Saturdays

“What’s up Allison? You are usually perky and chatty, but today you’ve hardly said anything?” Instead of her normally bright, rosy cheeks, her skin looked a little gray. A few wisps of her unruly, black, curly hair stuck out from under her helmet. She replied in a monotone, “I’m fine.” She’d sulked at Quail. She’s sulked riding from Quail to Campo. She’d stood around glumly, arms limp at her sides, eyes downcast, as the rest of the crew groomed and cleaned and tacked the horses. The ride over to the arena, which takes about half an hour, hadn’t improved her mood any.

“Are you feeling shy because you don’t know Claire?” (Claire normally doesn’t ride on Saturday’s.) She replied with a laconic, “No.”

Allison is the child that one mother described a “spicey”. She’s a favorite of the older girls because of her gusto and enthusiasm and her sharp wit and constant wisecracks.

As we approached the arena, she finally said, “my mom likes to buy one thing each year to decorate the house for Halloween, but my dad doesn’t like that. We bought something and my dad doesn’t know about it yet.” This must have felt good to get off her chest because moments later, her clear, crackly voice returned as she passionately described a fabulous, huge bat with glow in the dark eyes that she had selected.

The first and foremost activity at the arena was examining the Halloween costume decorating supplies that Victoria and I had purchased at Michael’s yesterday and then brainstorming how to use them. (Pom poms, tempera paint, ribbon and felt.) But there’s only so much planning you can do and after about twenty minutes, Victoria and Shana saddled up their horses and started tootling about the arena. Allison untied Cowgirl, clipped the reins on to her bridle and tried to follow after the bigger girls who had devised an eleven year-old version of a drill team practice and were trotting and cantering at specified intervals, in tandem, across the area.

Even though Allison had picked up emotionally, she was clearly tired. She’d done a core dump of everything she’d every learned in a previous lesson and it was as if I’d never told her anything at all and nothing I said would register (all sure signs of fatigue). Cowgirl would only move an inch at a time for her. If she was a less stoic child, she would have been in tears. Cowgirl finally tried to roll with Allison aboard. We untacked CG, who promptly rolled, and got Allison going on Freedom.

By this time, Jill and Savannah, who own Freedom, had arrived. As they patiently waited while Allison did her best at riding Freedom, but mostly struggling and  building frustration, they started playing games on Cowgirl, which included trying to ride her double and then trying to ride her double with one rider sitting on Cowgirl’s butt. This was too much weight for the stalwart little pony. Allison, now feeling defeated, had come to rest with Freedom in the “corner” that were had all congregated to watch the antics of Savannah and Jill and Shana.

I told Jill and Shana if they were going to ride double, they really had to double up on Freedom. I don’t know who decided what, but the next thing I knew, there was Jill, Shana and Allison, all in a row on Freedom’s back walking and trotting around and giggling themselves silly. As fun as it looked, I asked Shana to wait out a turn while Jill rode double with Allison. (Three at a time is just a little too much for this riding instructor!)

Jill has been riding since she could walk and vaulting for seven years. She’s more stable on the back of a horse than walking on her feet. With Jill’s long, lithe, relaxed body behind her, Allison could relax and Allison’s body could learn directly from a body that already knows how to trot and canter and ask a horse to move and turn and she couldn’t have been more delighted. Finally, Allison was happy.

Not wanting Shana to get short changed, Allison had to end her turn after ten minutes and she was perfectly happy to take up a lead rope and drag a friend of hers, Rachel, who had just arrived for her lesson, around the arena. By the time Shana’s dad arrived to pick her up, she was balanced on Freedom’s rump, laughing hysterically, with Jill up front doing what, I don’t know.

The next hour or so consisted of Victoria and Jillian and Savannah riding around with Rachel, helping her learn to keep pace and learn to jump, followed by Savannah practicing her vaulting, Victoria practicing cantering without reins and Jill galloping on Velvet bareback (while Rachel took a turn helping with clean up). About ten minutes short of finally being ready to leave the arena, Maya showed up with her grandparents, who were babysitting for the weekend.

Maya uses language sparingly, but the look on her face said everything: Straight line of the mouth, no dimples. She was not happy about not being part of the riding. I don’t know if it was the grandparents idea or hers, but she’d taken them to Quail to show them the barn and then to the arena. We did have a fifth horse for her to ride and I offered, but she hesitated. Finally her grandmother said, “Are you not going to ride because you think you might disappoint us? Don’t worry. We’ll be OK.” The dimples and smile appeared almost immediately and Maya said, “I’d like to ride Stoney!” So off to the barns it was (with Maya), via Clark’s field.

Riding home, the girls thought up games: Everyone has to touch the same branch as they pass or grab the branch and pass it back. It was an unusually entertaining ride with the big girls (Savannah, Jillian, Victoria and Maya) making sure they waited for me to catch up when they galloped a head, or waited behind as Rachel and I jogged a head of them so they could have a good gallop and so it was when we crossed Clark’s field.

Victoria has been talking about mounted archery for months, but we don’t have a mounted archery bow and we have yet to train a horse to keep cantering after you’ve dropped it’s reins. But she did figure out she can start building towards her archery goals by practicing trotting and cantering with her hands outstretched on either side like wings.

Not wanting Rachel to come flying off as Cowgirl charged across the field, she (on Cowgirl) and myself (on foot)  jogged about two thirds of the field, with the agreement that the rest of the crew would wait five minutes, then follow at whatever speed they chose.

As Cowgirl grazed and Rachel and I looked back across the field, Velvet and Freedom and Chavali and Stoney came flying across the meadow. It was quite a sight, but Victoria had forgotten her drill. I hollered out, “Victoria! Your hands!” Her arms shot out, perpendicular to her body, almost instantly followed by Jillian’s arms shooting out, then Savannah’s and then Maya’s! Four girls, galloping across Clark’s field, all with their arms outstretched like wings.

They slowed to a walk when they got within ten feet of us, I quickly inserted Rachel and Cowgirl in the very center of the line, unclipped the lead rope, said a quick prayer and then off they went, cantering the remaining third of the meadow, though with the addition of the less skilled rider, the older girls kept their hands on the reins and their horses under control.

Saturday ended around 5:30 with Victoria, Jill and Savannah taking care of the horses at Campo and Maya, Rachel and myself heading to Quail where Maya’s grandparents and Rachel’s dad waiting to pick them up and take them home.

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