After getting my rough and wild Thoroughbred/Quarter Horse cross, I realized I was drowning in a sea of regret. He was cantankerous and dangerous on a good day, and he was mean, belligerent, and deadly on a bad day. His favorite activities were to rear, buck, run away, kick, bite, and run over me. But he was my very first horse, and there was nothing that would deter me from keeping him despite my terror every time I rode him. He was big, bold, authoritative, and there were many times that I thought that I may not survive a ride on him.
I was riding with an instructor that was always asking me to try a new longer spur, or a punitive and cruel bit, or a whip. She would twitch him for the slightest infraction, and I was encouraged to beat, kick, and pull him into submission. My docile horse that I saved from skin and bones, was now a menacing force. He no longer ran to me and whinnied for my affection, he now ran away from me while tears of frustration coursed down my face.
On an early Saturday morning, I heard, “Ya, Ya, dis is good. Dat is correct!” A funny looking gentleman with a wool cap pulled low on his face, tight britches, white leather gloves, tall fine leather boots, and a wool jacket with leather buttons adorned the ring, as he tapped the ground with a long dressage whip against his boots in rhythm with the horse’s footfalls. He was teaching a woman who was on a very compliant warmblood. His voice was sprinkled with German words when he could not recall the correct English word. The air felt different, it crackled with excitement and enthusiasm.
I watched the lesson. The horse, correct and on the rider’s aides, seemed happy and content, the complete opposite of my horse. The instructor acknowledged my presence by including me in his broken-English explanations of how to achieve harmony with the horse. With that my heart soared, I felt like he could be the answer to the question I did not know that I was even asking.
The rider dismounted and her horse nuzzled her, and she laughed. Their relationship instantly made me envious of what I did not have with mine. The instructor smiled at me, and I tentatively took a step towards him.
“I could not help but notice your lesson. I think I need a lesson with you,” I smiled.
“Of course, of course. I am at dis barn on Mondays. Dis Monday at 4:00, is that good?” his blue eyes crinkled with excitement.
I later learned that Richard Uhlmann was an Olympic Trainer for both Austria and South America, and truthfully if I had known prior to our appointment, I would have never spoken to him. I always struggled with pitifully low self-esteem, and just being in this man’s presence would have intimidated me. The lesson was set, and this time with Richard would profoundly change the course of my riding.
With Richard I learned how to prepare my horse for success, unlike my previous experiences of setting my horse up to fail. Slowly my horse turned into a horse that not only ran to me, he would race my car as I drove down the long driveway that ran parallel to his field. He whinnied in anticipation of being ridden by me.
Unfortunately Richard was used to teaching Olympic hopefuls, including the heir of Campbell’s soup, and teaching me- a lowly teacher with a pathetic salary was a far cry from what he was used to. One day Richard tried to encourage me to follow him to Europe to buy a talented warmblood and give up my horse, Raise Your Dreams. I told him that there was no way for me to afford a trip to Europe to purchase a horse that I could only afford my sad rescue project.
He seemed dejected and disappointed. Little did he know that my horse would out-perform his big bold warmbloods. We were working on tempe changes (when the horse canters on one lead and then changes to the opposite lead), my horse was fluid, and it felt like we were skipping. Richard kept asking me to collect and then he asked me to do a pirouette. Without losing impulsion my horse collected and lifted his front end, balancing all of his weight on his hind-quarters, an almost impossible fete. The action was succinct and effortless.
“Jill, dis horse no good, but he do impossible,” he paused and scratched his head as if befuddled, “dis horse do impossible, all because he loves you!”
Maybe I will never earn the real gold medal in the Olympics, but that day my horse earned what was impossible for him to do. He did it all because we had achieved what all true horse women and men seek to achieve, absolute respect, loyalty and love. That was the day I earned the gold!