Galloping Up Dory’s Hill
Of all the bridle trails in Bradley Palmer, the one that my riding friends and I called "Dory’s Hill" has the most special meaning to me. Dory, otherwise content to let other horses lead, go faster or slower than him if they wanted to, had a special need to conquer this hill with a warring spirit I never would have known he had. It took a lot of trust and balance for me to just let go and let him gallop without interfering. I finally learned that if I stopped holding him back, I could find my balance in two-point without clutching the reins for dear life. I began to look forward to it, even when I was out riding alone in the woods, and we headed for Dory's Hill. Writing about this experience while it was still a part of my life helps me now to remember much better than any photo or video could do.
From 2001 with some edits:
We trot steadily along the Ipswich River in that one-two, one-two rhythmical beat with only a few glances and swerves at the sawn logs on either side of the trail. Ahead it turns to the left behind the trees, we can't even see the hill yet, and Dory's ears are already pricked and he readies himself to pick up the pace. “Okay,” I say nonchalently, always a little unsure, but you can't let a horse know that, “you can do whatever you want.” We take the turn and he slides into the canter of his own will, the transition so smooth it is barely detectable. The hill rises in front of us, and he lowers his body, getting into the stride now, his hooves pounding the drum-tight dirt and we fly, oh we fly, right up that hill, faster with every stride. The gallop is smooth; there is no undulation of his strong back under me. Each foot touches the ground for just a split second, never a wrong step. I just have to be still and balanced securely over my feet in the stirrups, my knees like shock absorbers, riding in what is called two point or a half-seat. This way I move in harmony with him; all I feel is the power of his shoulders and haunches and the pull of his legs as they cover the ground.
The wind makes my eyes wet with tears, and I laugh out loud, for once you learn to let go you acquire a weird sense of dangerous fun, and his ears pivot back to the sound. Dory is a medium-sized Morgan horse, not a racing Thoroughbred, but the thrill of a burst of speed comes naturally to him nonetheless. Only when we reach the top do we come to a challenging stance, standing at the halt, his dark chestnut mane and tail blowing in the wind, his nostrils distended more because he is feeling a sense of machismo than because he is breathing hard.
Together, we survey the grassy fields below the crest of Dory's Hill. No one else is in sight, and for the moment, we own this hill and this field. He walks gingerly down the slope, letting me pick the path, satisfied that he has blown all the cobwebs out of his system, all the dirt out of his carburator, and all the kinks out of the complex and massive muscles that synchronize those four legs, reaching and thrusting, powering his thousand pounds up the hill. He blows softly through his velvet nose, the way horses do to say, that was good. I'm happy.