I was recently asked by a friend of mine if I would give horseback riding lessons to her two daughters. I have never taken riding lessons or given a formal riding lesson. But it sounded like fun to me, so I said “yes”. The girls are beginner riders, and I am a beginner teacher, but fortunately we have two older mares to learn with, and that makes it all possible. We will have our fourth lesson this week, and I have discovered that it is as fun for me as it is for the girls!
So far we have covered the basics of grooming a horse, safely tying a horse with a quick-release knot, saddling a horse, and riding at a walk and trot. Last week we went for a mini trail ride down through the fields and back. In this photo, Cricket had stopped at the mud puddle, and wandered off-course, trying to turn back home. It took her rider quite a bit of nudging, reining, and working hard, before Cricket finally obeyed and continued down the path. This is good for the horses, as well, as they are learning to obey commands from little riders.
The girls are eight and nine years old, and have a big love for horses. We started out with them only riding Cricket, one at a time, inside the round pen, and focusing on controlling her and making her do things she might not actually want to do. Cricket is a very old horse, and can be kind of stubborn. She likes to follow me, and will follow outside the pen, even at a trot, without me holding the reins or lead rope. But I wanted the girls to learn to be in control of her, so we did a lot of work on getting Cricket to listen to their rein cues and go in the opposite direction I was going, which was very unnatural for her.
Last week I introduced them to my sorrel mare Daisy. She is very quiet and dependable, but can be even more stubborn than Cricket, and does not have sensitive ground manners. I explained to the girls that this makes her not as safe as Cricket, because she might step on them or walk over them if she decides to. But when they are in the saddle, she listens pretty well, and is slow-paced and gentle. So both girls got to ride at once, and we worked on trotting circles in the open, turning, and maintaining control when the horse decides they are going to go a different way. It’s a lot to work on, all at once.
I find myself repeating a few key phrases: “Keep your rein hand in front of the saddle horn!” (When asking the horse to turn. Cricket absolutely won’t turn if there is any backwards pull on the rein; it has to be a forward-leaning neck rein or she just stops and acts confused.) “Don’t jiggle the reins, keep them perfectly still.” (When asking the horse to move forward and they are urging the horse with their heels–for some reason, the instinct to jiggle reins as they’re squeezing with heels kicks in.) “Keep asking, keep asking, keep asking…..and…release!” (When Cricket is taking her own sweet time to complete a turn, and then finally does it, and I am pointing out to them that the release of pressure is how we tell the horse, “You did it! That’s what I was wanting, now you can rest, I won’t pull on you any more.”)
So many times during our hour-long lessons, I just have to sit back and laugh. Because of the horses’ faces. Their expressions. Their forbearance and patience in teaching young riders the ropes. It is funny and heartwarming, and I’m so proud of the horses and the girls.
They are doing great, they are loving it, and I am having the time of my life looking at horses through the eyes of an eight-year-old again!