Thursday, August 21, 2008

Riding Lessons and Horse Teachers

Reminiscing about my summer camp days has brought more thoughts of that summer. Those camp horses will always be in my memories, or at least I hope they will because they were my first "teachers".

Before summer camp, I took 6 weeks of riding lessons at the camp riding facility. There were 14 year-around horses stabled at the barn used for group riding and private lessons. My first evening lesson was in late April. We'd had a storm. Our power was out and there was a tree down across the road. My lesson was at 6:30pm. I was determined I was NOT going to miss my first riding lesson. I put on my Roper boots (which I soon learned were not good for riding, they had slick soles), got in my truck, set it into 4 wheel drive, drove out through the field, found the road and headed to my lesson. Surprisingly, I was on time for my lesson. Determination was my partner that evening.

I arrived at the barn and was at first in awe of the smells. I do love the smell of a horse barn! When you tell people that, they tend to give you the once over, but never quite ask if you are feeling ok.

My riding instructor walked into the barn as I was meeting up with the first horse in the first stall. He was pushing his muzzle through the bars as I touched his soft nose. He was sorrel, with a white star-like marking on his forehead. Looked to be Arabian, according to my book learned reference. My instructor informed me that Sheik was not my ride. Koko would be my first lesson horse.

Koko was a 30 year old, off-track standardbred mare. Black ,curly ,shaggy, coat. Definitely not the most attractive horse I'd ever seen. She was a babysitter. I had no idea at the time (I later worked for this barn for 2 1/2 years). I was just excited to be learning to ride. Koko was ridden with a hackamore because of her age. She greeted me as I opened her stall door, but didn't seem overly excited. As a matter of fact, she laid her ears flat against her head. I stepped back. My instructor informed me Koko often did that when someone walked into her stall, but that's as far as her threat went. I carefully walked over to Koko, as my instructor showed me how to properly put a halter on a horse's head. That's right, I had never even haltered a horse before that evening!

That evening I was shown how to lead, groom and tack. Koko stood quietly, and I do mean stood quietly. She barely flicked an ear when a fly buzzed by. I was completely happy when that job was finished. Of course, by the time I learned all this and repeated the process a few times, I had about 30 minutes to ride.

I remember my instructor telling me to mount up. I told her I had no clue how to properly do that, so she'd have to get me started. I was not permitted a mounting block. My instructor wanted me to mount from the ground. She told me it's better to get started that way. Well, Ok, but this may take a while. Actually, it worked out better than I expected. I was a little more limber than I thought I was and proud of myself for mounting up without a mounting block. For my own horses, here at home, I do use a mounting block. I feel mounting blocks do have their place and even if you are out on a trail somewhere, you can usually find something to help you mount up. Plus, it saves the horse's back, if you're not as young, bouncy and strong as you once were. For a long time I felt I shouldn't use a mounting block, but I don't feel that way anymore.

Koko helped me have confidence during those first lessons. She was the perfect beginner horse! I learned to ride on Koko for 2 weeks before my instructor changed me over to Sheik, a completely different type of ride. His teaching would be that I had to use what I had learned on Koko, and then some more. He would cover for my mistakes at times. He also would make sure I knew what I was doing, or he'd let me know in one way or another, usually by stopping or walking to the arena fence as if to say "Come on lady, you are really not getting it..." I got all the way to cantering, almost, with Sheik. I have never had the best balance in the world and his Arabian trot to canter was a little more motion than my inexperience allowed for. But, we did manage to get half the arena in a canter.

Sheik was a 20 year old Arabian gelding. His Arabian tail had been docked, as I call it, causing it to fall to the left side when he tried to raise it up in that very Arabian way. Quite distracting when following behind him on a trail ride, if you get my picture. He was a very solid horse, solid personality. All those stories you hear about Arabians do not fit Sheik. Maybe he was flighty and sensitive when he was young, but as a mature horse, he was one of the barn's leading school horses for intermediate riders.

My six week riding lessons evolved into an 8 week horse internship that I had never planned on taking. After my 6 weeks were done, it was June, summer camp started, and it's there that my real horse eduaction began. Twenty horses of various levels, personalities, issues and problems. The best school you could ever attend!

As for Koko and Sheik, I later had the opportunity to work with them more closely when I started working at the facility after summer camp that year. They both can be listed among my favorite horses at the barn, for different reasons. My first horse teachers will always have a place in my heart!

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