Thursday, February 25, 2010

What Am I, Crazy?? It's Gotta Be the Snow

Why I Love to Ride and Horses I Have Known: Part 1

But first we take a station break for a weather report. Guess what? It is snowing--a lot. We may get another 12-18 inches according to one weather forecast. Then again, we may not. But if it keeps coming down like it is now, we will.

OK, enough of that. I'm repeating myself. I'm repeating myself. *lol*

Aside from the fair ponies, I was not a child rider. In fact, I did not officially ride a horse until I was in 7th grade, at about 11-12 years old. My mind is foggy on that now. Was I ever really that young? At any rate, I joined the school riding club, run by the art teacher who just happened to have a farm, horses, and the strange urge to give lessons. As I recall, back then, a lesson was about $2.00 or so.

My "Don't get hurt on those darn horses" Mother, blessed woman that she was decided to pay my way and come to the farm to pick what was left of me up each week and so it all began.

Initially, my teacher used some Standardbreds owned by an eccentric old man in a nearby town. Gee, I nearly forgot that. I know she had her own horses because I can recall an early lesson on a lovely one eyed mare named Bonnie who thought trot was the only possible gait a horse could do out on the trail.

I have a picture of me on one of the Standardbreds at a little show on the farm. No helmet, no real riding boots, just jeans and a look of "I'm cool" on my face even though it's painfully obvious I hadn't a clue as to what I was doing. I don't really remember much about my lessons at the old man's place, but I guess I learned to at least sit in the saddle and steer. But I'm pretty sure that by the time summer vacation rolled around, we were at the teacher's farm using her horses instead.

That's where I took one of my first painful trail rides on Bonnie. For some reason, despite my musical training and a fairly active life, I simply could not figure out how to post the trot. My teacher was not really a very good riding teacher as far as cementing the basics, so she didn't have any exercises to help me. (I have tons of ideas as to how to help a rider develop a seat and learn to post now, so my rather horrid beginning has served me well in learning how to help others avoid the agony themselves.) I think it took me all summer to learn how to go up and down with the horse's rhythm and the day it happened was one of the most wonderful moments of my life! But then again, perhaps my bouncing beginnings did teach me from an early age how to sit the trot really well--at least well enough to stay on.

Progress came slowly for me. I fell off just about once a week. I always dusted myself off, remounted and tried again, and again and again. Eventually, one week I managed to stay in the saddle for the whole lesson and suddenly the psychological barrier was broken. From then on, I tended to stick my landings in the saddle instead of the dirt.

My teacher's horses were varied creatures. There were a few sweet steady ones, like Bonnie and Cameron. Then there was Silver, the little gray pony who delighted in watching his riders cry, but when he was on, he could read your mind about a jump course and just take you around as soft as anything.

And then there were the auction horses. My teacher used to go to the local horse auction--which is still operating--to buy new prospects both for her lesson program and for resale. We kids would get to try them out back at the farm.

Now, mind you, at this point, I was one of the advanced students. I was earning part of my lesson money by cleaning stalls and watering horses, so there was lots of time to spend at the barn. And everytime a new horse arrived one of us would be the first in the saddle. I've lost all their names in my memory bank. One reared up and jumped a fence backwards with one of our male riders--gutsy kid just kept on going. A few were great, and some ran off. One of my favorite memories was of a big, stocky pinto who'd been owned by an old man. The horse had discovered that if he bucked, the guy would get off and put him away. As a result, the horse was as fat as could be with marshmellows instead of muscle and a big attitude about bucking. I was one of the first on his back. He let fly with me and, dumb as I was, I sat it out, let him buck again, and then somehow managed to get him going forward to follow my teacher on her big Thoroughbred out for a long trail ride. When we got back, fat pinto was huffing and puffing, but he'd forgotten about the buck in favor of just tying to keep his legs holding up his body.

In less than a year, fat pinto had won the year end state 4-H trail championship and was in a new loving home, completely rehabilitated.

There was another naughty horse I remember too. A big chestnut who figured out that rearing was a way to get out of work. My teacher decided to take him out on the trail too, with me in the saddle. We got to the end of the driveway, and up he went on two back legs. I was prepared, and knowing his reputation had read a dozen books on how to ride a rearing horse. That was when I learned the method I use today. Drop an inside hand way down low, lean forward, spin the horse in a tight circle and kick or use the whip to keep him spinning. Then, come out of the spin and ride forward.

To my utter surprise, it worked. After about three attempted rears and three spins, the horse surrendered and off we went for a lovely ride. I rode that horse a lot afterwards and at one point wanted to by him for myself. That might have been a good idea because essentially, I was the only person who could ride him safely, as he never stopped rearing with other riders. He didn't even try with me. I think, however, that he died of colic, so it was never to be.

Somewhere along the way, I met a kid at school who had a horse he wasn't riding any more. He was a big dun horse named Tawny Pippett. He would jump anything, but wasn't exactly a quiet ride on the flat. Still, a horse was a horse and soon, when he was handed over to another girl who lived down the road from my teacher, I got myself into a part lease situation and that was that. Tawny and I became a team.

It's funny. As I write this, I find I have lost far too many horse's names and specific moments. Someone once said of me, "You don't have any baggage," and I suppose, to some degree, that's true. I don't tend to hang on to all my memories the way some people do. Fortunately, I have pictures to remind me of the big things, and some long term memory of all the things I learned about riding along the way.

I'll work on the horse names. Perhaps some of them will come back to me as I write about them.

Part 2 will be about Tawny and me as well as a search for a horse of my own.

Hey, at least it's something to write about as the snow falls...and falls...and falls....


  1. Anonymous12:11 PM

    We got some more last night - about 5 inches or so. I was going to go somewhere last night and looked outside and the snow was blowing horizontally and it was impossible to see, so I gave up on that idea. But fortunately it was that light fluffy lake effect stuff, so not too hard to deal with.

    I've been enjoying your stories from the past!

  2. I've found that over the years I can't remember horse's names anymore, either. I was always bad with names, though. The horses that stand out are the ones who were especially naughty. They were always my favorites.

    Keep up the great stories, it's a welcome distraction from the snow!

  3. things to do when the weather's bad... you do have memories, jean, just a lot of them, LOL!

  4. Your early riding experiences built a foundation for facing and dealing with whatever came along next. We sometimes used a water balloon between the ears of a known rearer. I hope this is the last of the snow for you. We have rain forecast again tonight. You should see all the trees in blossom because of this weather; almond, plum, tulip/magnolia, mimosa/yellow acacia, and I even saw a wisteria with buds almost ready to unfurl. Our grassy hills are crazy bright green, scattered with yellow daffs and sour-grass flowers.

  5. You should write a book of your memories. I bet you have started *G*

  6. I think you've gotten a lot more snow than we did, it's snowing again tonight though. I've had enough. I've been busy all week and haven't had a chance to read many posts. So I'm a little late to the party here.

    I enjoyed reading about your beginning rides. Everything is a learning experience. I envy you for being able to ride so early on, I had to wait a long time (except for trail rides at parks once in a while0, I always wished I could have started actually riding instead of reading books about horses.