Last weekend, I had my first official riding lesson. Well, actually it was more of a lesson for my horse, with a world famous horse trainer, Dave Seay. The general opinion is, it doesn’t matter how well you ride if your mount isn’t well trained. A good horse is the foundation of a good riding experience. Makes sense to me.
I’ve looked for a place for progressive lessons for Neva every since we bought our horses 1 ½ years ago. I have enrolled her in two local academies, but they haven’t taught her much. These stables continually assign her a teenage instructor who barely scratches the surface of basics, following no progressive syllabus of teaching. Heck, I can teach my kid better than that, even with my limited information. Still, I’d rather my daughter get good training from someone with far more experience than I did. When you are isolated in the boonies, good riding education pickin’s are slim. I admit, I have high expectations of teachers working with youth. I believe students deserve a good foundation for any skill. Eventually, we get tired of paying for private lessons and seeing no results, my daughter bored and yawning as she endlessly walks around the ring astride a twenty one year old, over-trained animal, never increasing her comfort outside of the ring. We withdraw, because I fear if we don’t, Neva will decide horseback riding isn’t much fun.
The other day, while buying feed, I noticed a poster announcing that the Cadence Equestrian Center is finally open and hosting some riding clinics. This place is a short five minutes from my house and it happens that the clinic they were offering that very day was “How to break in a colt”. Considering my baby horse is one year old now, I was devastated to have missed it, nevertheless, I called for more information. I was intrigued.
The Cadence Equestrian Center is a new subdivision they are building on 200 wilderness acres, butt up against the Cohutta National Forest (where public riding trails are available). They are building upscale log style homes in this new project that start at a 1.3 million dollars (each on only 1-3 acres). We viewed a model home, and it isn’t any nicer (or bigger) than Marks amazing house. Remarkable to think what people can and will buy.
Rich people live in equestrian communities in the mountains the way people buy homes on golf courses. They pay for the natural, horse-friendly environment and the surrounding culture, dropping hefty commentary fees for fancy grounds upkeep and special perks. Instead of a golf club house, these equestrian communities get an Olympic size-riding ring under roof, a riding clubhouse and miles of trails woven throughout the pretty grounds. They also have a state of the art 21 stall barn. Outsiders can board horses here if they wish. Not me, of course. Why would I want to give up the joy of shoveling my own horse patties?
I told Mark I wish I knew where this Cadence place was, because it looks mighty cool, so he drove me over, and sure enough, just down the street from our house, is this newly erected, huge riding facility. No homes finished yet, but you can see the foundations. Each gorgeous rustic home has a pretty view and a classy stacked stone driveway, but the homes are side by side. It is definitely a “neighborhood” like those fancy divisions around golf courses. I wondered about the people who will live here. It’s very different than our home nestled in the back of a private chunk of land. Granted, we have to do all the maintenance work ourselves, but I like it that way. I guess I have the heart of a hermit – and I’ve had enough awkward neighbor experiences to last a lifetime. I like our privacy.
Despite the fact that the subdivision is just getting started, Cadence is already beginning riding clinics to attract people to the community and to help sell the product. Therefore, they’ve brought in a famous horse trainer, Dave Seay, who produces videos, lectures across America and gives demonstrations at big riding shows and rodeos. This fellow has been featured in every horse magazine, every equestrian event etc, etc… in the country. In other words, he is a big shot in the western horse world.
I thought, “How cool is that?” and I signed up for a two-hour private lesson. The fact is, they are just getting this program off the ground, so I want to take advantage of the availability of the master teacher. I figured I would ride over, (considering I don’t own a horse trailer) but the director offered to come pick me and the horse up. Wow. What service! But then, I started to feel slightly uncomfortable.
