Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Riding with Kiddos!

A couple weeks ago, a co-worker of mine asked me and the other gal in the office about horseback riding lessons.  His daughter loves horses and he wondered where would be a good place to take her.  My co-worker and I named a few places, both for lessons and for just trail riding, and then I asked him how old his daughter is.  She's four.  So I told him not to bother paying for lessons quite yet, until she's a little older and bigger, but she could come out to where I board sometime and sit on my horse for a little while for free.  However, with daylight savings preventing us from doing this after work, and my next couple weekends booked up with other riding-related stuff, it didn't actually happen until this past weekend.  We arranged a day and time and I gave him directions, and we were set.

I showed up a little before he had planned to arrive, and gathered up the three potential horses--my horse, Arya, and Shar's two, Flash and Dalai Lama.  I figured the little girl would fawn over Dalai, as she's a grey (white) horse.  With my son's help, we brushed them all and picked all 12 hooves, with the horses tied up inside the pasture.  My co-worker texted to say he was running late, so Nathan and I headed into the warm house while the horses stood tied like good dude string horses.

Which is when I realized that I no longer had my glasses on me.  I'd been wearing my prescription sunglasses outside, and I was pretty sure my regular glasses were hanging from the neck of my shirt.  (Seriously, when I will LEARN?  If you haven't already read this post, it's long, but worth it.)  Ugh.  Nathan and I scoured the area around the horses first, then widened the search, and I retraced my steps everywhere I'd been, including checking in the house and the car.  No luck.  Finally, I remembered that I'd helped him with tying the knots in the rope halters, and walked out to the part of the pasture we'd caught Arya in, and sure enough, they were lying on the ground.  Unhurt, because luckily the horses had all been tied, and not wandering around.  Whew!  I'd had flashes of having to wear my sunglasses indoors and at night until I could get new glasses made.  Glad not to have that hassle!

When my co-worker arrived, he and his wife and their two kids piled out of the car (I'd invited them all).  The little girl, the horse-crazy one (he told me they plan their driving route to purposefully avoid a certain horse pasture because the daughter gets upset that she can't ride the random horse), was wearing white tights and a floofy skirt.  Ha!  Oh well, it wasn't going to be a serious ride, so if they didn't care about her clothes getting dirty, I wasn't going to insist on any specific clothing other than a helmet.  (Apparently the mom wanted a photo op with the fancy clothes, and then the girl changed for the rest of the riding time.)

First I introduced the family to the three horses, then showed the kids how to pet and brush them, and let them carefully feed a few carrots.  Then I used Flash, who is AWESOME about picking up his feet and actually HOLDING them  up for you (Arya pretends like it's the hardest thing on earth, and you have to prop her up) to show them how to pick feet.  (We'd already done it, so it was just for show and "helping.")

Then it was the moment we'd all (but especially the little girl had) been waiting for!  The kids got to pick which horse they wanted to ride.  The daughter picked Arya, and the son picked Dalai.  Kind of surprising, but whatever.  So I put the bareback pad on Arya and the dad lifted her up onto her back.  The mom got some photos really quickly before she put her helmet on (with the dad on one side and my son on the other to prevent any falling), then both kids donned helmets.

Both kids were SO thrilled to be riding.  We also did a couple brief balancing exercises at a standstill, laying back on the horse, then leaning forward, then sitting with no hands, arms out to the side.  However, it was still a good thing we had people to walk on either side of the kid on the horse, as they got a little "tipsy" a couple times.  Each kid rode Arya alone, then double, just in small circles there in the front part of the pasture.  Arya did surprisingly great.  I'm not sure it would go very well with a newbie actually riding her unassisted, and she had a funny look on her face when these small humanoid creatures were being lifted up onto her back, but when she realized they were very light and her job was very easy, she settled in and moseyed around in circles and halted and backed up exactly as asked.  Good girl, and all that groundwork definitely comes in handy!

The kids got down with some adult help, then I took the bareback pad off Arya to move it to Dalai.  The bareback pad is cheap "fleece" made out of nylon or something synthetic like that, and it created quite a static charge, and shocked Arya when I took it off, then when I tried to pat her nose reassuringly, I shocked her again.  She did NOT enjoy that, and bucked/spooked a little.  Luckily the kids were far away, and in fact didn't even see it.  Oops!

I put the pad on Dalai, and we basically repeated the process--each kid rode alone, then they both rode together.  But this time I led Dalai further into the pasture, and to a little mound on the far side, where the kids got to practice leaning forward and back when going up and down the very small hill.

