Let’s be clear about one thing, I’m not an accomplished equestrian. I have been in a few farm horse shows and once grabbed Secretariat’s grandson off the backside of a Midatlantic racetrack, but getting to ride a well-bred Irish Sport Horse who has competed in eventing on the National stage is a thrill. Eventing is essentially an equestrian triathlon in which horse and rider compete in dressage, cross-country jumping, and stadium jumping in a grueling test of stamina, athleticism, and bravery.
The official name of the horse I got to ride is Sportsfield Earl Gray. When he was younger, he was gunmetal gray, the hues of his gorgeous coat calling attention to his well-muscled build. He is a teenager now, thicker and covered in a nearly white coat but he remains smart, athletic, and responsive to the cues of a cowboy correspondent. How, you may ask, does a green-broke cowboy get the privilege of stepping into the irons on such a fine steed? It isn’t complicated. I married his owner, Kathi.
So, on a recent, bone-chilling cold Saturday morning, my wife, a committed and experienced eventer let me take a lesson on her fine horse.
“Let’s walk with purpose,” Lee Ann Zobbe said firmly after I had climbed aboard the big horse. Zobbe is the owner of Come Again Farm in Sheridan, a training facility for eventing riders. She picked up right away that I was allowing Sportsfield Earl Gray (also known as Tinker) to do as little or as much as he wanted.
It wasn’t long before Zobbe had Tinker and me in an extended trot, forcing the horse to pay attention to my cues. She had us trotting in sweeping circles in the center of the large, indoor arena.
“I’m going to slow you down and then ask for the canter,” she said, hoping that slowing us down a bit would allow us to pick up the correct lead when we moved into the canter. I gave Tinker a squeeze and he launched into a smooth canter. Tinker’s smooth stride is amazingly comfortable, almost like being seated in a rocking chair.
Inside of two weeks, Kathi and Tinker will drive to Aiken, South Carolina for a two-week training adventure. They will be soaring over large, solid jumps on cross-country courses. It will be a while before this cowboy gets to climb on the Irish Sport Horse again. In the meantime, I can take comfort in the knowledge that the big, athletic competitor will be taking good care of his owner as they pursue what the uninitiated may view as a harrowing sport made up of equal parts speed and danger.