Return to NATRC - Aside

By Cheryl Calentine

I was injured in a riding accident in 2000. My hip was permanently damaged with no hope for repair. My confidence was shattered and I quit riding for a year. Through a wonderful riding program, I started riding again then moved to California where my family had a Peruvian Paso breeding operation. They had a few wonderful horses that helped build my confidence again. It took 3 long years before the panic attacks on horseback ceased, then Romantico entered my life. He was small, average gaited, bright red gelding with a heart of gold and an attitude. Neither my step mom nor I wanted to ride him. We argued and I lost, he was my new show horse. That was the best thing that ever happened to me. We quickly formed a bond as he is my equine sole mate. I found him to be rock solid in his mind and he was a fabulous trail horse, as well as a pretty good show horse! He blossomed into a very willing and happy partner. No matter what I asked he did it willingly and with enthusiasm, sometimes too much enthusiasm but that is what I love about him.

Romantico and I competed in NATRC for 3 years and had a blast despite the pain I felt after the rides. Before the last ride of the 2007 season, I was unable to work my horse the week before the ride so I asked our trainer to. BIG mistake, Romantico got into the hot show horse frame of mind, forty miles of prancing and snorting. The extra motion re-injured my already frail hip. The pain was unbearable so I took a few weeks break. During a ride on Christmas Eve I had a horse buck on me; I came straight down on his back and dislocated a disc. That was the final straw; I ended up seeking medical treatment. We soon discovered the true damage to my hip and back. I was told this was a permanent injury, nothing could be done but manage the scar tissue, inflammation and swelling. My doctors told me I might never ride again and would never ride distance. I defiantly told them that I would ride again.

Six months later, karma, fate, destiny, luck, whatever you believe, literally dropped into my arms the tool to return to the sport Romantico and I loved so much. I always wanted to try a sidesaddle but never had the opportunity until I was put in charge of promoting an auction sidesaddle at the Los Amigos Peruvian Show. While photographing it on Romantico, I could not resist and climbed aboard to see how it felt. It was weird €¦really weird, but I liked it. Romantico liked it too. I ended up buying the saddle and fell in love with riding aside. Thanks to my new sidesaddle friends, I learned more about riding aside and found my seat fairly quickly.

I started thinking that maybe I could do this on a trail. Karen and I loaded up Romantico and Bunny then headed off to a leisurely 1 ½ hour ride at Lake Lopez with our all breed trail club. The ride turned out to be 3 hours and anything but leisurely. At the end of the ride I felt great, not only did my hip not bother me one bit but I handled the terrain just fine. That led to more thinking €¦ €¦ €¦Live Oak Camp, home of two local NATRC rides. Karen and I went over to the lake and did a 4 hour ride. I rode challenging down and outs, hills, logs, creeks and mud with absolutely no problem aside. I decided to enter Sage Hill, the ride I was injured at in 2007, after just 3 ½ months of riding aside.

My goal was to just finish the ride, not a lofty goal but pretty big for me as I had no idea if I could handle 7 ½ hours in the saddle aside. There were 9 in my class; I expected to be at the bottom of the pile. During the ride briefing the judge made a comment that she had a sidesaddle rider competing. There was a lot of commotion and I heard the word sidesaddle whispered a lot. One gentleman shouted €œbravo €. I was totally embarrassed.

Neither my horse nor I were in shape for a 20-mile ride but we had to try.   I could not have asked for a better ride out of Romantico, he was perfect. I think I scared the management just a bit when I showed up aside. They kept a pretty good eye on me the whole ride and kept asking me if I was ok. My mentor told me that she knew where I was at all times on the ride as it was announced on the radio whenever someone saw me. I really appreciated the concern from ride management as I was very nervous about the ride. The drag riders kept in sight just in case, I felt very safe on my first aside CTR. When they announced that the €œsidesaddle rider € won horsemanship there was a lot of cheering and support for the team with the weird saddle. It was the highlight of my NATRC career.

During the winter of 2008 and spring 2009, Romantico and I worked on our sidesaddle skills. We rode in Gymkhana €™s as well as breed shows. Our confidence blossomed and we felt ready to really hit the NATRC season full force. Unfortunate for us the Helen €™s River Romp was cancelled due to fire. We kept at our work and rode in the Region 2 Benefit ride down at Descanso, CA. I caravanned down with a friend to the ride. It was a 7 hour trip but we finally made it, set up our camps and checked in. After some socializing and the ride meeting we headed off to our trucks for a good nights sleep. The next morning was wonderful as we headed off down the trail. Our boys seemed to be on a mission to out walk each other but soon relaxed and enjoyed the trip. The trails had excellent footing but lacked some serious obstacles. I love a steep down and out and water crossing. We stopped for lunch and we were ahead of our mid time. My riding buddy and I took the extra time to relax and fix the D ring that had popped off my saddle. We headed out after lunch to a nice quiet ride. At the 2 mile point we had to split up as her CP time was faster than my Novice so I had to wait a bit. I ended up riding with another novice rider and had a very pleasant ride in. Again I found my competitors to be very encouraging. Romantico and I competed at the level we did when we rode astride.

I get asked at every ride how I stay on and if I am able to actually ride the trails in a sidesaddle. I have found that many people really do not understand riding aside and have some pre-conceived ideas of what it is like. I know I did. My experience with riding aside is it is more precise, you have to be centered and balanced on your horse or you will feel it. You actually balance off your right leg and the left does little work. The heel on the left leg is not down as the pressure would cause the saddle to become unbalanced, it is level. The stirrup is viewed as a resting place for your foot only. When utilizing the leaping horn, the heel often has to come up to reach the head. Through the use of the leaping horn I am able to climb and ascend hills with ease. Riding light aside is very different from riding light astride. As an aside rider if I were to use my left leg to help keep myself light in the saddle I would cause the saddle to slip off to the left, causing back pain. If I were to sit truly heavy in the saddle, the distance ridden in CTR also would cause my horse back pain. The aside rider places their weight on the forepart of their right thigh to stay light. One may not look light but the proof is in the horses back at the end of the ride. While sidesaddle looks unstable, once you find your balance and learn the basics it is actually a very comfortable and secure way to ride. I find myself more focused when I ride aside.

I am sure the rest of the NATRC 2009 season will be an adventure,  sidesaddle gave me back NATRC, Romantico made it enjoyable.

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