“Poldark” for Horse Riding Lessons

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Poldark is back on TV in the US on PBS’s “Masterpiece Theater.”

For the purposes of this blog post, perhaps you noticed actor Aidan Turner’s horsemanship as he portrays Ross Poldark, especially the speed and grace of his dismount.

It’s the standard I strive to achieve.

Alas, my mileage has varied.

Especially in the early days of my most recent return to the saddle.

In my defense, I was riding big horses, draft crosses or appaloosas, keeping me high off the ground. Dismounting from a 16.2  Percheron/Thoroughbred cross is a long way down.

It’s the closest I’ll ever come to BASE jumping.

So, imagine this Highlight Reel of my most notorious dismounts:

  • My knees have buckled.
  • I’ve made mud AND sand angels in the ring.
  • The cantle on the occasional western saddle was too high to swing my right leg over, so two men had to peel me off the saddle. #Embarassing
  • That time when the saddle slipped under the horse’s belly because a) I was afraid to let go and b) tacking mistakes were made. We were all fine, BTW, including the mare, a “been there/seen that” lesson and kids’ camp horse.

I’ve been back in the saddle for a few years now and feel no pressure to get good fast, like Turner learning to perform a period role. Besides:

  • I’m not quite “twice his age” but close.
  • I returned to riding with various health challenges, including weight issues.
  • And, when I was a kid, that’s not how I habitually dismounted.

Say, whaaat?

Meet Rowdy

Rowdy and Rhonda Lane
Not my house, but next door to where Rowdy lived in saddleseat country. I was trying to get him to park out. He thought it was funny, too.

I rode Rowdy when I was 14 in shorts, Keds, and no helmet. No formal lessons, either.

In a lot of respects, those were different times. Amazing I survived. Many of us have lived to tell such tales, and frankly, now if I’m even just heading out to bring in my lesson horse, I put on my helmet first.

But back in the day, I rode Rowdy in a heavy all-leather Western saddle cinched with a Windsor knot. I tacked up my own pony, thank you very much.

When it was time to dismount, I’d swing my right leg over the back of the horse, as suggested by the barn owner, until I saw it done another way on TV.

“Laredo?!” We’re talking about “Poldark!”

Another period drama from long ago, “Laredo” was a cheeky TV Western about a squad of Texas Rangers.

Fun and a bit subversive, especially for those pre-“Blazing Saddles” days, “Laredo” flipped and poked fun at but also still deeply revered a lot of dated Western tropes.

The show was another product of a different time–20th century, pre-cable network TV.

Meet Linda Little Trees, Gangsta

Dismount from Laredo
Recurring “Laredo” character and gang leader Linda Little Trees dismounts.

Linda Little Trees, played by actor Shelley Morrison who later played Rosario on “Will & Grace,” dismounted her horse like she ran her gang.

Cool. Calm. Efficient. With her own sense of style.

She dismounted by swinging her leg over the saddle horn and dropping to the ground.

To a young teen girl sick and tired of the then-usual portrayal of women always needing rescuing, I found Linda Little Trees fascinating.

My mother, also something of a rebel, loved seeing Linda show up, too.

So what if she was a murdering thief. Details, details.

The next time I rode, I dismounted like Linda Little Trees.

The barn owner watching me said, “Don’t–well, okay. That works, too.”

Again. Different times.

Fortunately, I left no photographic evidence of my sketchy dismounts from Rowdy.

Pre-social media.

The Right Stuff

Flash forward a couple of decades from a sassy pony on a Kentucky family farm to the Farmington Polo Club in Connecticut for my first formal riding lesson.

When the group lesson finished, muscle memory swung my leg forward to predictable and loud results from my then-instructor.

I learned how to be correct for a year or so until I was hired onto the staff of a local newspaper.

My work schedule never seemed to sync up to a riding school’s lesson schedule.

Cue another decade or so of hiatus from riding up until my most recent return a few years ago.

The Master at Work

Aidan Turner makes it look so easy. So fast, I can’t even grab a screen cap, not even with a smartphone on our big screen TV .

Aiden Turner dismounts in Poldark
Actor Aidan Turner dismounts so fast he’s a blur. Equine actor “Seamus” is a good boy who stands still.

Notice how his horse is less of a blur.

Those hooves are planted, although Seamus may have been shaking his head.

No fly bonnets in the 18th century and invisible fly spray lasts only for so long.

That’s training, my friends.

A strategy is born

My current instructor gives me homework.

Like Harry’s pal Hermione, I dig diving in, although her recall is faster than mine.

One of those books is Jane Savoie’s THAT WINNING FEELING.

Having never been taught sports psychology until formal riding lessons–my years of marching band, instead, were  all about precision and military discipline–Jane’s technique of visualization help me swing over the saddle more like Ross Poldark. But slower.

My visualization/inspiration is of Aidan Turner as Poldark dismounting.

Why not make it a happy thought? Right?

Plus, inspired by the traditions of paratroopers and skydivers, I mentally add, “Poldark!”

My version of “Geronimo!” But quieter. The point is to keep my school horse standing still. A key to my success, such that it is.

Muddying the waters

Before “Poldark” premiered on US TV but while I was cleaning up my dismounting act …

Back when I was preparing my blog post about President Ronald Reagan and his horse El Alamein

I read RIDING WITH REAGAN a memoir by U.S. Secret Service agent John R. Barletta.

Barletta was the agent assigned to protect the horse-loving president on horseback.

No matter how much Barletta reminded his principal protectee about the danger of such a dismount, Reagan did it anyway.

Annnd encouraged the game but less-horsey Nancy Reagan to dismount the same way.

Hmm. Okay.

Then, one afternoon, while I was catching up on Poldark episodes with my smartphone in hand to capture the perfect Poldark dismount for this very blog post, I came across this:

British officer on Poldark
A secondary character.



Some editorial notes:

Can’t get enough of Seamus, aka Ross Poldark’s unnamed horse?

  • Seamus is one of the noble steeds of Atkinson Action Horses. He gets a lot of press, including his own Facebook page , which could use updating. #hinthint
  • However, Seamus spottings are all over Twitter and Instagram, especially with the last season/series of Poldark in production this fall. To find the treasures, just use the hashtags of #Poldark #Seamus.

All my Poldark stills are courtesy the CPTV broadcast of “Poldark” on PBS’s “Masterpiece Theater.”



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