse with our trainer we went off to the venue the day before the show, to get our horses settled and to familiarize ourselves with the arenas.  As soon as we arrived, I thought we had a bit of a problem when a stealth bomber – well, it looked like a stealth bomber – came swooping down over our heads, then went off on a loop and came back again – and again and again.  Turns out there was an air show just a couple of miles away on the same day.  Ever tried to ride a horse with a stealth bomber over your head?  It was like doing dressage in the Blitz!  We survived our practice sessions, then all went out to a wine bar that evening to talk about the following day and our mantra – “It’s all about having fun.”

The day dawned sunny and bright, and soon we were all dressed in our show attire (very correct, I even splashed out on some bling – a fake-diamond embellished ribbon for my hair.  I’d decided that if Ollie and I came last, we would at least be the best turned out).  We all wore track suits to protect our white breeches and shirts so we didn’t get dirty – except the surgeon, who wore old scrubs – then we pulled together to get our horses ready, and to be there for each other as we went up to the arena for our tests.  At this stage I was getting more and more worried about that canter – Ollie is not “confirmed” in canter; he can run with the best of them, but that collected canter is another matter.  All I wanted to do was to get around the test – I didn’t care if my geometry was off.


We didn’t get the canter in the right place on our first test, but Ollie was so good – he didn’t shy or get jumpy, just took it all in his stride. But I felt awful – I was so nervous, I wasn’t having fun.  I had a twenty-minute break before the next test so went back down to the warm-up area to walk around and gather my thoughts.  My trainer called me to go up for my test, and as I reached the gate, one of those women I ride with beckoned to me to come closer so she could speak to me without anyone hearing.  As we trotted alongside, she patted Ollie on the neck, looked up at me and said, “Jackie, just go ride the ****ing horse and have some fun.”  I was still laughing when the bell rang for us to enter the arena and do that test.  And I rode my lovely Ollie like the wind.  We cantered in all the right places, and though it wasn’t always pretty, Ollie was brilliant and put his heart and soul into the job – I don’t know if I'd call it a spiritual connection, but we felt as if we were at the same party.  


Later, with my two ribbons in one hand (we came third in each test – not bad for a horse and rider new to shows), and a glass of champagne in the other as I celebrated with the old girls contingent – we all came away with ribbons – it occurred to me, not for the first time in my life, that my friend’s advice works just as well with writing, with life, with anything – just ride the ****ing thing!


And for those of you with an equestrian bent, check out the book, “Why We Ride: Women Writers And The Horses In Their Lives.”  My essay on writing and riding is in there.

PS:  Sadly, the old girls' contingent were so wrapped up in making a big deal out of their horses and dipping into the champagne, that we forgot to have someone take a group photo - hey, there's next time though!





TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Just (insert word ending with "ing") Do It!:



I adore the Friesian paard. Ollie's going to be especially awesome when he fully develops his feathering.

Wonderful. Love the pix. Anyone else first think the "stealth bomber" meant a dive-bombing bird? But a real bomber! Ack!

Great story! Loved the pictures. He's a beauty.

That is an amazing sport!

Love that phrase, "the powerful side of 50."

I have a friend who loves dressage, also.

How wonderful! I love the photo of you and (is it?)Ollie in the first photo. He has such an elegant head and looks so affectionate.

Jackie, what a love Ollie is. Such a beautiful guy.

I'm inspired by you and your "old girls". Before age 55 I'd never been on a horse, but because we'd been invited to a friend's ranch where horseback riding was planned, I searched for and found a teacher. She was also on the powerful side of 50, and so excited to show me a new skill. Fortunately for me, she was also a superb teacher who specialized in older and timid beginners (fit me to a "T"), and she had 20 years experience as an EMT, which gave me a lot of confidence. In the last three years I've had such fun riding on trails in Wyoming, and have been thinking I'd like to learn how to ride English now.

Am loving your Maisie Dobbs books, too. Brilliant characters and writing, Jackie.