When they dismounted for the last time, I took the pad off and TRIED to be careful, but it gave poor Dalai a shock, too.  When I've ridden Arya bareback (just a few times so far), I put my saddle pad under the bareback pad to try to disperse my weight a little more, and it has a real wool surface against the horse, so I hadn't had that problem before.  I'll try to keep it in mind, but apparently there's not much to do to prevent it other than using a natural-fiber pad under it.

I gave them the opportunity to say goodbye to the horse, and give her a kiss.  The little girl was (rightly!) a little nervous around such a large animal, and didn't want to give it a kiss, but she did pet her face and say goodbye.  Aww...

After a little small talk and throwing the ball for the dog, the co-worker and his family left, and Nathan and I got to set off on our ride.

Here's the thing.  Nathan is a teenager.  When I told him I'd gotten a horse, and introduced him to her, he was distinctly nonplussed.  Just "eh."  So fine, whatever.  I only have one horse anyway, so I didn't make a big deal out of it.  Well, a few weeks ago, I said something about riding, and he asked why I never take him riding anymore.  Um, well, I TOOK you riding back when I had a membership thing to a dude ranch type place and could do that.  Now that I have just one horse, it's not very possible, but I didn't think you were interested.  He said that he WOULD be interested.  Well, awesome!  And it turns out Shar now has two horses that are both rideable (by her anyway), including one that would likely be rideable for him.  So I told him I'd ask her, she said he could ride with her at the endurance ride, then that didn't work out at all, and now here we are--his first ride in a few years.  Woo hoo!  Shar couldn't go with us since she was womanning a yard sale, so it was just going to be the two of us.  That made me a LITTLE nervous (I've only even ridden with Shar and Dalai a couple times, and didn't know how she'd behave with Nathan, or of course how Arya would behave with her but leaving Flash behind), but I was mostly pretty excited about taking my kiddo out for a ride.  In anticipation of the 10-mile ride at the endurance ride, he'd made a comment about 10 miles not being that far, so I was planning to take him on a route I knew was just a little over 10 miles, to see how he felt AFTER the ride.  :-)

So anyway, we tacked up.  Shar is between saddles (for both horses, actually, which is downright inconvenient!), so we used my old western saddle on Dalai, but I'd taken the cinch and stirrups off it a while back, so had to round up all the parts and pieces to make it useable again, but that didn't take TOO long.  Got Arya tacked up, and Shar helped Nathan mount up and we adjusted the stirrups for him.  Then I mounted up, too, and we were off.

So, you know how I said Shar was having a hard sale?  She had a big neon green sign taped to her trash can at the end of her driveway to direct traffic, and I thought sure the horses would at least balk at it, if not spook.  I was wrong.  They ambled right by it as if nothing was different.

However, as we proceeded down the road in front of the pasture, I realized Nathan was having trouble with Dalai.  She would try to spin around toward home, and Nathan's instinct was to jerk on her face (luckily she's in a mild hackamore and not anything more sever), so I talked him through having wide hands and trying to prevent her turning in the first place rather than having to correct her.  And urging her forward when your first instinct is to freak out that she's moving in the wrong direction.

I realized after the first couple sessions of trying to talk him through dealing with it that this was actually really good for ME.  Reminders for what I'll need to do when Arya pulls that with me on our next solo ride, as well as distracting me and keeping me calm to help him out, and just seeing someone else having similar issues to what I've been having.  All very rewarding.  But not for Nathan (yet!).  :-)

We proceeded on down the road, and a couple times, she even darted off into people's yards, trying to head back home.  He actually did really well controlling her as best he could with his non-recent and limited riding ability.  I was really proud of him!  But he was getting increasingly frustrated.  He asked me to swap horses with him, and I considered it, but given Arya's history, I wasn't sure she'd behave any better for him.  He thought she was behaving perfectly, but she was being a little annoying, and that's with me knowing how to handle her and doing my best to PREVENT antics.  She'd probably have been worse for him, and is a good six inches higher off the ground, so if he was going to end up losing his seat and falling off (he got a little tipsy once when she darted to the left to head home once), I'd rather it be from Dalai.  Plus I've never ridden Dalai and wasn't sure how she'd do with my weight, etc.  So yeah, sorry kiddo, but you gotta stick with the one you're on.

We proceeded down the single-track trail that goes down the hill, and not only did Dalai and Nathan do great, she's much faster at navigating down hills than Arya and they quickly pulled out ahead of us.  I hollered directions ahead to Nathan so he'd know where we were headed, and of course had my eye on him, but figured if she was proceeding down the trail, to let it be.  And then they reached the gravel road and she got all twisty-turny again.  He halded it with relative aplomb, and we sauntered on down the trail.  Eventually she seemed to kind of settle in, especially with me and Arya right alongside, and we did a couple stretches of trotting.

