Yesterday morning the Boot Campers met head instructor Theresa Sealy for orientation and a pep talk. She made it very clear that this is going to be a tough week, and we’ll need every bit of motivation we have to make it through the course. Theresa spoke about Exercise Riders as athletes who literally make their living with their ability to ride, and how critical it is for us to be as strong and fit as possible. She recommended that we eat clean, cut out caffeine, sugar, and fast food, and that we work as hard as we can in the daily Fitness Sessions.
I seriously considered making a break for it and heading straight to Tim Horton’s…but my fellow classmates all sat bolted to their chairs with smiles on their faces so I stayed put! I’ll be spending a lot of time with Treazure, Joan and Shawna because we will be together for 6 am Chores, 7:30 am Fitness, 9 am Classroom/Mechanical Horse training, 10:30 am Riding, 2 pm Classroom, 4:30 pm Chores and 9 pm Chores. Glad we get along because that’s a lot of barn and bonding time!
Our first classroom session had us jumping right in, or rather on, to the mechanical horses. To say I was having trepidations about legging up was an understatement. “Jump straight into the air”, instructor Nancy said. “Balance your weight on straight arms”, instructor Nancy said. “Swing your leg over and gently settle into the saddle”, instructor Nancy said. Jump Balance Swing Settle looked so easy when she did it! Yeah. So far my mounting style can be best described as a Leap Flounder Flail and Abort! I’m gonna need some work!
From there we moved to the barn for our first lessons in grooming, tacking and cleaning. We will act as grooms for each other this week, and I think that is a great way to truly understand the value that every staff member brings to the race barn. Cleaning stalls, feeding, tacking and caring for the horses and the barn area is as important to the well being of the horse as the morning exercise around the track.
On to the beautiful McClellan arena with instructor Mara to begin our lessons on Position, Balance, Relaxation and Rhythm. My trusty steed Bender proved to be as kind and forgiving as ever. He graciously stood to allow me to do my best Jump Balance Swing Settle (aka Leap and Flounder), and I finally got myself sorted – there is a lot going on in the first few moments after the Jump Balance Swing Settle! With my heart pounding in my ears and his ears perked, we started our first arena session, and the dear old boy almost had a heart attack when he saw himself in the long mirror on the wall!
He gasped and snorted, and I grabbed leather, but like a true professional he stepped right on by, and we were off. We worked on our 2 point, which is the foundation a rider must build on to move from arena to short track and then race track work. Two words to sum up the first ride. UH. OH. We hadn’t yet changed direction, and my legs were quivering. By the time we did change direction I was trying not to gasp for air too loudly when I passed the video camera. When Mara finally called for a halt, I had sweated through my jeans and flak jacket and fogged up my glasses! Mara tells me that we rode for about 12 minutes. I don’t believe her, it was at least an hour!
I’ve always had total admiration for backstretch workers. At every track there is an army of people who keep the horses fed and watered, groomed and tacked or harnessed, exercised and bathed, walked and bandaged. It’s these people who can make or break a race barn, because from dawn ‘til dark they provide the hours and hours of hands-on care for the horses and for that, they deserve every owner’s heartfelt gratitude. I have a feeling that after 5 days of Boot Camp every single groom, exercise rider, pony person and jockey that I’ve ever known is going to get a hug! The work they complete in a few hours of morning training is staggering. My brain is whirling trying to process the hundreds of crucial details we went over today! And my body is seizing from the physical exertion!
I’m not going to lie. Today was hard, both mentally and physically. We took in a lot of information in a short period of time, and every fibre of every muscle was taxed. Retired jockey Real Simard helpfully told me that days 1 and 2 are quite easy, it’s day 3 when the muscles really start to complain. Cross Mr. Simard off the list of jockeys that gets a hug of gratitude! And on that joyful note, I’m having a piping hot bath and popping off the cap of the Advil tonight, just in case my arms don’t work in the morning!