Some of the most memorable lessons do not take place in a classroom. The summer I properly learned to ride horses still brings a profound sense of accomplishment. That certainly was the case with my riding lessons.
Like many little girls, I obsessed over horses. From the Breyer models that lived in a “stable” under my dresser, to the way my best friend and I spent every recess pretending to be mustangs out on the range, it’s safe to say I longed to either be a horse or own a horse. Unfortunately, neither option was possible. I settled for the next best thing: borrowing the magnificent steeds of family and friends.
By magnificent, I mean a black Shetland pony named Misty (as in Misty of Chincoteague fame). Basically, Misty was a squat little devil who liked to bite, but I didn’t care. All that mattered was my mother’s friend let her daughter lead me around the pasture ad nauseum.
Each time, I envisioned myself as the young Alec Ramsey galloping bareback on the shore of a deserted desert island ala The Black Stallion. Other times, we would hook Misty up to a tiny old cart and reenact scenes from Black Beauty. I eventually graduated to riding Star, a Welsh pony, after my friend got her first Arabian. Mostly we stayed in the large pasture, and mostly we just walked.
My friend taught me how to properly mount and use the reins. I knew which leg signals to use for various gaits, but in a limited way. I didn’t know how to put on a bridle or saddle, but I gleaned what I could about grooming, feeding, and other equestrian matters. Reality aside, I longed for the time when I could form a bond as special as that of Agba and Sham from King of the Wind.
When my friend moved away, I didn’t know anybody nearby with horses. As a substitute, I spent hours petting some horses down the road through a fence. Luckily, my grandparents would take me and my cousin with them on visits to my great aunt and uncle’s house outside of Missoula, Montana. They, along with their two daughters, lived on three adjacent plots of land and each owned horses!
Upon arriving, we always brought up the subject of riding. My two older second cousins were great riders and sometimes went with us, but mostly my cousin and I were turned loose with the ponies the other kids had outgrown. We would ride around the property for hours until sweaty and covered in layers of dirt. We liked to fancy ourselves taking part in the steeplechase from National Velvet even if our course only consisted of two low log jumps and one narrow mud puddle.
Foxy, the Welsh pony I rode, could only be deemed the tamest and most patient horse in the world. Alas, such a well-mannered horse didn’t do much for my riding skills. My cousin rode the smaller, but feistier, Shetland who also bore the ever-popular name Misty. Even then, my cousin would run and hop on him from the back like a gymnast mounting a balance beam. We didn’t know the first thing about dressage, but we liked to conjure images of ourselves looking like we sat atop The White Stallion of Lipizza.
My great uncle recognized my passion and desire to learn more, unlike those who assumed I had learned enough on my own. One morning he woke me and my cousin up at the crack of dawn and told us to come downstairs. He fed us bowls of corn flakes, but still would not tell us more. Only after our food was finished, did he announce it was time for some riding lessons.
My heart soared. Finally, someone cared enough to take the time to show me the way and recognized that for me “the way” meant a hunger to learn every last little detail so I could not just do something well, but do it better than anyone else no matter the task.
The lesson probably only filled two or three hours, but it kick-started a desire to keep learning (not just regarding riding, but in all things). My uncle demonstrated the entire process from using the curry brush to putting on all the tack so we could then give it a try. By showing the entire process, any trepidation I felt about my amateur skills melted away.
In one of the pastures, he showed us how to use the lunging rope, all the while pointing out that we needed to pay attention to the horse more than ourselves. Finally, it came time to trot. I had always detested that bouncy, uncomfortable gait. “Bob up and down like a belly dancer,” my uncle called. “Move with the horse. Don’t be so stiff.”
It wasn’t long before I got to ride one of the bigger horses and worked up the courage to canter, which lo and behold is much smoother than a trot. Owning a horse is not in my near future, but I try to ride when and where I can. A patient teacher who takes the extra time to show someone the way will always make the biggest difference.
What lesson did someone take the time to teach you as a kid that still leaves a lasting impression to this day?
Life’s journey continues…
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