#backabitch

August 01, 2017

If you know me, you will know that Dressage and Jumping with the Stars is my favourite show on the calendar. Every year, Katie and I go to watch the young horse classes, sit with a champers and pick our diamond in the rough. You know, the horse that doesn’t quite jump out at you on the page and/or isn’t quite produced enough and gets passed over by the judges. Chapel House Cougar anyone???The appearance of such a horse is met with much excitement/clinking of glasses/general applause from our corner and for us, it’s not really about the horse that wins, it’s more about the one we think everybody missed.

This year we had another reason for going, our friend Holly Cutler was competing her horse Diva Royale in her first season at CDI Grand Prix. For those of you who don’t know Holly, she’s a qualified lawyer, a Mum to two small children and last but most certainly not least, she’s a rider. Holly bought Diva as a green three-year old and under the supervision of Mary Hanna, has taken that horse from whoa to go #realdeal #piaffegoals and #internationaltail #likereallyinternationalCDIforrealzbitches

It was late in the afternoon, the sun was beginning to set, Holly and I were sitting on the boot of my car, having a champers and a gas bag. Holly turned to me and asked “How’s Flame?” I took a deep breath, “Hols, to tell you the truth, I feel a bit, um, lost”. You see dear readers, I have this young horse and to cut a long story short, when I bought her, I basically pulled a full Carl Hester.

Flame is beautiful, resplendent in fact, utterly watchable. When I look at her, I think of a fire burning at a hearth. A fire crackles and moves, always in motion, and you’re drawn to it, you see its beauty and feel its warmth but you’re always aware, that if that fire throws a spark and the curtains catch fire, you know, the house will burn down.

That’s probably the best way I can describe riding Flame. Sitting on her canter, when she’s with me, she makes me feel like I’ve found the key to the universe, like I was put on the earth to ride this horse, like before that moment, when I was cantering on Flame, I never truly understood what it was to LIVE. Then the wind changes, Flame flicks an ear, raises her head and she hears, in the distance, the WAR CRY OF HER ANCESTORS. She hears their thundering hooves as they gallop across the pages of dressage history, she hears their shrill whinnies, she hears them calling, the voices of Furioso II, of Purioso, of Cocktail and loudest of all, she hears the voice of JAAAAAAAZZZZZZZZZ. So, I think you get the picture, she’s a bit hot.

“Hols”, I confessed, “I always love coming to this show but this year, I’m watching everyone on their four year olds and I’m looking at all the people, and the signs and ERMERGERRED, that gigantic curtain and I’m just like, ERMERGERRED, UM, NO.” Then I was just basically like BLAH, BLAH, YOUNG HORSE, BLAH, WINE, WINE, WINE.

Holly listened and then she looked at me, rolled up her sleeve and showed me a scar on her wrist. “THIS was Diva as a three-year old and I know that things are not easy, but what has happened so far is like, this much of your journey” Holly held up her index finger and thumb about an inch apart. “You have a whole road ahead of you and where you go with that horse is your choice, but don’t EVER let anyone tell you it’s too good for you. It’s your horse. Take your time. I promise, you’ve got this”.

A few months later, I woke up to a text from Holly announcing that she was going to take the plunge, sit her NCAS exams and start coaching. It wasn’t really a decision. It was simple. #backabitch

So, a couple of Friday’s ago, I drove down to Garfield to visit Natasha Althoff’s Riding Success Institute for the first time. Holly is coaching from Natasha’s one day per week and Natasha very kindly offered me the use of her horse Milo so I could enjoy riding the higher level movements, something I haven’t had much of an opportunity to do over the last few years.

How do I describe Natasha’s barn? I take a peek into the arena and OMG #arenagoals Wait, is that Oprah??? Fired from her job as a reporter because she was unfit for TV.Hmm, I wonder whether there will be a place for me on that wall? Lara Tweedie – Sent home from Pony Club 4 not being able 2 ride. Won a ribbon in the PSG at Boneo Park.#goals

Everyone is very friendly and nice, especially Milo who is big and brown and 50% Freisian. Milo and I throw each other some side eye. “Hi Milo”, I pat him on the neck and walk him into the indoor. I feel a little unsettled riding a new horse in a new arena, I take a deep breath, look up and see Michael Jordan??? Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team for a “lack of skill”. Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Holly interrupts my reverie, “Lara, let him stretch, watch that left hand, don’t grab at him, I want to see him over the back”. I will myself to relax and we ride transition after transition after transition. I search for the right tempo, Milo is much bigger than Flame, I’m trying to ‘catch’ my feel. Holly calls out, “Lara, watch your hands, you’re blocking his hind legs in the downwards transition”. One, two, three more transitions and I get it, the downwards transition is smooth, Milo and I are starting to warm to each other. We canter.

