I have a reputation. No, not like that. I’m old and porky and married to the greatest guy in the world. I have a reputation of being fearless on a horse. That I’ll get on anything and go in the ring and get the job done. No matter how long it’s been. Well, that is and isn’t true.
In my 22 years riding with Peter Leone and Lionshare Farm, life has gotten in the way and there have been stops and starts. Kids, jobs, and the pesky responsibilities of being a grownup have led me away from doing one of the things I love the most at one of the places I love the most.
Many times Peter and I have connected after me being away from the sport and he’s offered me lovely lovely horses to ride and show. Sometimes partnerships have lasted years, sometimes just a week or two. Each time I’ve competed at some of the best shows in North America—Old Salem, Princeton, Bromont and Gold Cup. These shows are no joke.
And not once has it ever occurred to me that I couldn’t do it. Okay, I know what you’re thinking: for an old, porky woman, you’re awfully full of yourself. I’m really not. Believe me, the horses, Peter and his team get all the credit. And even more so, it’s the system. Peter’s system. Yes, we do our homework at the farm. Lessons are mostly flatwork and raised cavalettis. We work on the basics. I’ve never once walked in the show ring feeling unprepared.
But it’s Peter’s system that allows me to get on after too much time away and be somewhat competitive. When I tell you Peter has a plan for literally every step I’m in the ring, I’m not exaggerating. Our detailed strategy starts with the entrance. I know what you unhorse (read: normal) people are thinking: How hard can it be? You go in the only entrance and jump the fences that are conveniently numbered and flagged. It’s not rocket science.
Oh, but it is.
Peter goes over every stride my horse will take and how I should ride it. Sit down going away from the gate. Stay tall and balanced to planks on flat cups. Two legs and two hands. More leg than hand. Always. Make time everywhere I can. For a fairly fast jump-off rider, I am slow like DMV lines in the first round. Pass up the big distance to an impossible inside turn. Closer is better than gappy to a combination.
The instruction goes on. Everything from letting the horse’s front feet land before we start an inside turn to gliding through the corners to save time (again with the time faults) and being aware of spooky shadows and funky boxes that draw the horse’s eye down.
I don’t think Peter has any idea how much I depend on these exchanges. I would never survive one of those equitation championships where trainers aren’t allowed to walk the course with their riders. Peter patiently and repeatedly tells me exactly what I should be doing every moment I’m in the ring. Between preloading, the 45-second clock and a roughly 80-second time allowed, we’re in the ring about two and a half minutes. That’s Peter telling me what to do for 325 strides.
Walking the course with Peter is like taking an open-book test. As long as I have a solid foundation, it’s impossible not to do well if I actually follow directions. If I can get my poop together long enough to trick myself into forgetting I’m an old, out-of-shape amateur, and I remember to do everything Peter tells me, the horses magically do their jobs like the perfect animals they are. All they need is for me to stay out of their way and ride like Peter has taught me.
It’s a long story, but after six years out of the saddle, I once again recently found myself reunited with my Lionshare family. My grand finale was at Princeton last week. I couldn’t pick a favorite part because every single minute was glorious. From taking Ravel out for grass to setting jumps (badly, I might add) for Peter to showing to chatting with new friends and having dinner with old ones, every minute was perfect. I was home.
While every second of being there was my favorite part, walking the course and absorbing (or trying to) Peter’s exact and specific plan is what allows me to go years without riding, get back on (a super lovely, perfect schoolmaster like Ravel or a wild, kinda feral sportscar like Vancouver) and go in the ring with all the confidence in the world.
I wish I were as gutsy and as good as people think I am. I’m not. If I remember to do what Peter tells me, the horses are stars. If I don’t, the horses are stars who do their best to cover my mistakes. Either way, it’s an amazing feeling to stand at the ingate knowing I can do this.
The only thing I didn’t love about being at Princeton was leaving. I get to enjoy Ravel and Peter’s company for a few more days. After that, I don’t know when I’ll be back. But I do know two things.
First—if it’s a month, a year or ten years, Peter, his team and his program will give me just as much confidence as they always have. After all these years together, I know that if I can just follow the plan, success is waiting for me in the ring.
Second—I’ve always said that if I ever get another horse, I will name him Supertramp, a nod to the great seventies band. After I hugged Peter goodbye and kissed Ravel on his cute little nose, I got in my car, wiped away tears, turned on the radio and a Supertramp song was playing.
Somehow I know this isn’t the end of my Lionshare story.