Aidan O’Connell is my new hero. The famed Irishman who was a steeplechase jockey that has hunted all over the world came to Tennessee Valley Hunt in Greeneville, TN to give a cross-country clinic to help us gear up for hunt season. Last year he taught over 800 riders how to safely ride over any cross-country obstacle, and I was the best pony he’s ever had. (Gretchen’s Note: Yes, yes, Zigster, you were stellar. Amazing. You showcased never before seen feats of pony athleticism. The Guinness Book of World Records has been calling.)
Sarcasm is not attractive on you, Wench.
We started to prepare for Aidan’s clinic two weeks out. My peeps , Kennedy and Michaela, were scheduled to ride in the clinic but both girls couldn’t ride me. I’m amazing, but not magical. So Gretchen brought in this other pony for Michaela to ride in the clinic, Frodo, whom I hated right from the get-go. What kind of name is Frodo, anyway? It’s a stupid name. (Gretchen’s Note: Frodo is a Halflinger Pony. Frodo the Hobbit was a Halfling – get it?)
No, I do not get it. I have never read any of that crack-pot Tolkien’s books, and I never will. Hobbits are stupid. (Gretchen’s Note: But you have so much in common! Big bellies, love of tea and scones, harry feet….) This life-sized My Little Pony had way too much poofy blondness about him, even on his eyelashes! I kept looking for fairies to fly out of his butt and for his mane to turn rainbow colored. Justin Bieber would kill for that kinda hair, sheesh. At first I detested this interloper, but after a fashion we got be buddies, once I learned to ignore all the poof. We took the clinic together, and I showed him the ropes of how to be an awesome cross-country pony. He was decent, not as great as me of course, but safe enough that I was okay for one of my girls to ride him. (Gretchen’s Note: Ya’ll were pretty cute together. One comment during the clinic is that you two were “bronies”! LOL!) After two weeks of practicing cross-country exercises at home, The Poofy Butt, the girls and I felt very confident on the first morning of two days of lessons. We were in a separate lesson from Gretchen since the girls had never hunted before.
At the beginning of our lesson I promptly went up to the Irishman, Aidan, and introduced myself and the rest of my team. I told him that my girls were up for anything, but the poofy one was still a little wet behind the ears. Aidan was so respectful and frankly awed by me that he then asked what exercise I thought we should start the lesson with. I suggested grid-work in the covered arena first. (Gretchen’s Note: Oh, for crying out loud, he did no such thing. Aidan told Kennedy to get her pony back in line. You misunderstood his accent, you big doofus.)
Gretchen rode the Mr. Darcy Wannabe in the advanced group and did fine, I suppose. She did manage to stay in the saddle the entire clinic, which is a first for her. Her large pony Phillip did try to dump her in the middle of the grid because she went to pieces when he was intimidated by the third bounce. (Gretchen’s Note: Watch it, poodle butt.) I, of course, never once stopped in the grid.
Aidan taught the basics of cross-country safety. First he really stressed for the riders to pick a visual reference point beyond the jump that was in the middle of the hump so each approach would be straight. This is what I keep yelling at Gretchen – a straight approach means a strong, safe jumping effort. He also stressed the importance of the riders to keep their hands low over the withers throughout the entire jumping effort – approach, take-off, bascule, landing and moving off. This is to protect the riders' faces in case there is a stumble on the landing (as if I would ever). And on the landing all riders should be ready to slip the reins whenever the pony sticks his nose out. I have always insisted on that – my nose if far too handsome to be marred by heavy hands.
He also wanted butts in the saddles with the low hands at least 2 galloping strides out before the fence – so no posting or two-pointing or pulling on the reins. And most importantly for the rider, he wanted a strong and secure lower leg balance on the girth. For those greener horses, he said a leg in front of the girth two strides out would also work. I, of course, didn’t need that as I was so spectacular that Aidan remarked after I took Kennedy through the grid, “That pony is brilliant!” (Gretchen’s Note: Did you know that your head was so big after that it was rivaled the landmass of your butt?) Brilliant! That’s me! I love this Irishman. And that was before we jumped the coops, when I showed him what I could really do. Yep, I took my peep, Kennedy, who had only done a 2’4” coop at home, over several hunt coops that day. One was 2’9” set on a hill, and we cleared it perfectly both up and downhill. Frodo was scared, but after giving him a lead he and Michaela were pros! But the fun was the 3’ coop to the 3’ hedge. There were elephants and other silly oversized horses freaking out over the 3’ coop, but not me. I took my girl right over the coop with the Poof Master right behind me. He had never jumped that high with a rider before, but together we were awesome.
Aidan was so impressed with my abilities that he invited me to hunt with him in Ireland, without That Woman, I might add. He loves me; it must be my Irish blood! (Gretchen’s Note: Irish Blood?! POA’s come from Texas, fuzz butt. Texas has about as much to do with Ireland and you do with humility. And you will NOT be allowed to go to Ireland without me so don’t even think of hacking my Paypal account again for a plane ticket.) My girls learned so much that their riding improved leaps and bounds more than when Gretchen teaches them. You should have seen the grins!! And my buddy Frodo felt like he had just won a championship, his self-confidence was off the charts in positive energy! I can’t wait for Aidan to come back next year so we can do ditches and Irish banks. Kick on, Pony Power!
Respectfully Submitted by, Ziggy Pelham, an Internationally Impressive Hunt Horse who is now Bronies with the Crazy Irishman, Aidan O’Connell