Some lessons just can't be taught in a classroom. Things like learning how to push through your fears. Or how to make split second decisions and then be willing to accept the immediate consequences. For those kinds of lessons you need a special kind of teacher. In steps the horse.
My 14 year old daughter had owned her new horse, her first horse, a whopping two whole months. She was very new to horses. So new, in fact, that she only had a few measly hours of riding experience under her belt.
She thought the world of her new mare. It was all very exciting. A mix of pure joy and fear. You know what I'm talking about. The thrill of actually owning your own horse. Not a rental horse, not a lesson horse, but your very own living breathing real live horse...injected with bouts of fear.
We're talking about the multitude of fears a new-to-horses person has to overcome. Fear of falling off, fear of being kicked or stepped on, worry about weather or not you are picking their feet correctly, or hurting their mouth with the bit, or getting your saddle screwed on too tight or too loose, or knowing how to stop, or argue with a horse that won't do as you say....and the fear of riding in scary places. Namely steep narrow trails and big down hill slopes.
Or in my daughters case, our neighbors steep paved driveway....
At the time, we did not yet own a horse trailer. All of our riding took place right from our front yard and into our neighborhood. We took the same boring roads, ride after ride. One dirt road in particular was a favorite because it had the least traffic.
Well, our favorite, not my daughter's mare. The poor horse was getting very bored with it all to say the least. In protest she would try to turn back at every driveway. At every driveway my daughter and her horse would have an argument; horse fighting to turn back and rider fighting to press on.
My daughter would get frustrated and angry and especially mad at me as I would calmly give verbal directions and watch her struggle from the comfort of my own saddle. As if her problems where all my fault!
You see, we viewed things completely differently. What she saw as an annoying interruption in our ride, I saw as a training opportunity. These weren't rides. They were riding lessons. And it was high time she learned to control her horse in all circumstances.
On this occasion my daughter was loosing the battle with her horse. Her mare turned and sidestepped all the way up the long, very steep, paved driveway. I watched patiently giving the usual verbal instruction until they disappeared around the bend. Not wanting to loose sight of them, I followed on up.
They had come to the top of the driveway and my daughter was fit to be tied. Did I mention my daughter has a temper? Especially when she's scared? Well you might have guessed it, being that she was right smack dab in the middle of those awful puberty years....heaven help us!
At the top of the driveway sat my daughter with a death grip on the reins and saddle horn. If looks could kill I would have been blasted right out of the saddle.
"MOM!" she screamed, "I don't feel physically or emotionally safe!"
Now, I don't know what she expected me to say, but what I did do was burst out laughing. Apparently that was the wrong response.
"MOM!" she shrieked ,"Don't laugh at me! I'm serious! I don't feel physically or emotionally safe!"
"What are you talking about? Where did you come up with that?"
"That's what they teach us at school. So I'm telling you now, I don't feel physically or emotionally safe! She's going to fall. She can't walk down this! I'm going to get off and walk back!"
Now she had my full attention. Are you kidding me? Here you have a person thrown into a situation that calls for a clear head and swift decisive action and she's busy spewing verbal garbage about how she feels about it all? Is this how they are teaching kids at school these days? To handle pressure in the midst of a situation by talking about their feelings?!
There is a time for talking and a time for doing. When you're on a horse, talking and book learning doesn't cut it. It's all physical baby. And emotional, because I was getting a little hot under the collar at my daughters cop-out response to a situation that she had blown way out of proportion.
"Don't you dare get off that horse!" I barked. "Mind your feet, your seat and your hands and the rest will take care of itself. These horses are perfectly capable of walking down this hill. It's time you put a little faith in your horse. Let loose of that saddle horn and mind your reins!"
"No Mom, I'm scared, I'm getting off!"
Now my inner Drill Sergeant was in full swing. "Stop whining and get a grip on yourself...NOW!"
"But Mom..." she shrieked.
"SHUT UP AND RIDE!" I bellowed.
Together we rode the horses down the steep driveway. Once at the bottom I watched all the tension drain from her body. I shot her a big smile, "Now that wasn't so bad was it?" I said gently,"I knew you could do it. Now make her continue up the road..."
Several months later.......
We were on a trail ride deep in the woods. Now it's wasn't just the two of us, but her younger twin sisters were riding their own horses too.
"Mom? Do you remember when I was so scared to ride down that stupid little hill?"
"I'm sure glad you made me do it anyway."
"When are my sisters going to quit being such babies? I'm sick of it! They're afraid of every little thing...the little whiners!"
"Give 'em time. They'll learn."
"Hey Mom, guess what Nicole said at school.......blah, blah, blah...."
After a full 10 minutes of non-stop teenage blathering....
"Hey kid, my little darling dear... will you please...please... just shut up and ride?"
Written by Cathy Cleveland © 2014