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The Benefits Of Variety (NO! Not About Dating)

Yesterday, the weather was great and I took the afternoon off from work to go riding with a friend. Instead of us trailering my horse, I rode one of her horses that hasn't been getting enough exercise. This is a fairly big (17-1 hh) past, successful, thoroughbred racehorse. When atop him, it's immediately obvious how very powerful he is. He likes to run and I like spirited horses. He has a very long stride and I always marvel at how much ground we cover with just one of them.

When at a canter, if there's lots of straight or mildly, curvy trail ahead, a canter turns into a slow gallop which turns into a faster gallop, and continues until he reaches his "comfort speed". For him, that speed is about 20-22 MPH and it's obvious to the rider that he has far more power and speed "on tap". Just a little squeeze with the legs results in a "burst" and feels like you depressed the accelerator in a fast car. I've ridden him several times before and always look forward to the next time.

I've ridden quite a few horses and each one is different. Sometimes, it's the stride that seems the most different. At other times, a very round quarter horse will roll back and forth sideways, or a horse may feel as if she "sashays" down the trail.

Riding different horses is lots of fun and it's good experience for the rider. The more different horses we ride, the better we become as riders. It forces us to adapt to many different gait styles and to learn overall balance and control rather than just the little idiosyncrasies of our own horse.

As a corollary, I've driven many different kinds of vehicles over the years from cars and big trucks to heavy equipment. The more I've done it, the more every vehicle feels comfortable from the start. And while I'm also a pilot, I've only flown a few different kinds of planes and have nowhere near the same degree of skill or confidence when I try a new plane; but more experienced pilots have that skill and confidence. The "Horse Girl" once told me she feels that jockeys are some of the very best riders because they ride so many different horses — I have to agree with her.

If you enjoy riding with friends as most of us do, take the opportunity occasionally to ride each other's horses. You'll all become better riders and it will force you to adapt and learn the nuances of each horse's technique and communications style. As you do this, you'll become better and better able to ride and adapt to most any horse. Of course, don't overreach beyond your capabilities and ride a horse that's not adequately trained or for which you're not ready. I did that once and ended up on crutches for five weeks. But conversely, don't be afraid to explore other, safe horses — your riding will improve and your own horse will thank you for it!

Besides being an avid trail rider, Jerry Tardif is a technology consultant and a horse and nature photographer in SE Connecticut — see his work at: www.jerrytardif.com. He is also co-founder and President of QueryHorse.

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