When Sammy arrived with her mother, Stoney and Cowgirl were out in the orchard. Sammy stood with her mother for a few minutes, watching them graze, then turned to me and said, “Can I help?” Seven is small. Sammy is a small seven and could not be described as robust, even in the broadest sense of the word. The task at hand was lugging a hundred pounds of manure at a time into the orchard (to fertilize trees). Sammy gamely grabbed one side of the handle of the garden cart and started to pull and it actually helped.
After the second load, a light came on in Sammy’s brain. s
She said, “Have the horses had their buckets?” She was most pleased that they had not and she scampered down the hill and into the tack room to go and prepare them.
The original plan had been for Sammy’s friend Katelyn to join her and Sammy had been most disappointed that Katelyn had come on a different day. But then her mother told her, “Deborah says that the two of you can just do whatever you want.” This completely made up for the absence of her friend and Sammy did just that. Following the buckets, Sammy got to work on grooming. Cowgirl’s coat was brushed to a fine shine and her mane and tail combed through. The crowning touch was a red bow stuck on to the middle of her mane, Quewpie doll style. This took up the better part of our “lesson” time.
Sammy is not the most courageous of riders. Her lessons started off all right, but she has an excellent imagination, which means she did a thorough job of imagining just what it would feel like if she fell off. Her “lessons” quickly degenerated into Sammy quivering in a corner and glowering at me. We finally made the agreement that she could do what she liked with her time with the horses under the condition that she spend a minimum of half an hour sitting on the horse, even if that meant just sitting on an unmoving horse in the arena.
In the beginning, she did just that. But bit by bit she expanded her repertoire to riding Cowgirl part way to the arena, then half way and, within the last month, riding all the way to the arena (at a walk, on a lead line).
One of the biggest obstacles to successful riding is the human (primate) propensity to hold on with their hands, especially when they feel any kind of fear. With tense hands attached to the reins the horse feels like it’s head is in a vice grip. It results in a sour horse and an unhappy ride.
There is a Russian man, Nevzorov, who is famous in the horse world for having his horses do everything from pirouettes to pliés. Not only does he not use a bridle, he doesn’t even put halters on his horses: No head restraint at all. If I could get away with this, I would, but just isn’t safe. In the meantime I spend a lot of time repeating, “let your hands go with the horses head” and “relax your body, let your hands relax.”
Most of the kids try, at least for a little bit, but then quickly revert. A lot of them move their hands in the rhythm opposite to the horses motion. (For the record, hands move at the walk, but are still at the trot.) But not Sammy. Part way to the arena she caught herself, looked startled for a moment, then her hands (and elbows) released into the motion of Cowgirls nodding head. Cowgirl immediately gave a deep sigh of relief, lengthened her stride and relaxed her body. Sammy kept her hands moving in constant, synchronized rhythm all the way to the arena. Sammy may not be the most astonishing rider, but, as most appreciated by Cowgirl, she cares more about Cowgirl’s comfort than does about her own fears. As far as I’m concerned, Sammy can stay at walk as long as she feels like it!