The communication between horse and rider requires both control and strength.

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KIPPER WAS SWEET, with big brown eyes and a white blaze on her nose. The 23-year-old Thoroughbred seemed gentle, and Phoenix Farm owner Teri Duplass told me her history as we walked from her stall to the barn.

Horses have their own opinions and personalities, so I took my lead from Teri, who was funny and firm with Kipper. She told me never to try to outmuscle a horse, but had no issue with shoving Kipper over for space while brushing her down and putting on her bridle, saddle and reins. Kipper took the shove in stride.

Phoenix Farm in Woodinville specializes in jumping, and I was there to learn English riding. I watched a class jump and hoped my private session didn’t include jumping attempts.

Phoenix Farm

8832 222nd St. S.E., Woodinville


Teri did lunging exercises with Kipper to start, putting a long line on the horse and running her in circles to get energy out. Kipper cantered and seemed fine, then bucked a few times, which was unusual for her. An instructor reassured me she would not do that with me on her back. I looked at him skeptically, then decided the only option was to trust Kipper and her trainers.

Trust is necessary when riding horses. So is ease, which makes them relax, Teri said. I was grateful to discover Kipper is obedient.

In English riding, the saddle is low and smooth, and you hold both reins in your hands. After I learned to mount, Teri told me to let the reins go slack, so Kipper wouldn’t feel tension and worry. I also needed to keep my head up and look out at the fields to keep Kipper’s head up.

First, we worked on the posting stance, where you press your heels toward the ground, bend your knees and lift an inch out of the saddle. The idea is to keep your balance, but my feet sometimes swung in front of my legs, or behind. Teri told me to keep my feet under me, like I was holding a squat on the ground. The horse is more balanced when the rider is balanced, she said.

I did my best, but it would have been a lot easier without Kipper bouncing me around as she walked.

Teri then signaled Kipper to trot so I could practice a posting trot, bouncing up and down to the rhythm of the horse’s gait. If I thought holding the posting stance while walking was bumpy, the posting trot was 10 times more difficult. My legs worked like crazy to hold my heels down, and my core was active to hold my balance over my feet. I tried not to squeeze my inner thighs, which signaled Kipper to go faster. Please don’t, Kipper.

I also tried not to strangle Kipper with a neck line there for me to grab and help with balance.

Occasionally, I managed to do the posting trot. When it happened, the up and down surprised me; it felt smooth and natural. I realized jumping might not be scary. Until I lost my feet, got jolted a bunch and figured out the posting trot again.

Lastly, I learned to steer, leading with the reins.

After close to 45 minutes of riding, my legs were done. I dismounted and led Kipper to the barn, where we brushed her down and took her back to her stall; she was delighted to eat dinner.

I have new respect for the physical challenge of riding. It’s also an incredible mental challenge and cool partnership. I can see why people love it, and I’d love to go back. Thanks for the ride, Kipper.