“Where are you? Are you close to the arena?” It was Shaliza, Arya’s mother calling. ” I got the time of the choir concert wrong and I need to pick Arya up now.” Arya was not going to like this. Her pick up was already going to be half an hour earlier than usual. Saturday morning is young rider morning, or munchkin morning, made possible by reliable assistance from Kate. She held Cowgirl’s lead rope while coaching Arya through picking hooves; she pushes the wheel barrow at Campo while Arya, Jaya and Sophie scoop the poop and then pushes the girls, giving each a turn, in the wheel barrow after dumping it; she keeps the girls running back and forth fetching tack. Today she even insisted on coaching Sophie, who is seven, through putting on Velvet’s bridle. Without Kate, I think these girls would never learn to ride.
We now have a bareback pad for Cowgirl. Cowgirl hates the saddle. The kids hate Cowgirl’s saddle. The little kids can stay on Cowgirl at a walk with the bareback pad, which is sticky, and learn better riding position that way. We left Stoney at Quail for Rachel and walked Cowgirl to Campo with Sophie riding and Kate leading. I followed with Dante and fell behind. By the time I got to Campo, they had Cowgirl tied and had grabbed muck forks, ready for the next task. But before they headed into the paddock to clean, Kate turned to me and said,”Sophie cantered on CG! She liked it and wants to canter again!” As Sophie is not the most ambitious rider, I was astonished; even more astonished at the fact that Kate can clearly keep up on foot with Cowgirl’s canter going up hill.
I got the call from Shaliza while walking up La Paloma. Rachel and Lainey kept riding up La Paloma in order to have a fun canter over the Via Arline pathway while Kate, who leading Sophie on Cowgirl, Jaya (on Velvet) and me, leading Arya on Dancer turned right to take the shorter, but much steeper, route up Westwind Way, at the top of which, we met Shaliza, coming to pick up Arya. Arya’s loss was Sophie’s gain as Kate, now mounted on Dancer, was able to pony Sophie on CG and canter for several long stretches, Sophie riding Cowgirl like a pro, me with my heart in my throat. When we got to the arena Kate told me that Sophie wanted to show her mom how she cantered, but didn’t have it in me to tempt fate and told Sophie we were going to have to wait for another day. When we got to the arena I also got a text from Shaliza. Arya had cried all the way home.
It was just as well that Arya and Sophie had to leave early because Jana rode over from Page Mill Pastures on Binki to school Rachel and Kate. We put CG and Chavi in the round pen. While Rachel and Kate got their lesson, Jaya rode around on Velvet and Lainey and I sat in lawn chairs. We talked about PE and music and summer plans and Lainey ate half of my lunch. Kayla also showed up around this time. She was not so keen on watching and chatting and started to put Cowgirl through her paces.
Jaya got picked up at one. Kayla was eager to put out trot poles, but I asked her to wait a bit until the lesson was done. By one thirty, both Kate and Rachel had that blank look that comes with being unable to take in any more information. It was time for Jana to go anyways. Kayla and I set up the trot poles for CG, which she cantered and jumped over. Kate got on Chavali bareback and started zipping around. Rachel flopped down in a chair next to Lainey, said she felt “totally zen”, then proceeded to eat the other half of my lunch. Lainey, who had been alternating between sitting and talking, hugging the horses and flitting about, decided that the best place of all was Rachel’s lap. About this time, Sammy, Kimmy and Lola showed up. I see them every year at the arena. Their brothers play baseball. They gravitate to the horses like bees to honey, usually led by Sammy, who has vibrant, auburn hair. She walks towards them with her hand slightly outstretched, eyes full of longing. She looks like she is being pulled forward by a magnet. Kimmy was wearing a sequin horse T-shirt. Sammy was wearing a spray paint horse T-shirt. I ask them the same question I ask every year, “Have you started riding lessons yet?” Sammy says, “No, but my mom says I can go horse back riding for my birthday.” Lola says her mom says she has too many activities, like soccer and basketball and gymnastics. I said, “but do you like soccer and basketball and gymnastics better than horses or do you like horses more?” She likes horses more. The girls will be nine next month. I have yet to meet the parents.
Kate started having problems with Chavali. I told her that even riding bareback, when she was trotting she needed to keep her hands still relative to the horse rather than letter them bounce around. Chavali feels a constant tapping on the bridle when she does that. Kate looked at me like she’d die if she had to do that. I said, “Kate, you’re tired.” She said, “No I’m not!” I said, “Here, why don’t you get off the horse and eat this last chicken leg.” She said OK. Next thing you know, it was Kate who was sitting in Rachel’s lap, which some how ended up with Rachel and Kate on the ground, Rachel supporting Kate, who then took a short nap. Lainey spent that time lolling about on Chavali. Kayla, not having had a lesson with Jana, still had tons of energy and was zipping around the arena on Velvet.
Eventually Kate revived enough to take up her next task: schooling Dancer. After drilling him in pushing off out of his hind end, she set up a wide, low jump. While Kate took Dancer over the wide jump, Kayla worked CG over a smaller jump. Rachel stood in the middle of the two jumps, supported by one of the jump blocks, driving whip in hand, making sure that Dancer kept to his side and CG to hers. She said, “I feel like one of those switching things for trains.” Then added. “I’m the queen of the jumps!” Indeed.
It was the usually prying of teeth to get them going in the arena, followed by the usual prying of teeth to get them to leave the arena, with me frantically texting all the parents saying we will be fifteen minutes later than expected, which was already half an hour to an hour later than I thought we’d go in the first place.
Because of Dante’s injured hip, I rode with the girls, on Velvet, behind Kayla, riding CG with the bareback pad. After three falls, and with CG not having the easiest gait to ride, Kayla has been erring on the side of caution with speed. But today, off the went at a canter, with nary a word from Kayla. And so it continued all the way to and through Clark’s field. In the course of riding, the girls always get to a point where, almost by magic, they can stay on the horses no matter what. Today, with Kayla, we have started to turn that corner.
Riding home, Rachel told me that her parents asked her what she felt was her next step with horses. This was a puzzlement to me. Her parents are reasonably supportive, but they are also the ones who consider horses a “luxury”, an expendable activity. Nor are they willing to drive her even as far as Woodside. Rachel’s “next step” will involve being in high school. It is too soon to know how much time she will have for horses and even if she did have the time, what her parents don’t know is that any serious next step involves driving to Santa Rose or Elk Grove or Paso Robles. Whatever happens, I will see to it she keeps getting to ride Stoney. She’ll have a good, long summer of riding as much as she wants, but it’s clear her reign as queen will be coming to an end. Kayla, however, is ready and waiting to take her place.