One of our neighbours called the other day to ask a favour. Her fourteen year old had to go to work for a day, but neither of them could do it for legal and safely reasons. Would she be able to tag along to the recording studio for a day?
Bad idea! Jethro is heavily into editing this week, and let me tell you, editing is not a spectator sport! Holy rollin' boring! Click. Click. Click. Sometimes it's not just tuning one word at a time, it's one syllable at a time, or worse, one consonant at a time! Plus he'd be heading right into the city. And he'd be gone for about 16 hours. Besides, the way his work often goes, he could end up at a different place with a totally different project! Not ideal job shadowing.
But could Heidi do it?
Heck why not. Susan and I got all the paperwork together so that C could ride, I gave C details on what to wear (layers! hat! gloves!) and made sure my riding boots fit her.
Sure enough the first snowfall of the year greeted us yesterday morning...
But it was my day to work, and it was her day to go to work, so we got in the truck and headed out to the barn.
(Pause...I just got hit with the weirdness of that last sentence. Will I ever get used to driving out to the barn? Heck why not drive over to the fridge for a snack and a beer afterwards?)
The first thing we did when we got there was to give Tia and Skyla a nice pat. Despite not growing up with horses, C really took to them. She's a real animal lover. I had warned her that the horses spent the night in the barn because of the nasty cold rain, and that our work today would include cleaning out stalls. I handed her a fork and showed her how to scoop up chunks of poop and sift the clean shavings out. No problem. It's just like cleaning the litter box. Only it's a 10ft by 10ft litter box...
When the barn was cleaned out, I brought the horses in. Skyla got a good grooming, then shoved back outside to play because it wasn't her day to work. I explained as we went along what each groomng tool does, how to use it, and why we use it.
I was enjoying the whole thing.
I tried to encourage her to think about safe horse handling instead of just telling her what to do. When we work on a horse's leg, we kneel instead of squat. Why do you think that is? If you're squatted down and the horse made a sudden move...that's right. You could end up sprawled on the cement with a hoof in your belly. The horse's hoof goes up, it's going to come back down. Where should your foot be? Somewhere else!
When we tacked up Tia, I had more to explain, because each piece of equipment we strap onto a horse keeps us safe while we're riding. Here's the saddle- obviously your bum goes in it, and your feet go here, in the stirrups. The reason why I made you wear boots with heels is to prevent your feet from going through the stirrup. Can you imagine what would happen if your feet went through?
This is a bridle. See how it's different from the halter she wears all the time. These are your reins- they help you steer, but they are not handles!
I'm putting the bit in her mouth. Watch this- see how I've got my thumb in the corner of her mouth? Am I crazy??? It's okay because she has no teeth there. See? Here are her front teeth, and the rest are waaaay back here, where we can't even see them.
I rode for about fifteen minutes, just to put Tia through her paces. It was a pretty good ride, and I tried to explain the differenes between the walk, jog, trot and lope as we did each gait. I assured C that she didn't need to do all that on her first ride.
When it was C's turn, I recognized that look, the one everybody gets when they've only been on a horse once before. It's a combination of fear, exhilaration, and amazement. Sometimes I forget how different the world looks from up there. I forget how unbalanced a rider can feel when the horse takes a first step. I don't remember my first time on a horse's back because I was too young!
Before we did anything else, I went through the mechanics of riding- what to do with your legs and hands, stretch your legs down, push down your heels for balance, and get your shoulders up. And before we take that first step, this is how you're going to stop her. Let's try backing her up. Now squeeze with your legs and make a clucking sound in the back of your mouth.
And look at that!
Tia of course had to be convinced that this kid on her back really meant it. I had to encourage C to actually kick the horse, assuring her that she wouldn't kick hard enough to hurt Tia or make her mad. New riders are rarely assertive enough to really get their point across.
Susan came out to mentor my lesson. This is all part of the process for getting my certification. She brought out a lunge whip, which was handy for keeping Tia moving. If C wasn't quite able to cue the mare, I would sweep the long whip across the ground in the direction I wanted them to go. I never touched the horse, but she knew what it meant. Susan gave me pointers on where to position my own body to encourage the horse and rider to move along, but not get in their way and make them accidentally stop. One of my jobs as a coach will be to make the lesson a positive experience. I felt pretty good about the whole thing.
At the beginning of the lesson, C was kind of hunched over and her hands were resting on the pommel of the saddle (that's the high part at the front where the horn sticks out of, in case you need a lesson too!) I was walking beside them to give her a bit of security. I looked up at her and said, "You know what? I'm going to make you take your hands off that saddle."
She looked slightly terrified.
She's a great kid though, and willing. She never complained once...even when her teeth started chattering from the cold.
By the end of the half hour lesson, C was steering Tia back and forth through a line of pylons. Inside leg, outside rein. Outside leg, inside rein. She could stop here and cue for forward again. She could back her up.
And do you know what was the best part? The accomplishment was awesome, yes, but from a purely selfish standpoint, because I helped her get to that accomplishment, for me the best part was the look on that kid's face! Confident, proud, and happy.
And freezing. We brought Tia back into the barn and snugged her up in her rug, sent her outside, and went in to warm up our bums. We aren't used to the cold yet. In January this would be a nice balmy day but we're still on October temperature. I might have to bust out the long johns soon.
So, C learned a very tiny slice of the horse business. Barn cleaning, horse care, and the workings of a riding lesson, as well as the demands of weather and temperature. We both had a good day- she got a free lesson, and I got to teach a beginner again.
Four years ago, with my dear old Champ, I had a few students. Two were beginners. My own kids hardly count because I started them when they were about three years old! It was good to start off from the beginning with someone new.
I told her I felt like this was a cheat for her school project because I don't get paid for my work yet. But we agreed...it's still work!! Besides, this was way more interesting than taking her to my other work- which involves watching me type.
When I was home, wrapped up in a blanket and defrosting my toes, I had a very solid realization. I don't have to second guess myself. I wonder all the time if I'm really cut out for this. Would I be better off just keeping my horses somewhere cheap and riding just for my own fun? Do I really have a desire to teach other people?
Yeah, I do. I like teaching. I love horses, I love the feeling of co-operation between us, and I want other people to know what it's like. I love that buzz I get when I have convinced a 900lb critter to go where I want us to go. I love the contented look in the horse's eye after a good ride. I want to share that. And, I can justify my selfish need to have horses in my life if they help me teach!
So I spent the rest of the afternoon reading and scribbling in my notebook, living my dreams, man, because...all I ever wanted to do with my life...was write stories and ride horses.