By Jennifer Klitzke
Whoosh! A drill team of Nokotas ridden by young ladies more than half my age (and weight) explode into the coverall. Dressed in my formal English attire, awaiting our team performance, I ask the fearless leader, “Do you mind if I join your drill practice?”
Hearing muffled snickers through their gestures, “Sure,” the leader replies.
Joining in, my Tennessee walking horse’s white braids swung with every nod as we tagged along in the drill patterns.
Then the ladies stopped and formed a circle with their horses facing inward.
“Hey, we’re not finished yet,” they say and motion me to join them. I position Makana into the the circle.
Suddenly the girls rise to their feet on the backs of their Nokotas, slide off the backends, run from behind their horses, hop back into their saddles, and swing a leg over to one side and flip backwards off their saddles — all faster than you can say ‘Jimmy Johns.’
Astonished, I say, “Umm, I didn’t sign up for this!” (Now I know what the muffled snickers were about.)
I ride out of the coverall and into the exercise area where we encounter a wooden bridge trail obstacle. We face the object until Makana relaxes and then take a couple steps onto the bridge.
A few minutes later the drill team blasted by and they applaud our efforts at demonstrating some sort of trick.
You see, if you knew me 30 years ago, I was young and thin like them. I was a fearless trail guide for Diamond T Ranch in Eagan, MN. It was a dream job: ride for free and get paid for it, too!
The difference between the paying riders and the trail guides were that the trail guides rode the mystery horses right off the auction truck and bareback for lack of saddles.
One summer evening I took a group out for a sunset trail ride. A half hour away from the club house, the wind picked up and swirled through the hardwood forest. Sounds of distant thunder grew near. Then fireflies and lightning lit our way back when the skies let loose and the rain came down. Riding bareback on a wet horse was like riding a greased pig. Thankfully, I stayed on and we all returned safely to the club house with a thrilling memory to share.
Ten years later my fearlessness came to an end when anxiety took over my equestrian life and fear imprisoned me.
I was talked into buying a four-year-old thoroughbred off the track. Riding trail horses and retraining a race horse are two entirely different things. Green rider, green horse didn’t end well. I fell off more times than I kept count and asked my instructor, “Will you teach me how to fall off without getting hurt?”
Eventually panic attacks and hyperventilation gripped me each time I felt a horse react. I had rare moments of success when riding indoors at a walk, in a 15-meter circle, traveling to the left, on a calm day, with no distractions. (Not something experienced often in Minnesota.)
Then I faced a cross-road: Give up riding or face my fear.
Thankfully my passion for horses won out.
So, for me, it feels like victory to ride at the MN Horse Expo, State Fair, trailering to schooling dressage shows, clinics, state parks to trail ride, and cow sorting clinics and leagues.
Fear hasn’t disappeared, but it has been managed by perseverance, good instruction, finding a suitable mount, wise counsel, and faith in a power greater than myself.
So, will you see me standing on my saddle, flipping of the side, and riding bridleless and bareback with the Nakota team? Umm, well, maybe next year.
Video: Minnesota Horse Expo TWH Demonstration Team