Recently trainer and I decided to take me off of my friend the giant giraffe horse in order to build up some confidence and inject a bit more fun into my lessons. At first I hung out with my favorite (other) red schoolie, but due to a scheduling conflict one evening I was placed on an older grey thoroughbred gelding. Since he’s been around this area a lot doing a variety of jobs, I will respect his confidentiality and call him C. Ironically all of our current schoolhorses (save one) have a C name. Anyway, back to topic.
C is maybe 16hh? It’s hard to tell because he wears one of those giant wither pads. He’s a flea-bit grey, and doesn’t really have any classic beauty to speak of. Typically he’s seen dragging his lesson kids around, while they kick-kick-kick to keep him going. I’d only ridden him one other time, schooling him for a horse show.
Armed and ready for flatwork.
I tacked up the old man, gave him some loves and extra curries, grabbed my stick and headed to ride. Flatwork was exactly what I figured on. He bulged thru his shoulders, and refused to go in a straight line. Also – what is canter? Why even try?
Then we started jumping. My lesson mate is a catty little jumper mare and her owner. So the courses are usually focused on technical details and winding courses. To my shock, after seeing where we were headed, C’s little grey ears went forward and he never looked back. He did little bounces, we wound around the outdoor, jumped little boxes, a sort-of flying change, and he even bothered to shake his head at me in mock wildness about a distance. It was adorable. He has obviously had significant amount of quality training done over fences, and his rhythm and pace were the easiest things to just set – and let him go. We even came around to a higher end of a little funny shaped standard-less jump and he bounded over it like he was a teenager again.
Bad at selfies.
I literally laughed my way around the whole course. And he was ready to do it again, and again. We ended on a high and he got loads of cookies and pets for being such a stud. I mean I’m still smiling thinking about it, like two weeks after the fact. My trainer said that while he’s an old man now, he was “pretty cool” in his day, and I would agree, and say that he’s still pretty cool now. Just another reminder of how much the older horses, schoolmasters really have left to contribute. It feels good to look forward to lessons again, where I know I’ll learn and be able to have fun as well.
After my emotion packed lesson last week, my trainer and decided I should take a few lessons to get my confidence back and see where we go next. I arrived to find myself assigned to an old favorite, “my” beefcake red lesson pony. While he was never my favorite when riding him before I bought O (which seems like a very long time ago), I became very attached in past years since he hauled my pregnant butt around for weeks and kept us both very safe after I got back in the tack .
He wasn’t quite as excited to see me as I was him, but obliged and let me tack him up and pull him to the outdoor. He actually really warmed up nicely and seemed to appreciate having someone who knew a bit more than “up, down, up, down”. I was feeling pretty good about myself, and we headed around to warm up over a little crossrail.
He gave the crossrail an unusually big jump (for him) and I am pretty sure I mentally squealed a little at how sweet this boy was. The fun ended when he landed, and somewhere between putting his back legs down and cantering forwards, he seemed to lose track of his front legs. Horses need all 4 legs, and unfortunately for us, this meant we were thrashing around in the arena dirt, as he desperately tried to get off his knees. I thought for sure we were going to roll right over.
Somehow after a full 8-10 feet of knee sliding/thrashing he righted himself and halted. He was blowing very hard and I immediately reached forward to give him giant pats. I literally cannot believe we didn’t go over. After swearing to red horse that I would personally take care of him for the rest of his life for keeping us upright, I trotted off. Big red was obviously super sore on his knees, and we decided to cut my lesson off in exchange for a cold hosing.
So that’s how my second lesson in so many weeks, was cut short. This time for a very different reason. Regardless, I am very lucky and glad that my horse was able to get us both back up after his trip. He got lots of cold hose time, then wrapped up and extra cookies in his stall. My trainer reported that he was feeling so much better the next day and went back to his normal life. She also joked that she really is trying to make it fun for me.
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Lately I’ve noticed a shift in local equestrian programs where the “lesson program” is becoming less and less prominent. Obviously clients are still taking lessons, trainers are still training, but the days of operations having a whole string of lesson horses, and days full of lessons are waning. When our facility hosts local shows, it’s obviously what programs in the area still host the full lesson program experience, with their half dozen lesson ponies and bombproof geldings, versus the smaller groups of client/owners.
Bombproof hony – not a schoolie
My own trainer has been scaling back her lesson program in favor of really spending time with the clients she already maintains, many of which are showing or traveling on a regular basis. She isn’t concerned at all about the change in process for her riders. Most of her clients have owned before (like me) or already own a horse in her facility. And while I understand time is money, and she needs more time, seeing the lesson program get smaller provokes a lot of feels from me.
As I’ve mentioned, I was a lesson kid and barn rat for years before I took on a “real horse” lease. And now, I’m right back in that world of being a catch rider and lesson kid. This is close to my heart, in my mind a vital step in the journey of horseback riding as a whole. I just wonder how trainers are recruiting and gathering new riders without watching those people coming up through the lesson horse program. Perhaps just my area fits into this need due to the variety of options, or the influence of our culture? I’m not sure.
From my barn rat days
Barn rat for life!
I feel like there is so much learned from riding many different horses, and having lessons on a consistent basis. Not to mention the risk for a parent, or an adult re-rider based on whether they decide to continue in the sport and the sample size of time they’ve really spent with horses. It was mentioned that if you want to run a successful lesson programs now, you have to teach all the time, every day – all day, to make the economics work.
Maybe I’m just witnessing a very small niche of the area doing this, but I had to ask. What are you seeing in your area? Are the big lesson programs still thriving?
My favorite grey schoolmaster