Yesterday it was time to put my thespian student in the saddle, and I knew how I wanted to approach his introduction to riding. In the years since I returned to horses, I've learned enough to know now just how much I was not taught during my previous horse life, an array of things both minor and major. Those gaps in my education might not have caused my anxieties, but they certainly didn't help me overcome it. One day soon I'll post an embarrassing list of the things I didn't know, had never been taught, when I came back to horses in 2004.
My first goal for Tim: Don't put him in a position to feel tension or uneasiness, put him in a position to feel the horse and feel himself. Riding, with all its component parts, can come later.
We did a sheddy, speedy grooming of Gambler, who screamed all the while for Scout and Saxony. During tack up, we reviewed the parts of the saddle and bridle. Next time, Tim will tack Gambler himself. After grabbing gloves and helmets, we went to the farm's large round pen. I rode Gambler through a 10-minute warm up, de-noodling and stretching him. While I rode, I talked to Tim about what I was doing, showing him the three gaits, the position of my hands, legs, seat, just describing things in basic, straightforward language.
Then it was Tim's turn. After adjusting the stirrups, we spent a few minutes at the mounting block talking about etiquette for both horse and rider. Wise Gambler stood statue-like and impervious, offering no challenge at all. Once Tim was up, I led Gambler off at an easy walk. "You don't need to do anything," I told Tim. "Just feel the horse moving under you. Feel his back swinging, his legs lifting, his efforts to balance your weight." We walked for 15 minutes, much of it in silence.
"Now it's your turn, Tim, to feel your own body, how it finds balance, how it adjusts, how it moves with the horse." From time to time as we circled in the wide round pen, I asked him to raise one arm to his side, then the other, put one arm behind his back, then the other, look at the sky, look right, look left. We talked about how when you're driving a car over rough roads your head corrects for the impacts of potholes so constantly and fluidly, you're not even aware of it. It can be the same on horseback: your body always seeks balance if you let it.
In all, we worked for 45 minutes. I showed Tim how to hold the reins correctly, thumbs up. I kept a finger hooked under Gambler's noseband for a lap around the round pen, then let go and walked beside him, and then drifted farther and farther until I was standing in the center of the circle, watching Tim ride by. My thespian student has a naturally straight posture, easy legs, and an instinctive interest in horses. In the end, he might make me feel like a real teacher. We're having a blast.