I am not an athletic person. In fact, I am pretty much the opposite of an athletic person. I have no upper body strength, or lower-body strength, for that matter. I absolutely do not have any semblance of hand-eye coordination. I did not participate in high school athletics in the US. In Russia, I got my best friend’s dad – a doctor – to write a note which excused me from gym class for like three years straight.

But for as long as I can remember I had dreamt of riding horses like a pro. Well, if we’re being honest — more like a Musketeer. I watched way too many adventure movies as a child.

All that's missing is a sword and a cape.

All that’s missing is a sword and a cape.

Apparently that kind of mastery is not acquired overnight. I started proper instruction the spring after moving to Russia. Within five months I had my first major accident and a back injury which caused me to take a break from riding until this spring. Now, about a year into weekly lessons, I…suck.

The stables in the summer...

The stables in the summer…

... and in the winter.

… and in the winter.

How am I not a natural at riding horses? Let me count the ways:

  • It took me three months to stop dropping my reins and stirrups for no reason whatsoever. This is something that 5-year-old first-timers don’t have an issue with.
  • Instead of just sitting properly on a horse, feeling the animal’s rhythm and moving with it, every 30 seconds I have to run a mental checklist on the proper positioning of my head, neck, shoulders, elbows, hands, fingers, spine, butt, thighs, knees, calves, heels and toes. By the time I’m done and ready to execute a command, at least a few of those body parts have forgotten where they’re supposed to be and what they’re supposed to do, and I have to start all over again.
  • When I am advised to place my legs and feet thusly, so that my corpus (mid and upper body) automatically and effortlessly assumes the proper position (slightly backward-leaning, centered and grounded) and I follow through on those instructions, my body responds in the exact opposite way and I fall forward and fail around like a sack of potatoes.
  • If I am told to work on my thigh control during the training trot and to hold my body relaxed and steady, I get all tense, curl up like a hedgehog in front of a fox and …flail around like a sack of potatoes.
  • If there is a way to hurt myself doing the most routine canter, I will. If there is no such way, I will still manage to hurt myself. It is the only thing I do effortlessly while on a horse.
  • If the horse slips or trips and I momentarily lose balance (which I do not have to begin with), I squeal like a piggy before a Texas barbeque. Which freaks out the horse. Which freaks me out. Which leads to more squealing. Which sets of an avalanche of neurosis that never ends in anything good.

At least all of this serves as a source of great amusement to my trainer, who has endless patience for me and all my flailing around. Also, I have never refused to do an exercise and would rather pass out than admit that I am tired or in pain or need a break. So he has faith in me. Or so he says.

Indoor training arena: starting in early October it becomes too wet and muddy to train outside, so we're stuck indoors probably till May.

Indoor training arena: starting in early October it becomes too wet and muddy to train outside, so we’re stuck indoors probably till May.

My best friend – the one who races cars like she was born on a track – tries to help by telling me to imagine myself as a Highlands princess in a ball gown, effortlessly galloping across the glen, shooting arrows into the sunset.

Too bad she doesn’t serve 5 shots of vodka with that advice. That’s the minimum I need to buy into that fantasy.

One day....               Image credit: Disney

One day….                   Image credit: Disney



  1. Hey Anna, don’t do yourself down, it is very hard. I have been riding, with the odd break, since I was 6. That’s a very long time, I assure you 😉 and I still take lessons, because there is always something to learn or practice. On the grounds that I truly believe in preaching what I don’t practice consistently, I strongly recommend you do exercises to strengthen your core muscles. When you have that strength you’ll find that bits stay in position better. I promise! Debbie

    • Yes, I have been contemplating doing kickboxing during the week. My trainer actually thought I was BSing him when I said I didnt have any muscles – then he saw it in action. Also, I was rather slender before moving to Russia (all that bread and sour cream!) so I _looked_ fit, when in fact it was all mush lol. I just really, REALLY hate exercise of any kind >.<

  2. I’ve only done horse riding twice and I ached for a week afterwards. Plus they’re really big and scary (this is why I stuck to donkey riding on the beach!) Maybe you’d relax and find it easier if you had the 5 shots of vodka before you got on the horse?? 😉

    • I actually have done a shot beforehand and it did help (esp when I got back on after the trauma and was shell-shocked), but not sure it’s a good method to regularly rely on!

    • Thanks! See? Practicing for Sardinia!
      I never understood that fear – I mean, it’s not like they are Pomeranians with sharp teeth! I can just hug a horsie all day long.

  3. My brother contends the funniest thing he has ever seen is me trying to mount a horse. I like the Highlands princess imagery though. I may throw on a gown and try this – I’ll let you know how it works (I suggest having the vodka on standby – I am going to need it to dull the pain)

    • Well, if you start with vodka, you might get relaxed enough to avoid the pain altogether. Also the gown – I just KNOW that it’s the secret ingredient in horseback riding success!

  4. For a self-professed non-athletic person — it’s really quite admirable to see that you’ve a) chosen probably one of the most difficult physical challenges out there, b) haven’t quit on it or yourself, c) despite suffering a serious back injury ‘literally’ climbed right back up on that horse, d) genuinely seem to be enjoying yourself. And really, enjoying yourself is what it’s all about at the end of the day. “All for one and one for all!” — a big huzzah! and a Musketeer cheer for you 🙂

    • Well, you just stole my heart!
      To me, horseback riding is not really an athletic endeavor – it’s a fantasy outdoors adventure (are there better kinds?) which unfortunately requires a good dose of athleticism for enjoyable execution 🙂
      I’m still mentally getting over the injury – I was a lot more fearless at trying new stuff before the fall, now I sometimes freeze up (and I cried once; my trainer said ‘there’s no crying on horseback. a Cossack even dies silently.’)

  5. I’ve only been on a horse once, and my heart was racing the entire time. I couldn’t get over how high up I was. You don’t think of horses as THAT tall. Until you mount one. And then the drop to the ground seems crazy long.
    Kudos to you for your determination. From what I assume you’ll need strength-wise to have better control on the horse, I’d recommend squats and lunges for lower body strength (quads, glutes), and then tons of core work (planks, crunches). Good luck!

    • I just got a shiver down my spine from all those words at the end there! My dad – a mountain climber and a marathoner – used to pay me to exercise, and it still didnt take, LOL.

      The horse in the photo is pretty tall, but I feel much cooler sitting on a bit one! I really want a Frisian.

      • Brave girl. All I kept thinking as my slow (and old) horse walked along the Palm Springs desert landscape was HOLY SHIT >>>> Remember what happened to Christopher Reeve. I may have been crying the entire time. Couldn’t wait to get down off that animal. 🙂

        • Oh gosh. Yeah I dont want to think about that. When I was falling (the big accident), I tried to relax my body as much as I could to avoid breaking my back. It was not fun at all.

  6. It just takes time. I love horseback riding and have spent several summers teaching horsemanship and leading trail rides – but since I don’t ride in between, I spend the first week of that job very very sore.

    Keep it up! I didn’t learn to gallop bareback overnight.

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