I began to get all intimidated and nervous. What the hell was I thinking? I am nothing but a riding hack. I had a horse when I was a kid. I took one summer of lessons at a riding camp because my parents wouldn’t allow me to go to dance camp (they wanted me to diversify so I’d be a well-rounded individual. Umm.. that didn’t work.) Other than that, I am just a “climb on and have fun” sort of rider. My sister was the trained equestrian. I was the dancer with the alter ego of being a tomboy who just loved animals, so she played around horses. Ee-gad, this guy was going to take one look at me slumped in the saddle, turn his nose up and ask why I was wasting his time!
Then I started worrying about my horses too. I love my babies, but face it, people at high-end equestrian centers have high-end horses they pay 20K and up for. I have a couple of average horses I paid between 1200 and 3500 dollars for. They are hacks too. I now imagined this man lifting eyebrows at not just me, but my bumpkin horses. I have cheap tack too, cause heck, I only consider myself a recreational rider. What more do I need?
Thinking about all this, I got so disturbed, I actually considered canceling, but deep down I know the best thing in the world would be to learn what I was doing, so I could be Neva’s teacher. So, I decided to see it through. But, honestly, I worried about it all night. Mark laughed at me and said I was foolish to be concerned. I was paying for the lesson so what difference did it make if I was a numbskull that didn’t know anything. Gee, that made me feel better.
I got up at 6 am, panicked, and decided I had to wash my horse. As if his being clean would camaflouge his inadequacy. Ha. I chose to take my best-behaved horse (who happens to be white – or at least he is supposed to be white but he is always brown because he loves to roll in dirt) and brought him to the house to use the hose. Of course, the first thing he did was take a dump on the driveway. Mark gave me hell and forbade me to ever wash the horses there again. Gee Wiz, honey, it’s organic. Give me a break. (Issues crop up often over the fact that I have no sense of smell and my animals . . . well, let’s just say everyone else can smell them fine.) Anyway, I saddled Peppy up and waited out front at the entrance of our land, twisting my hands with anxiousness. My horse was eating the long spring grass, pulling at this halter and being a general nuisance. He literally drags me around because he is bigger than me.
Up comes Dave Seay and his assistant. He takes one look at Peppy bullying me and says, “This isn’t a safe horse.”
I said, “Don’t tell me that. He is my best horse.”
“He will be when we are through,” Dave says under his breath.
I know in an instant this guy means business. I almost swoon with self-consciousness. Meanwhile, Peppy is still dragging me around to get mouthfuls of clover. I feel like one of those preschool parents who are trying to have a sophisticated conversation while their kid is pulling on their arm, whining and making the situation embarrassing. As much as I will the horse to behave in front of this horse savvy trainer, he is doing whatever he wants, making me look ultimately ineffective. I am, of course, but Peppy didn’t have to advertise it so readily, did he?
When I am learning something new (which I’ve been doing a lot of lately), I always think of my former students and what it was like for them to tackle dance. I think one of the things that made me an effective dance teacher is the way I tend to put myself in another’s shoes. I spent a great deal of time training my teachers to understand the mindset of someone new to dance. Anyway, there isn’t a moment I approach something new that a part of my mind doesn’t flash back to classes I’ve taught and the eager, yet concerned, faces of students who were compelled to dance. And this ignites some kind of fortitude within. Because, from the dance angle, I know that there is nothing wrong with being a beginner. In fact, it is very good to come to something with no preconceived understanding, because then you can develop skills in the best manner, unencumbered by bad habits. When I reconsider things in this way, I start getting excited about being a beginner.
We go to the riding facility and unload Peppy. Dave tells me that we won’t be riding until the horse responds perfectly on the ground. “If you can’t control a horse off of him, you certainly can’t do so from on his back”, he insists.
And our lesson begins. He uses flags and swings a rope to teach the horse to respect boundaries. I’m watching, amazed and impressed, but I am thinking, Surely you don’t think I can do that. Of course, a few moments later he hands me the rope and says, “your turn.”
