I remember very clearly the first time I heard this term. It was the third day I was on the farm learning to gallop when we came to the 1 1/2 mile gallop at the Merryman Farm. I was with Johnny Bosley and Ann Merryman. At the bottom of the hill, which was the beginning of the gallop, Johnny turned to me and said “Rate her.” I said, “What is rate?” He said, “Stay behind us.” Two strides into the gallop I was in front of both of them and opening up. I could hear Johnny yelling at me as we pulled away. I thought, so this is what running off is. I was lucky because I didn’t feel any panic. I knew the horse would tire and pull up, so I periodically tried to get her to slow and eventually she did and she stopped. I was much more concerned with what Johnny was going to say. I really wanted to learn to gallop racehorses. He was mad, really kind of mean about it. He told me she was an easy horse to gallop with a good mouth and I was messing her up. I left the farm that day thinking “If she’s an easy one, there is no way I can do this.” I had ridden five years with a very good dressage trainer and I was thought to be a good rider. I now found myself leaving the farm that day considering giving up on the notion of learning to gallop racehorses.
I was used to being taught by someone who knew what I was capable of. Consequently, if Greta told me to do something I knew I could do it. I didn’t question it. Johnny on the other hand – he was a different breed and I didn’t know it yet. I’ve said it before that I am no quitter, so I showed up at the farm the next day on time and ready to suffer some more. Several days went by and I had no incidents, but I was quiet and uncomfortable as I waited for the other shoe to drop.
About four days later I arrived at the farm and only Ann was there. It was steeplechase season and Johnny had somewhere else to be, so it would just be us. During our ride Ann looked at me and said, “I just have to tell you something. The horse that ran off with you has a horrible mouth and she runs off with Johnny all the time.” There must be something wrong with me because instead of feeling irritated, I was joyous. I realized I just might be able to exercise racehorses.
Over the next six months I kept coming back for more and Johnny did some really nasty things to me, but he made me ready for the track. The racetrack is a tough place for riders. I see riders come in all the time who are not prepared and they have a very rough time. Some don’t make it. They have the ability, but are not ready. I use what I learned from Johnny every day that I ride. He is a truly great horsemen. Now I’m really off topic of what I wanted to talk about.
I’ve talked in the past about how strong Bird is after fences. I’ve been working on it and it’s gotten much better in the ring. I thought I had that problem licked, until yesterday. On a hill, in the wind, schooling cross country fences presents a horse that is sharp and strong. As usual, Birdie winds up as we jump, not down. He was getting away from me after some of these fences. He wasn’t dangerous. His approach to the fences was nice. I was doing my best to pull him up, but it was hard. The tougher he got the harder I fought him. What a dummy. I know better than anyone that doesn’t work.
About halfway through the two hours it occurred to me that I need to let him depart the fence, relax him and then pull him up. It will probably take longer than I would like, but his response will improve as time goes on. In the ring this winter, Jimmy stressed how important it is to get the good canter back after a fence before you stop. It has made all the difference. Cross country, I need to do the same. Birdie is strong after fences because he loves to jump. The better I ride him, the happier/stronger he gets after the fence. At this point he’s expecting a fight after the jump before he pulls up. What I need to teach him is to expect to get back the relaxed gallop and then pull up.
Johnny made me learn that years ago by putting me on strong horses before I had any ability to fight them. I wasn’t a strong rider yet, so my first instinct was to find other options. He told me once that 99% of galloping racehorses is bullsh**ting them into doing what you want. Think about it, how are you going to force them to do anything.