Jackie, what a wonderful and inspirational story.
You and Ollie are beautiful.
I am convinced that the adventure hormone kicks in after 50 or later.
I took up skeet shooting and target shooting during my empty nest syndrome years.
I conquered the Magnums and rifles and was thrilled to hit the metal plates in the hills.
Now I have a monster of a computerized sewing machine given to me for my birthday and I as God is my witness I am going to sew up a ...ing storm or run over my fingers trying.

I love Dressage, and still have hopes of one day getting back into riding. I agree, it is almost a spiritual connection that you have when it is just you and your horse (or me and Lady Be Good).

My mom and her best friend were the start for us. Mom just rode casual and regular horse shows (got me going... 2nd place my first time out). Her bestie actually showed (shows?) at Devon, and named one of her horses after me (Debby's Delight) years ago.

Me, I would curl up for a nap under Lady for some extra shade when I was little. Freaked mom out, but Lady never moved. And I could always trust her when jumping or trail riding.

Dive bomber? I also first thought a bird! LOL!!

Yes, Ollie is a love-bug - oh, and those feathers, well, hopefully they'll grow in again properly, but last winter I had to have them shaved as the mud was so bad and he already had scratches (a sort of skin problem that sometimes plagues feathered horses) on one leg, and we didn't want it to get worse. Hopefully this winter won't be so bad. And it's amazing how many women take up some sort of equestrian sport in their power years. For me it's so very special - I'd always wanted to ride as a kid, but couldn't afford it - it was only for the rich kids where I was brought up. I began having lessons when I started work after college, but it was only a few years ago that I took the leap and bought my first horse. In fact, as some of you know, it was a bad riding accident that led me to write my first book, so horses have played a significant part in my life.

I think "women on the powerful side of fifty" could make a good bumper sticker. It's a great phrase!!
You both look splendid! I'll be looking for group photos in the future . . .
Wanting more Maisie Dobbs -- I should have rationed them -- and BTW, they are also terrific on CD (not all books transfer that well or are that lucky with choice of readers).

I have _Lace Reader_ on CD in the car (also good), and I'll be going back to Mrs. Pollifax books for reading indoors . . .

I, too, love that first picture with that elegant head over your shoulder.

And now a hijack: Laura Lippman has an hilarious meme going on over at her place. Our Cornelia and Joshilyn Jackson have contributed, I hope some of you will too:

Beautiful-in all ways. you both look so wonderful.

Jackie, you and your horses are so gorgeous ~ thank you for this. I'm not a horse person, but my daughter is and I hope she sticks with it for the rest of her life. I like horses just fine, but I don't have that particular chemistry that lets me just kick back and enjoy the ride (i took lessons but preferred leading the horse back to the barn afterwards, and grooming him or her).

I sure love to watch them, though. They make my heart sing.

Oh, wonderful!And inspirational..congratualtoins! (Digression--I do love the white pants.) My sister teaches dressage and eventing, so I know how incredibly difficult--and reqwarding--it is!

Very very cool.

Very, very beautiful pictures. My almost 8 yo daughter adores horses and is very sad that she cannot do it as much as she can since we live Paris downtown where there are no horses of course. During our summer stay in Brittany she did horse riding for three hours every day and it was not enough for her. Now she is making plans of moving to the country side and buying a horse.

Psulina, riding is great exercise I've found. Clearly, look at how fit Jackie is!

Jackie, I was the same, wanting to learn to ride from a young age, but having to content myself with reading about horses instead. Then I gave up the dream until three years ago, when I suddenly realized that I could not only learn to ride, but really benefit from the experience in so many ways. The big joke has always been that I married a wildlife photographer, but was terrified of most animals, never having had any growing up. Learning to ride has made such a huge change in my level of timidity vs. bravery. Who knew?

Horses are so beautiful. I've only been riding a couple of times, but I've always wanted to take lessons. (One time we went on a trail ride, they gave my husband a horse named "Velcro". Very reassuring when you're a novice.)

I, too, am loving the Maisie Dobbs books.

I first learned about dressage from the Mary Stewart book AIRS ABOVE THE GROUND (still one of my favorites). I love to watch dressage.

I'm a terrible procrastinator. Sometimes I can prod myself to action with a firm "just do it!". Surprising how often it only takes a few minutes to do that thing I was avoiding.

The comments to this entry are closed.

The Breast Cancer Site