Yesterday, we did something that has been on my want-to-do list for some time…..like since 2.5 years ago when I gave up my last horse.   I got to give my children their first riding lesson.  What a way to start the weekend off!  About 8 minutes from my house is a large riding stable with excellent horses (or so we heard) and even better hourly rental rates.  Best of all, you aren’t required to have a guide, so you are pretty much free to do what you want as long as you don’t go over a “walk” speed.  So we decided to go rent 2 horses, switch the riders around so everyone in the family (except Daddy–he decided to babysit and assist) got a chance, and give the kids a lesson in the arena for the majority of the time.
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As a trainer, I have seen some of the most “dead-broke” horses react violently to things, so as a general rule, I do not get on a horse without first putting it through some ground work exercise to test it’s mental stability and to give me and the horse a feel for each other first.  Well, this didn’t work out that way, which had me nervous at first, but worked out.  Also, we require helmets in our family.  I have personally had my head saved by a helmet a number of times, and am well aware of the necessity. 
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I requested a full-size horse and a pony–both for beginner level since the kids would be riding.  After I requested to use the arena and give a lesson, they looked at me like I was crazy.  They had obviously never had that request before!  In any case, they brought out a good, solid-headed mustang (which totally made my day), and a little gray pony that had to be ancient as dirt!  They put JR up on the pony.  Let me tell you this made me very nervous!  I had to trust my son to a total stranger’s training ability–a trainer and a horse that I did not know at all.  Based on their reputation though, and the fact that S would be walking alongside JR if any problems arose, we left the stable area to head to the arena.

One nervous mommy (on left side of road) and JR proudly riding alone for the first time (on right side of road)

 As it turned out, this little pony probably wasn’t capable of much more than an incredibly slow walk.  With what appeared to be stiff, arthritic hips and legs that appeared to already be half in the grave, he was perfectly content to just plod along in the direction of the other horses in front of us.  I only wish we could have taken a pic of JR’s face as we rode up the road to the arena.  He was in hog-heaven, all smiles, riding all by himself on “his” very own horse.  I guess it doesn’t take much to make a boy feel like a man! 

Ready to ride!

 Once we were in the arena, I dismounted my steed, T-bird, who had proven to be very gentle and easy-going.  S took over T-bird and led M around on him, while instrusted JR.  Now there was one big issue we had to deal with (but had expected)….these horses were trained to carry a beginner rider on a trail ride.  Although they were capable of going alone, they generally followed the leader (or any other horse in the vicinity) OR they followed whatever trail their nose was pointed toward. 

So the first thing I had to do was convince this ancient little pony to listen to me and JR, rather than follow T-bird.  We started out by having me act as lead horse, and the pony quickly figured out to follow me.  As I worked with JR on his body position, using leg pressure, and using the reins to correct if neccessary, Pee-Wee quickly caught on.  In fact, he almost seemed to enjoy being able to be a horse, thinking for himself and actually relating to and communicating with his rider, instead of just a follower.  Within 15 minutes, JR was able to get Pee-Wee to turn as requested, circle around me and even walk away from me instead of just follow me, and stop when asked.  When I felt his confidence was high enough, I decided to put him T-bird so M could work with Pee-Wee for a few minutes.  So we switched. 

T-bird posed a different challenge because he was bigger, and because he was wearing a full-size saddle.  So we weren’t able to work as much on body position.  Nonetheless, he quickly had T-bird responding to his signals.  That was one proud little boy (and one proud mommy!)  After a while, when JR was doing fine on T-bird, S and I switched so I could work with A and M.

Now A aboslutely LOVES horses.  I can’t explain why, but he points them out in pictures, gets excited when he sees one when we are driving down the highway, and “horsey” is one of his favorite words.  Funny thing, though, is that he always chickens out when he gets the chance to ride one.  He loves it until you pick him up to put him in the saddle and then starts screaming and wants nothing to do with it.  Well, we have played this little game for over a year.  I was tired of it.  So I decided this was the best chance I had to make him work through it.  I got him all excited about petting the horse, walked him over, got him to pet Pee-Wee, then lifted him up.  He started screaming.  I ignored him, pryed him off me, sat him in the saddle, and just held him gently until the crying eased some (about a minute).  Then I distracted him by having him pet Pee-Wee’s neck again, had him “feel” different parts of the saddle, then told him to hold the horn.  At first I had someone else lead while I walked beside him.  Within another minute though, he got comfy enough to hold on and balance alone, so I led.  As expected, A was all smiles, and then I couldn’t get him OFF!  Later, when I asked if he wanted to ride again, I practically had to catch him mid-air trying to jump on!  I think we are done with the crying!

A on "Pee-Wee"

 Next was M’s turn.  I put her into the saddle, worked on some basic riding skills.  She still has quite a bit of developing to do though to get better control of her body, so I didn’t work on it for too long.  At least she got the experience though, and increased her confidence on a gentle horse.

M on "Pee-Wee"

Then we had some “free-time,” where we just let the kids relax and ride around the arena to expose them to the motion of the horse.  Daddy acted as lead horse, and the horses happily followed.

S acting as lead horse to help keep horses moving during some free time.

Before we knew it, our hour was up and we had to return to the barn.  The kids (and horses) were doing so great, we decided to let them ride on the trail back to the barn.  S led, Pee-Wee followed.  I walked beside JR and T-bird just in case.  I discovered earlier when I rode him and tested him that T-bird had a slight tendency to speed up back to the barn, and I certainly didn’t want to risk any trouble.  The kids were thrilled to go on a real trail ride.  They even had to ride down a hill that was steep enough the kids had to lean way back and out of their comfort zone. 

On the trail

 We all made it safely back to the barn, with happy people and equally happy horses.  It was thrilling to teach the kids and get to share with them one of my greatest passions in life.  JR caught on so quickly that S and I have agreed to possibly take him on a real trail ride as a “date” with Mommy one day.  Of course, that may be under the condition that we can use Pee-Wee again.  The stable manager warned us about how slow he was, and said everyone always brought him back complaining that he was slow and stubborn.  I think we shocked them when we returned to the barn overjoyed with his temperament and slow pace.  We absolutely loved him, as he was so wonderful with the kids!

So that was our morning.  I can’t wait to do it again.  For those of you who might be interested, here are a couple of links to video of the kids riding….

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_s59xrLZn4

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uKs1ztUbrzw

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