MINDS OUT THE GUTTER, PEOPLE We were walking the horses round and round prior to starting Tuesday’s hour. Reb had been chowing down before the lesson, the first of his day, and I reckoned it could go either way: grumpy from having been taken away from his hay, or fizzy from the infusion of energy.

Fizzy seemed to be the order of the day: we were in the front of the ride, which he only rarely agrees to, and he was moving.

Nikki had grabbed up a bunch of sticks, and from across the arena, I could see that one of them was long.

‘I’ll swap somebody mine, if I can take that long one,’ I piped up.

‘It’s manky,’ Nikki replied, holding it out.

It was. It was dead manky. It was just about falling apart, fraying at the end— in the middle, too— and if it had once been black, those days were long past, as it was ingrained with dirt from top to bottom.

It was manky, but so was the simple chalice Indiana Jones grabbed in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. He knew that an object of power wouldn’t advertise itself as such. He knew that the trick would be in seeing past the exterior. Would this stick be my holy grail?

Well, I’m pretty sure that that manky stick wouldn’t snatch Sean Connery from the grasping hands of death, but it was nevertheless miraculous for me.

Movin’ and groovin’ at the front of the ride, Rebel kept the trot fast and sure. Until it came to the canter, I was still putting in down to his fill of feed.

When we’re having a night of flatwork, two of us go at a time, allowing for several nice, long circuits of the arena. Everybody else drew in to the middle of the arena, and Rebel and I approached the letter K. I sat the trot, I gave the aid, and I suppose, in the process, I waggled the stick— and he transitioned perfectly.

And cantered perfectly, too. I kept the leg on in the turns, his favourite place to start slowing down, and we kept it up, not once slipping back in the trot.

Okay. Once is once. I was delighted with him, but I still wasn’t sure it was the new broom— er, crop.

Switching to the right rein, we came around the C end, I sat back, and gave him a little flick on the flank, and we were away. I vocalised my amazement— not a word, more a laughing, loud gasp, maybe it came out as a ‘Ha!’ and off we went again.

He’s such a good horse when he decides to go, to listen, to allow me to simply ride, and not struggle to get him to move. It was absolutely fantastic.

At this stage, Rebel and I are famous for our continuing struggles, and the general feeling in the rest of the ride was, frankly, dumbfoundedness. I held up the stick— ‘I think this is the magic number!’ I crowed, and I lavished pats on Rebel’s neck, and euphoric rubs on his ears.

Was it the stick? Was it the feeling of authority it gave me? Post-canter, we were all guiding our mounts back out onto the track, for the last series of turns around the arena. And— he wouldn’t go. I reckoned it was time for a reminder on his flank, and I shook the stick a bit— I’m still working on managing the long ones, not a hundred per cent in control yet— and he saw it waving around out of the corner of his eye, and he set off at that evening’s energetic pace.

Hallelujah! We no longer have a crisis of communication. I’m finally speaking a language he understands. I had fun on Tuesday night, and got the full benefit of Rebel’s energy and talent. Now maybe we can just get down to business every lesson— although I suspect, since there’s been this breakthrough, that’ll be me moved on to the next challenge…

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