Teaching a newcomer to ride.
On another thread a young woman in her thirties is having problems with the horse on which she is trying to learn to ride in a school. It is not an uncommon story. The difficulty for the experienced rider is to explain the complexity of the subject of horse riding. It takes a few years to learn just some of what there is to know about riding horses before one is safe to ride unaccompanied in the countryside and amongst the local community. However occasionally some youngsters make it look easy.A few years ago I watched the mother of a four year old boy bring along her son to our yard so as to sit upon my horse Joe who in some respects was a ’lawless’ animal. She lifted the young boy up onto the saddle and led the horse around the arena for a couple of turns. She then let the young boy take the reins and steer the horse for himself. My irascible horse meekly did as he was told. An onlooker - especially one in the process of learning to ride - would have been astonished but there were facts about the horse, the mother, the child and myself which as novices they would not have known about. We broke all the rules that day but young Morgan did not fall off and neither was he at any time at risk of doing so.
His Mother had been the manager of a trekking station. She was used to handling the visitors who came along to the stables to ride out in the mountains. She was a good judge of character and her somewhat gruff exterior hid most of her virtues. I personally had trusted several of my ageing relatives to her with the briefest of instructions by saying to her: “look after them please, they know not what they are doing“. Invariably they came back from the hour long trek with soppy grins on their faces.
Her personal riding style was not elegant. She had passed some BHS exams but paperwork was not her forte. Neither did she take to fools gladly. Often I had watched her slumped in the saddle, riding one handed, gossiping to her companion, whilst smoking a cigarette and usually mounted without wearing a riding hat. But in all the years I have known her, I have never seen her fall off nor be bettered by a mere horse. Within ten minutes on the yard she would have taught a complete novice of any age, of either sex how to sit a horse for the first trek. Out on the ride the string of horses would have been controlled by her voice from up front of the line. According to the rules in the textbook she was not a good example for the novice to follow but in teaching a human how to mix with horses she was superb and her beady eyes never missed a thing. She could spot trouble brewing before it happened.
Her son Morgan was born into a rural part of rugged Wales amongst the hill farmers. He grew up along side domesticated animals namely hunting dogs, cattle, sheep & horses, I can envisage him in a few years wearing a flat cap, a baggy pair of genes and a pair of green welly boots. I believe his Mother first sat him on a saddle when he was still a toddler but in those days she probably held onto him. There is no doubt that he’d been left in the care of the sheep dog regularly and I would think that many a horse had licked him. In other words, this young child had been introduced early in life to farm animals of all types and was completely at ease with horses. He had no fear of them.
Years before my horse Joe had been the Mother’s mount when she managed the trekking centre. He had been discarded from use as a trekking pony as he would not tolerate heavy handed, unbalanced, noisy, fidgety, novice riders. His favourite trick when he found a paying customer to be unacceptable was to go down on his knees with the rider still aboard, then to drop onto his belly and if the rider had not had the sense to get off, he would start to roll over onto his back. He never hurt a rider, but he gave several a nasty fright. Over the years he had learnt several ways to dislodge a rider whom he felt was not up to the job.
When Morgan mounted up that day, Joe could feel little of his rider’s weight. The Boys legs barely reached the edge of the saddle and the reins hung loose without contact. I believe some horses sense when they are carrying ‘babes in arms’ Joe certainly knew he was in charge and that he was responsible for the safe carriage of the boy - especially when ‘Mother’ was watching. Joe knew Mother had a sharp tongue and would tolerate no misbehaviour. One stern word from her in the centre of the arena was enough to make Joe behave. ‘Walk’ was called and Joe walked. ‘Trot on’ was called and Joe trotted. ‘Whoah’ was called and Joe came to halt four square‘. All Morgan had to do was sit on the saddle with all the confidence and innocence of youth and enjoy the ride.
That day was what I anticipate will be Morgan’s life long association with horses .
The arena we had used for the Morgan’s ride was a small training pen with a high fence line. It had a sandy surface which was rarely levelled but was soft to fall on Joe knew well that there was nowhere for him to go other than round and round but even so, there were few riders I would have allowed to sit on Joe. He was a tough hairy cob and if the rider had tugged on his mouth or confused him with poor aids then he would undoubtedly have tossed them off with a quick whirl to the left..
All in all, young Morgan was benefiting that day from years of expertise, the luxury of youth and the obedience of the horse to his Mother’s voice from the centre of the arena. And I had comfort in that I knew that his Mother would not sue me if the Boy were to be unlucky enough to fall off my horse. Morgan is older now. He has developed into a natural rider with ability way beyond his years.
For a short period after this introduction to riding, I sent Joe off to be in the Mother’s care, during which time Joe was regularly taken out along the country lanes by Mother with the youngster on his back. She rode her horse and controlled both Morgan and Joe with a lead rope attached to a head collar. Morgan stopped riding for a bit after we had to tell him that Joe had been sent away. In fact Joe had been put down. A small Section C gelding was later found for Morgan which he rode for a bit. Of late he’s been playing more with sheep and pigs.
One day another horse will catch his eye and he will again be riding more regularly. I can envisage him being a member of the local Team Chasing Group and he’ll probably be asked to help with leading out some of the holiday trekkers. But don’t ask him to play computer games or expect him to stay in and watch TV.
What I do know is that the background to Morgan’s riding ability would be hard to replace in a young boy brought up in an urban environment. Likewise a 30 year old adult, bred and born in the city has no experience which will compensate for Morgan’s country life style where animals are part of daily life. Morgan dressed in top hat and tails doing a dressage test in a carefully prepared arena is not going to happen. If you want to watch him ride, you’ll have to go up to the mountains in the Autumn when the bring in the sheep for the winter. Some sheep herders ride quad bikes; Morgan rides up and down the slopes on a sparky sure footed Welsh Section C.
If Morgan’s capability to ride is ever to be judged then his ability can’t be assessed by the same standards as might apply to a young city boy (or girl) learning to ride in a horse riding centre.
It will take another article to explain my reasoning.
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