I won’t give you a play by play of the lesson, but I will say that I didn’t tie myself up and have to hop around the ring like a ill coordinated cartoon character with her feet bound together by her own inapt roping (though at first, I came close). Slowly, I got more confident, and by the end of two hours I was whipping that rope around like Annie Oakley, making that horse understand I was going to be the boss for now on. When he was good, I was allowed to love on him (stroke his nose and whisper praise) but if he moved his feet one inch towards me, I had to get tough again. It was a lesson in control for us both! Later, I was asked to ride, and things went well in that department too.
Dave said Peppy was a “gem” and one of the best little trained horses he’s seen in some time. He said he was smart, well trained and good-natured. I was thrilled cause the fact is, I bought our horses without an inkling of understanding of what to look for. And this is, after all, the horse I put my daughter on. I need him to be a good horse. I commented that my other horses were not nearly as well behaved and that is why I chose Peppy for the lesson.
Dave said, “Always bring your worst horse to a training lesson. You can go home to practice with the good ones, but bring me the bad ones. That is what a professional is for. And sometimes, the bad ones become good ones in a single lesson. Have faith.”
Of course. Had I not been so concerned with how I was going to appear to the big shot professional, I would have figured that out from the beginning. Now, that I feel more confident and know what to expect, that is exactly what I will do.
I signed up for an 8-hour horse basic training clinic in two weeks, and next time, Mark will go too. We will bring our other two (mischievous tempered) horses and make a day of it. Mark will appreciate learning these basics as much as I, and frankly, I need his memory to help me recall the details later. He is a good sport about things like this. Horses are more my thing, but he enjoys being involved so he has a base understanding of what I’m up to. Call us the Cowboy Hendrys! Yep, were trading in our tap shoes for riding boots. Can’t wait. Later, I will learn how to break our young colt through these clinics (maybe try my hand at the donkey too), and I’ll get solid skills to help me handle and train all our horses from here on. I have intentions of taking private riding lessons as well. They said soon they will be offering traditional riding lessons for all levels, (with solid teachers other than the famous trainer, thankfully making them cost effective – the only way I could consider continuing with this.) So eventually, I will enroll Neva too. Looks like I’ve found exactly what I was looking for just outside my back door. Amazing how God provides.
I was excited to get in a ring with someone who could explain not just HOW to work the horse, but WHY. He taught me what the horse was thinking, and why he reacts the way he does to my actions. And the information I learned can be applied at home to all my horses forevermore. I am delighted to know that if I apply myself in these lessons, and follow up with practice, I can become a true horsewoman. It is important to me that I’m not “faking it” or fumbling around, possibly wrecking animals who have the potential to be great. I am someone who needs to feel good at what they do. Not for ego sake or because I plan to do anything with this skill in a professional vein (I don’t ever plan to do anything with horses except enjoy them at home in the pleasure of my own privacy) , but because I have an intellectual curiosity about the world and how it works.
I feel an intimate bond with my horses. There is something so special about working in harmony with nature. It offers me a deep sense of serenity within unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. I believe that being skilled at horse handling makes this entire horseback riding thing better for everyone involved. The riders and the horses. Therefore it is my responsibility to learn all I can to enhance the experience for all.
Anyway, I am entering a new phase of animal explorations. And it is very exciting. My sister, the serous horsewoman, is coming to visit this week. I can’t wait to show off what I learned. This information is all old news to her, of course, but now, we have some common ground for discussion, and that opens the door to all kinds of sibling fun.
For twenty years, we’ve never had a weekend off, due to our commitments to dance. Now, weekends are for family and for fun. My appreciation for the time and the freedom to follow an interest and/or to do something recreational as a family is profound. And as you can see, I’m taking advantage of it. THIS WEEKEND I TOOK MY BEE CLASS!
I will tell you about it, of course, but not now. I have homework to do today. I just didn’t want to forget to share the horse thing and this entry has been sitting around, half written, for a week. Tomorrow you’ll get the buzz about bees, I promise.
High ho, Silver, away…..