Dce 21, 2011, (Off)

It’s yet another crappy, rainy day. It seems like I can hardly get two days in a row of decent riding weather and then it’s miserable again for a few days. We’ve been in this weather pattern for the last year now, and I’m pretty sick of it. When I had a 28 year-old horse it didn’t much matter what the weather was like as I didn’t feel the daily pressure to get her out. But this year things are different and I can’t help feeling that I should have been more productive than things turned out to be. And our downfall was 100% related to nasty weather.

So we get another day off. That’s not horrible, but it wasn’t what I had planned for today. Not having much else on my agenda this morning, I sat down at my computer and caught up on email and reading. A fellow equine blogger that I follow had written an interesting post about being “horse crazy” since birth and trying to find acceptance in the equine community as she grew up. Unable to have a horse of her own, she baptized herself into the horse world by working in the equine industry and learning via firsthand experience, albeit with other people’s horses. Yet for some reason feeling accepted into and affirmed by the greater equine community somehow eluded her. Why? Because she didn’t have a horse of her own.

Like her, I spent most of my youth fantasizing about owning and riding horses. Whenever opportunity arose, I pestered horse owners relentlessly, begging them to give me a ride. Though we didn’t live in an area where horses were typically found, we sometimes visited the countryside where horse and pony sightings were far more common. On those rare occasions I would bolt at the clip-clop of approaching hooves like a child who runs toward the jingle-jangle of an ice cream truck bell. When we visited a summer fair, I would abandon my family just to hang out around the pony ride.

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As I grew a bit older, my favorite summer event was attending the pony and horse pulls with my family. I was fortunate that, although my father was not a full time farmer, he was well liked and respected among the local horsemen. Once these men got to know (and trust) me, I was allowed to help harness and hitch their teams. Looking back, I can’t imagine anyone letting someone’s non-horse reared child help with this task, but it was a different time and they welcomed the extra help. Me? I was thrilled, even if it meant just standing for hours in the hot sun holding a grazing pony on the end of a lead rope.

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 I still enjoy watching pony and horse pulls, only now I usually watch them through the lens of my camera.

So thinking about all this and the blog I read earlier made think about my own past and path with horses. My father bought a pony for the family when I was about ten. She was young, unbroken and quite an advanced “project” for an inexperienced child. But children and fools have no fear so I guess my parents didn’t see the harm in letting me give this pony a shot. We did have some help in the form of a family friend who had grown up riding horses on his parents farm. But he was a grown man and couldn’t be expected to back such a little Welsh pony.

I remember we did some ground work, if you could call it that. We taught the pony to be haltered, lead and eventually to be saddled. Perhaps we sacked her out, but I don’t recall and it’s probably unlikely. I remember getting helped up on her while our friend held her head, then her bucking and shaking and and basically just doing everything she could to get me off. Sometimes she succeeded. Eventually, the friend started to let go of the lead rope as he walked beside us. I was nervous, but not really scared. I knew Topsy would buck … I expected it. But I learned not to be afraid of that. I knew it was just part of the process of her learning to be ridden.

I rode that pony as much as I possibly could until I was thirteen or so, when my parents broke down and bought me a horse of my own. By then, my folks had made the decision to leave the ‘burbs and relocate in the country. They purchased an old run-down dairy farm that my father intended to convert back into an operating “Gentleman’s Farm.” You see, my father was a farmer at heart, but a doctor by profession, and sometimes I think he used my love for horses as the catalyst for leaving city life and livin’ the dream. I sure can’t fault him for that!

Through most of my teens I was involved in riding my barrel racing horse. She was fast, well broke and very competitive, and the riding skills that were learned at the expense of a feisty Welsh pony were further honed on the back of this capable mare. Bottom line, Serena made me look pretty damn good … far better than I probably actually was. In defense of myself, I did have to learn how to stay with such a fast moving, quick turning horse. But as quick as Serena was, she never gave a buck or a hop in her life, and I could eventually learn to relax and enjoy the ride.

If there’s a common theme with my fellow blogger, it’s that while I had my own pony, I never once had a riding lesson in all this time. Oh, I rode plenty of horses, some who were very challenging to ride, but I never had formal instruction of any sort. I was a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of rider, who did pretty well I might add.

Many years later, when I was in my mid 30’s, my husband decided he wanted to learn how to ride. Not anxious to try to teach him, I signed him up to take lessons nearby. I went with him for the first few lessons to make sure it was the right kind of place for him, but also because I was curious. I wanted to see how riding was taught, especially to an adult. Each time I went I found myself wanting to do more than just watch, but it seemed a bit foolish to pay good money to take lessons for something I thought I already knew how to do. But the more I watched the more I started to realize how little I actually knew about the technical aspects of riding. Sure, I’d picked up some things instinctively and from basic repetition, but many of the finer points had eluded me all those years. So I asked the instructor if I could join the class. She was very willing to let me.

It wasn’t long before I noticed something unusual happened during our lesson: The instructor often didn’t expect me to perform the same exercises as the rest of the group. Now granted, the other students were all beginners of various levels, but still. Why was I exempt from having to practice the same basic skills? She seemed to treat me as though I didn’t need to be taught or corrected because I already knew how to ride. In the end, I didn’t take lessons for more than a few months because I wasn’t learning or perfecting anything new. I came away from the whole experience feeling foolish and never tried to take another lesson again until I bought Dharla last March.

I sometimes share my blogging friend’s feelings of not being good enough or of not knowing enough because I didn’t grow up with a ‘formal’ horsey background. I mostly learned from the school of hard knocks, and while that’s really OK, it means I don’t have the bragging rights to the credentials so many like to see. Usually I don’t get too hung up on this, but I sometimes feel a bit left in the dust when horsey friends start throwing around buzz words and terms I never much cared to learn. But I’m not an armchair expert either. I’ve lived with horses in my back yard for almost 45 years. I think a little knowledge has rubbed off along the way … or at least I sure hope so!

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