Thursday Aug. 19, the evening before: while loading Nora, Doolin the jackass jumped onto the trailer, dropped and rolled in front of me and the horse, kicking us both. I was ready to use the event as an excuse not to go. Excuse # 10 for those who were counting. Lesson learned, hang the donkey up by his heels before loading the horse. Calm husband convinced me WE needed a break from the farm. We left. Nora and I in a foul mood.
Friday Aug 20, 0900. It is very hot. Chris Cox meets with us, talks to us. 17 signed up to ride. 14 showed up plus 40 or so spectators.
Then he told us to saddle up, and in my head I was high-tailing it out of that there cowboy place. I had no business being there. Some people had spurs and new Wrangler jeans and one guy was even chewing tobacco. Obviously I was way out of my league, but I saddled up anyway. I imagined myself galloping off like the Runaway Bride if it got too tough...if I could remember how to gallop.
Chris had us walk, trot and lope in front of him, then he critiqued us. I felt naked and stupid. Obviously he thought my form was just funny as did the crowd. He also made it clear he did not like my "tennis shoes" which were leather Ariat riding boots. The sole was too thick, the toes too round. I was offended. What is so wrong with round and thick ?!
That afternoon we did many hours of ground work. I learned to back my horse with just a look. In the beginning, the first time I " looked " at Nora and backed her up, Chris said " Softer Donna softer ! If I were your husband and you looked at me that way I'd run backwards as far as I could go. " Hmmmm, I sense a theme here. Mr Cox had no idea he was not the first one in my life to tell me to lighten up.
Later he chose to ride Nora to show us some more of his techniques. I could not believe the things he could accomplish on my simple half breed horse.The look of shock and awe on her face was...priceless. Chris and Nora are second from the left in the next picture. I'm the one on foot in orange unsure if I am suppossed to follow him around or just go out for coffee.
I was wiped by the end of the day. The whole day pretty much a blur as I look back.
Blisters on my heals and lots of bruises from my very unbalanced seat. Sweat dripping off my eyelids like rain off the edge of an umbrella. Yet I made Keith take me out to buy some real boots with pointy toes and a smooth sole. I was asleep by 8 PM.
Saturday, August 21. Arrived early at the stables http://galatea.meccahosting.com/~a0006393/ so I could practice and buy a Chris Cox Bridle. I was not going to give CC a chance to chide me on my old bridle which was a hodge podge of leather and lace from the bridles of two other long dead horses of mine. Bad Bridle Karma for sure. At 9 am he gathered us around . While he talked one guys horse suddenly bit its owner hard on the shoulder. The guy turned and lightly hit his large buckskin. Chris went nuts. "Don't you dare hit him like fairy ! Pop him, pop him hard ! (he was not suggesting the guy offer his horse a soda. "Get him, get him !!!" The formerly meek owner sprang to life and made his horse regret his actions. Afterwards, Chris explained very thoroughly that a biting horse is one that can kill you and there are no holds barred when it comes to correcting a biting horse.
I asked his opinion on the use of spurs. He was very clear about the use and misuse of them. He was clear with me that my leg aides were too poor to have "earned" spurs yet. Like a dejected child I hung my head, nodded, and then began weeping into my sweat soaked support bra.
After lunch the heat was even worse. One slender woman nearly fainted and had to sit out a while. Another one got deathly white and also had to take time out. One good thing about us hefty girls , we retain water well. In the afternoon he had us cantering around him in circles in sets of two. One had to stay inside the circle and one stay on the outside of the circle. We could not take our eyes off of him or his helper Richard. We could not look at our horses, or each other, or our saddles, or the reins or the sky or the hard ground we were doomed to crash into. His point: trust your horse. They don't run into each other, PEOPLE run horses into each other. In the beginning I was petrified. It seemed we loped those horses forever and once when my partner in the circle started to lag behind he yelled, "Don't you DARE give up !" She looked him square in the eye and finished. Still in her saddle as was I.
Sunday August 22. I passed Chris in the morning before we started. He asked how I was. "My shoulders are the worst. I've never had them ache so much." His response ? "Good. That means you're doing something right." Direct and to the point. No mamby pamby stuff with this guy. I went to saddle Nora. She cried when she saw me. Offered me all kinds of weird stuff out of her stall NOT to ride her again. Neither of us had worked this hard together...EVER. That is when I looked at my riding helmet and left it in the tack room. It had been hindering me all weekend. Making me feel weak and amateurish. Yes, I fully understand the dangers of riding without a helmet and every child must ride with one, but for me, it was like taking off the training wheels again.
On this, our last day CC reviewed all we learned and had us put it all together in lead changes and counter bending. Not the kind of counter bending you do in the pub after your 5th shot of Red Breast. No, the kind where your horses head is turned to the right while you are loping her to the left. A bizarre equine skill akin to rubbing your head and patting your belly while step dancing in the Riverdance Troupe. Craziness that was soooo cool when Nora and I finally nailed it. But it took so much leg work on my part, I kicked and she barely responded, CC yelled " that kick wouldn't get a mosquito to move, now you KICK HER HARD !" I did and she moved. Of course I had a compound fracture in my leg but I had forward movement.
During our lunch break; a picture, just to prove I really was there
and received more than just a t-shirt. ( A picture, three days of intense training and too much new tack, THATS what I got you maroons !)
The last hour of our last day Chris rode many of the other participants horses. He rode consistently and practiced what he preached. It was amazing to see him address specific horse issues (really OWNERS issues) using the same techiniques and acheiving the same results time and time again.
At the end of a very hot day on Sunday, I approached him with arm extended to shake his hand in appreciation. He grabbed it firmly, pulled me towards him, hugged me and whispered gently in my ear. "Donna, you can get some spurs now."
24 hrs after arriving home I had spurs. It took two hours to figure out how to secure them to my boots and 10 seconds for Nora to realize I was indeed someone to respect. I was delighted. I wore them all evening, but before I end this too lengthly blog, here is my very STERN warning about spurs. Take the time to remove them before you shower. They will scratch your tile.
To summarize, Chris Cox is dead serious about what he does and expects you to be as well. He is stern but fair. He does not like "quitters". He gives full credit to horses and riders who try hard. He will not tolerate your inattention (nor should he) and he will reward your every honest effort. He is a professional and the real deal. He wants to save your life while you are riding and he risks his own life everyday to show you how. I was literally ridden hard and put away wet every day. And I would do the whole thing over again in a blink of eye, just give me one more day to recover.
If you love horses and want to improve your relationship with them, do yourself and your horse a favor and check out Chris Cox at http://www.chris-cox.com/