We crossed and paved road without incident, and headed down the next gravel road.  There is a trail that parallels the road, and Nathan and Dalai were doing great on it, but Arya kept trying to eat, so I took her to the road itself.  Dalai was still giving Nathan hassles, though, and when a guy in a Jeep stopped to ask if we'd seen his dog (so therefore we stopped and stood still while talking to him), she got REALLY insistent that if she was going to move in any direction at all, it would only be toward home.  Preferably by going in reverse, but spinning when pointed away would be an option, too.  Ugh.  Eventually, I got my lead rope out of the cantle bag and snapped it onto her halter.  I put my whip away, held my reins in one hand and the rope in the other (you never want to actually tie the rope to yourself or the saddle or anything when ponying, in case the ponied horse freak out or something).  I set off with Arya, and now SHE didn't want to move.  Ugh.  So I pulled the whip out and held it in the same hand as the lead rope and tapped her to get her going.  She tried to turn.  I couldn't steer with the reins in one hand, so grabbed the right side with my right hand, which already had the rope and whip in it.  But then when Dalai resisted at all, it pulled on Arya's rein, so I had to drop that again quickly, and attempt to steer with just one hand.  Arya doesn't neck rein, so that meant "ooching" my hand along the rein to get whichever side I wanted to pull on short enough that I could make contact with just that one side.  It was a disaster.  After watching all of this and realizing we wouldn't be making much progress, Nathan volunteered to just get off and lead Dalai for a little while.  Sounded good to me, and I asked if he minded if I kept riding (hard for me to get back on without something high to get on from).  That was fine, so we set off once again, him on foot leading Dalai, and me on Arya.

We probably went about half a mile that way, including turning the corner at the far corner of our loop.  Oh, yeah, I'd long since decided that we wouldn't bother with the 10-mile trip to the river and back, and we'd just do a smaller loop instead.  So yeah, once we turned the corner, both horses got a pep in their step, and after we'd gone far enough that she probably wouldn't think turning around and bolting for home the way we'd come would be a good idea, I asked Nathan if he wanted to try getting back on again.  He did, so I held the rope while he mounted up, then I think he rode for a few minutes with me holding onto it, just to make sure she wasn't going to pull something, then we unclipped her and rode the rest of the way fairly uneventfully.

We did see a herd of deer, and the horses' ears pricked up, but they see deer all the time around the house, so no antics.  I mildly worried that if we trotted, now that we were headed toward home, Dalai wouldn't want to slow down or stop.  And sure enough, she trots rather fast compared to Arya, so she pulled away from us quickly, but Nathan slowed her, and Arya stepped up the pace a bit when asked, and it was fine.  We trotted up a long-ish hill, and poor Arya was DONE partway up and begged me to stop, but Dalai motored right up it.  Once we'd turned that corner, the worst behavior from Dalai was just some head-shaking.  Not sure how much was due to the contact Nathan was using (with a hackamore, the default should be very slack reins, and he was reluctant to give up contact after the issues he'd been having, and I can't blame him, but was trying to get him to let up just a bit, but still have very little slack to take up if he needed to), and how much was just Dalai--it's just something she does.  Even as we got closer to home (and slowed to walking only, both because it's just a good idea behavior-wise and because it was cold-ish and we didn't need to be bringing the horses home all sweaty), we walked calmly on a loose rein.  Good ponies!  Neither horse cared about the garage sale sign yet again (I totally expected at least an ear flick in that direction!), and we got home safe and sound.  Nathan slung a leg over to dismount (over the front of the saddle--weirdo!), and collapsed in a heap on the ground.  His legs were TIRED.  Even mine were a little sore from having to squeeze Arya to keep her moving when on the out-bound leg, then try to get her to keep up with Dalai on the home-bound leg.  Ha!

All's well that ends well, and Nathan still seems interested in riding.  We talked about other things he could have done/tried, and how just more riding will help Dalai respect Nathan more and not pull that stuff to begin with.  And possibly trailering elsewhere rather than riding from home the next couple times, so Nathan doesn't have to work quite as hard.  Then Shar had a great suggestion--trailer all three horses to Celena's for a group lesson, maybe including a bit of "trail" riding (on the short loop), to help Nathan build a relationship with Dalai and learn good ways to dealing with her, etc.  So yeah, hopefully that'll happen.  I'm just glad my teenage son actually WANTS to spend time with me.  How crazy is that?  :-)

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