Friday, September 5, 2008

Happy Trails #1

In my life, I've only been on one hour, nose-tail, horseback rides and not very many. My first week at summer camp, back in '04, as barn staff/assistant horseback riding instructor, I was thrown into "real" trail riding. As staff, the manager wanted us to bond through an overnight trail ride before the first official week of camp. I was thrilled!

The first few days of camp staff meetings we were told to pick nicknames. It was customary to use nicknames not real names for the camp staff. When the campers arrived, they got to know staff by the nicknames. At the end of the week, before leaving, staff then introduced themselves with their real names at the last campfire. All staff members had nicknames. I was not thrilled by this. Personally, I don't like nicknames and it seemed silly to me, but I chose one so I would be part of the group. It wasn't very cute, like many of them. It was just something that popped into my head. I had once been referred to as "graceful" which I am NOT, so I chose Grace. Grace is a beautiful name when used for the purpose it should be. I wasn't very creative and at times wished I'd gone a different route with my nickname. Good way to sabotage one's self!

My boss, for the summer, was a 20-something young lady. Level headed, serious about her job and had designed the entire summer horseback riding program. The rest of the 5 staff members ranged in ages from eighteen to twenty-one. I was forty-three. I was willing to let any one of the young ladies and young man (I'm not sure how he ended up in the mix, it was a girls' camp, but he'd worked there the year before) take the lead role. Since this camp experience was more for their resumes, I was more than happy to follow their lead. As I told them in one of our staff meetings before camp started, "I'm just here to help out." Plus, and it's a big plus, I was new to all the riding stuff, although I never once told any of them of my lack of experience. They assumed since I was "older" I probably had a good handle on things. Granted, I was confident with my ground handling of horses. It felt natural to me, but the riding, well, I wasn't as confident about that.

We used the year around horses at the riding facility. The twenty summer leased horses would be dealt with later. As I walked down the barn aisle I was looking over the horses wondering who I would ride. My thoughts were interrupted by Boss-lady suggesting I ride Koko, the 30 year old off-track standardbred mare. Koko was the one I took my first riding lessons on. She was the "babysitter" of these barn horses. At the time I didn't know Koko held that title. Wouldn't have mattered, I was excited to be going on a trail ride and an overnighter on top of that!

I was actually glad to be given Koko. I figured I'd get a good comfortable ride although her age certainly posed some questions in my mind. Koko's only real issue was keeping her away from other horses. She didn't like being too close and would kick out if any of them got within four feet of her space. So, I worked with that. Boss-Lady told me Koko loved to go on trail rides. She gets a little slow, but she gets the job done and keeps up with everyone. I could relate, with all the youngsters around me I was also trying to keep up! So, me and Koko were a team for my first ever real trail ride.

Actually when I think back, I feel bad that I don't remember more specifics about the event. I do remember it was very uneventful. We rode up into the hills taking a well established logging trail, to a spot atop an open hilltop meadow where we camped for the night. Our sleeping bags, tents, food had all been trailered up for us so we didn't pack anything on our horses.

I remember we cooked some kind of taco meal for dinner. Most of the time I just listened to conversation. I felt a little "out" not in a bad way, just a generational thing. A woman about my age came along for the ride too. Seems she and Boss-Lady were heading out to Wyoming with some of the girls at the end of summer camp. It was an added part of the camp program Boss-Lady had put together. I was a little envious hearing them talk about their trip.

I am a quiet person. I've always labeled myself as introverted. I don't mean to be, I've worked to come out of that shell, but I often will retreat when around new people. It's something I've done all my life, I think it stems back to my only child raising. But, I listen, I just usually don't have much to add until I get better aquainted with everyone. I've discovered that sometimes people get a little uncomfortable around quiet people like me. Then, they are surprised when I open up more. It's amusing at times.

Morning came, the horses were still on the picket line. No problems during the night. I was a little sore. Hadn't slept on hard ground for a few years. When our sons were young we used to go tent camping every summer. My night on the ground reminded me I was now in my 40's, and should probably carry a mat of some kind if I ever wanted to tent camp comfortably again! We ate our light breakfast, but I can't recall what it was, tacked up our horses and completed our trail around the loop back to the barn. As I remember, very uneventful. I was just a member of the group that morning, but as the summer wore on I would take on different roles.

During the summer we would have Friday trail rides for the older girls in the more advanced program. I started out riding the trail rides in the middle. Later, sometimes I was the lag rider, it really depended on what horses we used the day of the trail rides. I discovered I didn't like being the lead rider because I prefer to see what's going on with the group ahead of me. And, if you were lead rider, you would undoubtedly have to ride Big Tall Joe who was at least 17 hands, tall, lanky, sorrel. He was the best lead horse always confident, never fighting against his riders. I always thought I wanted a tall horse but after riding him, discovered I prefered something more to my size like 15 hands or less. I'm only 5'5" myself.

The next trail ride we took as staff members would be a tad more eventful. We took it at mid summer. Our assignment was to take out the summer lease horses who were having issues during the classes we were trying to teach. Now that experience was an eye opener for me! To this day I still shake my head at how I managed to come out of that one with only a few scratches, but much better prepared for my life with horses.

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