As I sit at my computer working on leads for the sale of my own horse in order to move on to another, typing ads got me reflecting on where my riding all began. I really never had pondered where I would be now with my current mare, and that we’ve come far enough together that we actually have plateaued. This would be a dream far in the future that I never would have fathomed when I first started riding as a teeny tiny kid. In a soccer uniform. In skateboarding shoes.
Photo by Carlos Fernando Bendfeldt/Unsplash/CC.
When I was around seven or eight years old, my parents decided that I should take riding lessons so I could be more “well-rounded.” They chose a farm that was about ten minutes from home, mostly because it was a close drive and the rates were reasonable. I borrowed a helmet from the farm and rode in my soccer uniform (my Saturday lesson was usually right after the morning soccer games). Eventually, I became a working student when I was about ten years old to work off lessons. My parents did buy me my first set of “real” riding clothes: paddock boots, my own helmet, and full chaps. (I’m dating myself…this was all back in the days when full chaps were trendy. They are comfortable, though!)
Each lesson horse was an individual who taught all of the students in the program something new. Here’s what they taught me, and how they hooked me on the horse bug a little more with each ride.
Photo by Fidel Fernando/Unsplash/CC.
Scooter: The very first horse I sat on when I started lessons with a borrowed helmet and wearing my soccer uniform. I learned that you were supposed to be in control, not the horse. He liked to steer into the middle of the ring and try to drink whatever soda pop the teacher was carrying. I learned to post on him…and it took almost two years to learn how to post. How terrible is THAT? Up-down up-down-down-up-what?
Ace: A cheeky little black pony (looking back, I think he was a medium pony) who sneakily would drag me out the indoor arena door and go eat grass as I struggled to pull his tiny head back up. We eventually got him an over check device so he couldn’t keep up with his grass-eating antics. He liked to be lazy and four-beat his canter, so it taught you to kick kick kick to be forward.
Sherman: The first lesson horse I rode where I learned that they weren’t invincible; he got overheated one day and was really sick, but he recovered quickly. I was in awe when I learned that not all horses will protest when you want them to make a circle. He would make actual circles instead of eggs or pentagons.
Crockett: A super sweet horse who just wanted to do his job and please you. I loved him because he had a cool history (he used to be one of the farm owners’ western show horses). He taught me that you have to ask for a canter correctly (as in, not by leaning forward and kicking) because otherwise he would just trot really fast, and you would be the only one failing in the ring as others cantered nicely around you.
Speckles: An old soul who was the sweetest up-down teacher in the world. I would take him to the field if he didn’t get ridden that day and let him have a canter, which he hardly ever got to do in lessons. When I became a working student, I would lead him around as the other little kids learned how to just sit on a horse and walk. He was the most bomb-proof horse on the planet.
Elmo: The horse I cantered on for the first time. It was thrilling! We had practiced our jump position throughout our lessons, and I forgot to steer (or did I…), so we veered off the rail and went over a jump. It was amazing. My mother had a heart attack. My teacher rolled her eyes and said that I still had to steer. What fun is that? I guess this taught me that you’re supposed to steer…because I had never jumped anything before in my life.
Flyer: A hot little mare who had no “off” button. She was the first horse I rode who taught me that you must ask nicely and quietly for what you’d like to achieve, or she’d just get plain mad. Come to think of it, this was the first mare that I rode at the time, so maybe this was a time of learning that mares operate a bit differently than geldings and have very firm opinions.
Julio: A gelding who taught me carefulness. If you didn’t steer just right, he would over steer (and then you would breeze right by the jump, whoops). If you didn’t squeeze just right to support, he would take a flyer over the jumps or ground poles. I’m still working on riding tactfully to this day, but it was a learning start with him.
Hobbs: My heart horse from my lesson days. He was a wild man, grey and with a hilarious personality…more like that of a pony. No one else wanted to ride him, so once I “graduated” to him, he was “mine.” If he didn’t want to do something, he would protest. If he didn’t want to go in the corners, he would resist with all his might. He was smart and had figured out that it was energy-saving to cut all the corners, including while walking. Cantering was FUN because he could buck and have a grand old time. Jumping was also FUN! He was the horse who I jumped the best on, ironically. He enjoyed “bigger” jumps (OK, they were 2’6″) or he wouldn’t pay attention and just run around at everything. He taught me stickability, and also that you can get very, very attached to a horse. If I had the rare chance to go out to the barn twice a week to ride, I begged to ride him in my lesson. He even eventually put up with me riding him in mounted games at boarder birthday parties. Pole bending (with jump standards) was one of our best talents. Maybe we didn’t have a super deep relationship because as a lesson student, I was only out at the barn max twice a week, but at the time, I thought we had the closest bond in the world.
All of these horses were so well cared for that they either passed from old age or were retired at the appropriate time. Sometimes, I think about them and how they each hooked me a little further on the horse bug. That’s what the hard working lesson horses do for all of us. They hook us in a little more.