“Hands forward, get his nose out. Better!”

I listen to Holly and realise, that I’ve been here before, with Katie, in what I like to call the CIRCLE OF MEZ. Van Dyck, Poussin, Reubens and Hanna. The great masters all have their students, the stars in their orbit. Holly is methodical and detailed but encouraging, like Katie, she makes me feel like I can do it, like she believes in me. We get stuck into the lateral work.

“Weight on your inside seat bone, too much angle, okay, perfect!” Milo is beautifully soft in the back, the shoulder in helps me develop his trot and I find some cadence. Holly asks me to change rein across the diagonal. I ride the corner and I can’t help myself, he feels so nice in the contact, even on both reins, I let him rip a bit. Holly calls out “Hey, YOUNG HORSE RIDER! Tempo!” Momentarily I wondered when I became that rider? When did I become a rider who wants to feel that power, a rider who asks for it?  

“Okay, Lara, ride a half pass from F to S. Remember your corner, prepare, weight on the inside seat bone, catch the quarters.”

I listen to Holly and realise, that I’ve been here before, with Katie, in what I like to call the CIRCLE OF MEZ. Van Dyck, Poussin, Reubens and Hanna. The great masters all have their students, the stars in their orbit. Holly is methodical and detailed but encouraging, like Katie, she makes me feel like I can do it, like she believes in me. We get stuck into the lateral work.

“Weight on your inside seat bone, too much angle, okay, perfect!” Milo is beautifully soft in the back, the shoulder in helps me develop his trot and I find some cadence. Holly asks me to change rein across the diagonal. I ride the corner and I can’t help myself, he feels so nice in the contact, even on both reins, I let him rip a bit. Holly calls out “Hey, YOUNG HORSE RIDER! Tempo!” Momentarily I wondered when I became that rider? When did I become a rider who wants to feel that power, a rider who asks for it?  

“Okay, Lara, ride a half pass from F to S. Remember your corner, prepare, weight on the inside seat bone, catch the quarters.”

Milo is in full swing, cadenced, we are in sync, for a big horse, he’s manoeuvrable, I look for my marker and hit it like a boss. YESSSSSSSSS.

The lesson is nearly over and Holly gives me a choice, changes or piaffe/passage. “Yeah, um Hols, I don’t really know how to P&P, so maybe that? I’ll, give it a go? So, tell me, what exactly do I do?” Holly explains, “Okay, collect the walk, with a light seat bounce him, bounce him like you’re sitting on a fit ball.” I try, a couple of times I get it, it feels like I can reach out and touch it, then I start to over-ride, the moment is lost and Milo has well and truly earnt his liquorice.  

ERMERRGERRED YOU DIDN’T THINK I WAS GOING TO LEAVE IT THERE DID YOU? I look Holly in the eye and say the following “I’m coming back next week.”

The next week everything is just that little bit easier, I find the cadence in Milo’s trot faster and Natasha has explained that she puts her leg back a little to give the aid to piaffe. Holly has us on song and this week the piaffe comes more easily. I keep my seat light, move my lower leg back a little and gently bounce. Milo is piaffing and I am LIKE OMG, THIS IS MAAAAAGIC, WTF IS HAPPENING IN MY LIFE? Holly tells me to ride a piaffe-passage transition and with no time to ask how to do it, I basically imagine it happening and hope that Milo can communicate via telepathy. Holly, ever the perfectionist, calls out “Too fast, think slow trot!”

At this point I am bewildered with excitement. “Ermergerred Hols, I have always wanted to ride that!” Holly, in true circle of Mez fashion replies “Oh, you’ve never done that before, well, then it was actually quite good, but still, think slow trot, okay, do it again.” Off we go and I get it and Milo feels AMAZING and we literally finish up the lesson with high fives, because, dressage is fun and if you don’t high five over that, like honestly, WTAF.

The End

Postscript: I am so appreciative that I can share part of my journey as a rider with Milo and Holly. He’s been a lovely and delightful surprise that I wasn’t expecting. To book a lesson with Holly, please contact her here


Hello Gorgeous!

Hello Gorgeous!