My host family lived in the beautiful city of Saumur, on the Loire River. The Cadre Noir and National Riding School are in Saumur and it had been arranged that I would ride there.
The first day I was sent to a lesson with my instructor, Monsieur Watier, in the training ring at the Cadre Noir. I was wearing brand new boots, completely and totally unbroken-in. I had thought we would go to the modern facilities of the National Riding School, since I rode hunt seat equitation and not dressage.
I followed Monsieur Watier into a training arena that looked like a mini-Spanish Riding School in Vienna, the light from high arched windows making even the dirt of the riding ring look elegant. There was a ring was full of small groups doing various sorts of precision work. I stood silently at Monsieur’s side until a fully tacked horse was brought up to us.
The groom came up to me silently and I moved so he could give me a leg up. Monsieur Watier put a lunge line on the horse. I knew the drill: I moved my leg so the groom could take the stirrups off the saddle. The saddle was man-sized, and my slick boots felt for their groove. My calf definitely did not fit where a man’s calf would. I found the best place, sighed, and shifted my weight, trying to familiarize my derriere with this unknown saddle. I was getting myself worked up when I realized that Monsieur Watier was staring at me.
I straightened my back and pulled the top of my head up towards the fancy ceiling. Monsieur led the horse and me to the area closest to the door and then spoke to me – in French. Now I don’t know why that surprised me, but it did. It shook me. I was suddenly terrified. I became a stone pillar.
The horse started to trot. My body just did what it was supposed to – surely I could ignore the words coming out of the man’s mouth? But they were getting louder. I really wanted to ignore him, show I could ride, be done with the slippery saddle, and get out the ring full of men.
Sitting trot. I had a pretty decent seat, and the over-sized saddle made it easier. If only that man stop saying things to me in French!
Monsieur Watier stopped the horse and looked at me and said in careful French, “Like a doll! Like a doll!”
Now at first I admit I thought he was making a comment about how cute I looked on the horse, but then he added, “Like a RAG doll!” And I knew he wanted me to relax my whole being and feel the horse.
Reluctantly, I listened. Monsieur Watier smiled, “Now you can start learning!”