Upside Down and Backwards:

How Not to Ride Your Horse…

Hanging upside down by one foot as your horse continues on his merry was is generally unintentional and typically not my idea of a good day, but for my daughter, it was the “best day ever!”

Braelyn has been riding since she could sit up on a horse and between the tv shows Heartland and Spirit Riding Free, trick riding had become an intriguing topic in our house. When we found out that a local stable would be the host location for a trick riding clinic in December, we knew it would be the perfect birthday gift. Fast forward 9 months through the monsoon weather, which created muddy conditions unsuitable for riding, and COVID, which made group activities impossible, and we landed on private lessons instead.

Much to our excitement, we learned that the instructor, Ashley Pletcher of Ashley Pletcher’s Keystone Entertainment and Training LLC, has recently begun setting up a permanent location in Gaffney, SC. She was previously based in NC but has traveled the country performing shows and teaching trick riding lessons. Here they will be building a large riding arena for lessons, clinics, and camps. They also hope to hold rodeos at this location in the future.

When we first arrived, Ashley introduced us to Magua, the 16-year old paint horse that she uses for her beginner lessons. As we were grooming the horse, Ashley filled us in on a little of her background and that of the horses as well. She has been trick riding for 18 years and teaching for 12 years. She has been involved in multiple show groups and was even a Ringling act at one point in time. The two horses onsite the day we were there were Magua and Dakota. They are also a Roman riding team, which means they carry a single rider with a foot on each horse as they work together in unison. Due to the nature of her sport, Ashley told us that her horses are all “voice activated” meaning that they work off voice commands versus the typical leg commands.

Once Braelyn was mounted up, Ashley began to walk her through the basic safety protocols of trick riding, the differences of the saddle, then started explaining some of the tricks she would be learning. She explained that there are 5 fundamental tricks to learn first before moving on to the more advanced tricks. The first is the horn spin, which is where the rider spins around the saddle horn and sits on the base of the horse’s neck facing backwards before ending up back in the saddle. The second is the saddle spin. This is where the rider goes from facing forward in the saddle to facing backwards in the saddle and then forwards again. The third was the layout, where the rider lays with their back across the saddle and their upper body and legs extended straight out on either side. The fourth is called the step over/touch down. The step over is taking your leg from one side of your horse to the other and this graduates into the touch down where you step down and touch the ground with the leg brought over from the other side of the horse before returning back into the regular riding position. The fifth fundamental is the scissors. For this trick you lay flat on your stomach with your face on the horse’s rump and your feet pointed towards the horse’s head. You then kick your legs up into the air in a scissor motion and come down having turned face up and sitting straight up in your saddle.

After mastering these fundamentals, Braelyn was able to also learn the lazy back (laying on your back with both feet straight up in the air), the hippodrome (standing straight up on the horse’s back), and lastly, the drag (hanging upside down on the horse by one leg). She practiced all the tricks first at a standstill and then a walk and then a trot. Since the lesson, she has been able to practice the 5 fundamentals on several of our own horses and we are working on planning additional lessons.

Ashley was a phenomenal instructor, and I can’t recommend her enough if you have an interest in trick riding or are looking for a great gift for the horse enthusiast in your family. Her lessons and clinics are great for both young and old and no experience is required. Private lessons are $60 per hour. For additional information or to schedule, please contact Ashley on Facebook at Ashley Pletcher’s Keystone Entertainment and Training LLC■

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