Tuesday, October 19, 2010

fun with horses

And amazingly, not ours!

Yesterday afternoon my daughter started jumping lessons at a farm not too far away. With the pony and her long limbs, jumping anything over 2 feet is not really useful to her in terms of learning, and I have decided, for now anyway, that Cody (although he has a HUGE jump in him) is not a good candidate for her to continue learning jumping on, as his PSSM issues make trailering uncomfortable, and I'm just not keen on putting him in a scenario where he has to learn something new that could also be difficult physically.

But my daughter has always enjoyed jumping, and we need to follow that interest for awhile and see how it plays out.

Fortunately, because of her membership in Pony Club, we have come to know some good riders and trainers, and the family she'll be riding with are life-long horse people, kind and fun, and they do a lot of polocrosse and foxhunting. I knew before we scheduled that the training part would be fine - they ride and teach a balanced seat, a kind and quiet ride, and there's none of the "ass in the air/lay on the neck" junk that one sees in jumping competition.

I've been around their horses before, but not in a lesson scenario. We arrived a little early, and got to see the horses come in for the first lesson (of two) of the day. This involved a gate being opened and 8 or so horses sauntered happily in from their huge pasture, putting themselves into stalls where they had snacks waiting. I was immediately impressed. Happy horses bring themselves in, knowing it's lesson time! They were all friendly and alert. They were clean enough that it's obvious they get groomed and cared for regularly. This was no surprise to me, but it was nice to see.

The trainer informed us that it would be an unusually huge group because she had 5 students doing make-up lessons. Since my daughter has been riding solo for most of this year, I figured this would get her back in "group lesson" mode quickly, and it did. There was a friendly banter in the barn aisle as girls groomed and tacked up horses. Each girl individually went up to my daughter and introduced themselves, and welcomed her to the group. She knew two from Pony Club, but it was a nice start to have everyone be so friendly.

The trainer spent some time at the beginning thinking through who would ride each horse. She took into account what horse each girl favored, who had ridden who before, who wanted to learn something new, and she talked to my daughter about what her riding has been like at home, and what might be a new and fun challenge for her.

Daughter ended up on a 16.2 Percheron/Thoroughbred cross, an old hand at eventing and foxhunting. He actually reminded me a bit of Keil Bay. He was huge! So my daughter, with her long legs and torso, got to shift from pony size and QH build to something truly big. This is a horse who goes into the jump field at liberty and canters around over the jumps, so he is obviously a horse who enjoys his work.

It was fun seeing her on a big guy, all set to ride out to the jumping arena.

While I've written a fair amount about finding the right trainers and my willingness to ride alone if I can't find one,  I also know that for an adolescent girl, some of the fun of riding is being with other girls (and boys when you can find them on horses!). The lively banter, the energy of girls and horses, and the fact that I was not "in charge" of coordinating any of it was very nice.

I hung out in the center of the action - at one point there was a small group of adult riders practicing polocrosse in the big field, a small lesson group of very young girls riding (in small western saddles and with halters and reins instead of bridles) in the smaller arena with cones and poles and various obstacles to work with, and the big jumping group in the jump field. Over in a smaller arena there was a girl riding without saddle or bridle on her own horse. There was a lot going on, and yet everyone, including the horses, seemed happy and in good spirits. There was lots of praise and lots of constructive direction. "Try this" instead of "don't do that."

The girls in the jump group were all advanced enough to tack up and ride out to warm up their horses, and daughter joined in without a moment's hesitation.

The only surprise was a very pleasant one: both the husband and wife trainers actually tacked up and rode in the lessons! I loved this. I've seen a few trainers who teach this way, and I really respect someone who is willing to groom, tack up, and ride with the students. In my daughter's group, the trainer was able to ride alongside each girl/horse to give instructions, and to demonstrate.

They did walk, trot, and canter in one big group because she wanted them to work on being in the midst of a lot of horses and a lot of activity - much as you are when at shows and while foxhunting. When they started jumping, she divided the girls into two groups - one group jumped while the other went to a more distant part of the field and worked on other things she gave them to do.

One horse was off under saddle, so mid-lesson, that girl took the horse back to the barn and got a different horse to ride. This all happened with no disruption to the lesson. I was thrilled to see that such a subtle "offness" was both noted (and in such a big group) and dealt with instantly. 

It was coordinated, very organized, and she packed in a lot of "work" into the lesson. I was totally sold. At the end they went off on a trail ride to cool down.

The very nice part of this for us is that the trainer is part of Pony Club so there is the opportunity for my daughter to lease one of the horses for PC activities if she wants to, and to go foxhunting and try that out on an experienced horse, with experienced riders. For now, this gives us a golden opportunity to explore this path without having to trailer Cody and without having to invest in a horse that *could* trailer easily.

And given the kinds of riding and training I've been posting about here lately, it was a relief to see quiet, kind riding on horses that were not perfect, but were happy and responsive, and had come from being in a huge pasture all day long and would go back there when their work was done.

Bonus: they have a bathroom at the barn! :) It's been awhile since I've had that luxury.


Kate said...

Sounds really nice - a great place for a girl to grow with horses while being exposed to good, instead of bad, horsemanship. You are fortunate to have that available to you.

Grey Horse Matters said...

This sounds like a great barn and a great opportunity for your daughter. It's nice to ride at home but it's also nice to socialize with girls your own age and interests. The lessons, barn and people all sound terrific. I hope she has a wonderful time at this barn. In my opinion, no matter how good a rider you are you always become better riding a lot of different horses and figuring them out. J. did lots of this sort of riding and catch riding at shows too, she was/is very experienced from all the different horses (I think so anyway).

Now that you know they have a bathroom,(that's a key ingredient for me)it should be fun spending lots of time there with your daughter.

billie said...

Kate, I paid for the lesson (naturally) but also kept feeling like I wanted to do something more - that's how lucky I feel we are to have access to this barn and the owners/trainers.

billie said...

Arlene, you know if we lived anywhere remotely close enough to commute, I would be begging j for lessons. :)

Valentino said...


What a great find for you both. The "facilities" are a real plus :)

billie said...

V, it has been there for awhile, but sometimes we don't see something until it hits us in the face. :)

Dougie Donk said...

Sounds fantastic! Look forward to seeing the photos.

billie said...

There are none! Daughter won't give photo permission!

ponymaid said...

Billie, what a serene and happy place. Look forward to hearing more.

Máire said...

That sounds like a really great place. It is so worth it searching and getting the right riding centre. Sometimes it can take a search.

I have to admit I have never come across a bathroom in a barn. Very luxurious.

Matthew said...

Sounds like a wonderful day for both of you.

billie said...

Sheaffer, all they need are a few donkeys!

billie said...

Maire, this is a great match for right now. We'll see how things roll, but I'm very glad she can do some jumping on an experienced and happy horse.

billie said...

Matthew, it was a lot of fun. It was a big relief to me that everything felt so right.

Rising Rainbow said...

Sounds like it was a very positive experience for both you and your daughter. That's very cool.

billie said...

Thanks, MiKael - it was great, and I am happy we went for it.