Road to the 2020 Real Rider Cup: Learning to Appreciate a ‘Necessary Evil’

Crystal, Melissa Bauer-Herzog’s mare, cost her owner a few weeks of training after bucking and tossing her over the holidays. (Melissa Bauer-Herzog/America's Best Racing)

Supporting Thoroughbred aftercare, The Real Rider Cup brings riders together from all facets of the Thoroughbred industry to raise funds for aftercare. America’s Best Racing writer Melissa Bauer-Herzog is currently training for the 2020 edition of the event and is documenting her training up to next September’s show.

If you would have asked me 15 years ago what my least favorite day of riding was, I would have said long trotting day.

If you’re not a horse person, you may not be aware of this “torturous” fitness day. Much like racehorses, my barrel racing horses had to build and keep up fitness to perform their best at fast speeds. So, two to three times a week, we’d head to one of my family’s fields where my dad had built a “track” (or rather, mowed a path around the outside of the hay field) and we’d long trot for three or four miles – or more depending on how tired horse or rider was at the end.

Holiday greetings from Crystal and her owner. (Melissa Bauer-Herzog/America's Best Racing)

I also used this day to work on my own riding fitness, and would either two-point around the track for most of the ride (think of the way exercise riders almost stand on their mounts) or post. I was in excellent shape at the time but my muscles never got used to this fitness routine and I often was blowing harder than my horses when we pulled up. Basically, trotting day was an evil – yet necessary – day.

Boy, how things have changed.

When I last left you in late November, I was working on building my fitness out of the saddle. I had a plan to get back in the saddle regularly in December when things slowed down (slowing down around Christmas? HA!), my fitness was better, etc. But you know how the best-laid plans go.

I had a lesson in early December where I felt like things were going great. I was finally starting to feel my riding legs again, the trainer put me on the lunge line to work on some exercises, and I left the barn feeling confident everything was falling into place. But unfortunately, with her tasks as a farm manager, lessons weren’t going to work into my trainer’s schedule. So, it was time for Plan B.

While I knew finding a new trainer would have to wait until after the holidays because I was traveling for most of the month, I also had a plan to ride while I was in Washington state for Christmas.

In a comedy of errors, the plan was made to go back to my childhood trainer and again ride Boston (check out my October blog for his story) but I did something dumb that derailed that.

My plan for my Christmas card was to get a photo of me riding my 28-year-old mare Crystal bareback in Christmas gear (pretty much exactly what we have on in the photo above). I forgot exactly how opinionated Crystal can be when she doesn’t want to do something – and that includes bucking to convince you to go her way. As I went to mount with help from my dad, who was taking the photos, Crystal decided that not only bucking would be fun but also running off (and for a 28-year-old mare, she is speedy!). So, not only did she buck while running forward, but my dad dropped me to try and grab her before she would get me off by running.

An excitable Crystal. (Melissa Bauer-Herzog/America's Best Racing)

When I hit the ground (I stayed on my feet – go me!), I felt my ankle pop and nothing ever comes good of feeling an ankle pop. And there ends the story of my ankle sprain and any plans I had to ride during the break.

But have no fear: I got back on track (no pun intended) when I got home and my ankle was feeling better. This week, I started riding with a new trainer and that is where the trotting above comes in.

With my cerebral palsy, we have to work around some things and she was happier than ever to do that. She put me on an amazing off-the-track Quarter Horse named Droid, who is a saint, and away we went. After making sure I could steer and giving me tips on how to prepare for success, she turned me loose and made me trot … and trot … and trot. Are you remembering about now how I absolutely hate spending time trotting? That wasn’t the case here!

After years of not riding seriously and never being overly comfortable in an English saddle, trotting has been my major weak point during this early training. So not only was I excited to trot alone around an arena, my brain didn’t want to stop – though my muscles had the final call.

While once upon a time spending a day of trotting would have bored me to tears, at this lesson it was the most interesting thing I did.

It’s been a rough few months on getting everything in motion for the Real Rider Cup, but I’m well on my way! There are about 36 weeks to whip me into a good enough English rider to a) competently jump fences and b) not embarrass myself … so knock on wood, I’ll have plenty of time to again find something as basic as trotting boring and return to the competent rider I was before I left the saddle!

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