Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Horse Knows the Way (AKA Vacation, part 4)

Theoretically, one of our main activities that we had planned was horseback riding lessons. In practice, it only took up an hour or two per day, but it was fun, and we all learned quite a bit.

Each lesson started with about half an hour of learning to take care of the horses, a process that felt a lot like fine woodworking. You start off by rubbing the horse down with a hard rubber sanding block er, curry brush, going over their fur in circles. (It's really quite surprising home much hair and dirt comes off when you do this!) Then, you follow up with a stiff scrub brush, and finally a soft one. Mentally, I was thinking sandpaper grits, and figured a nice coat of lacquer was next...

Aiden, you get the bottom part of the horse. I'll get the top.

Paul and Deborah learn how to clean out a horse's hoof. Most of the hoof is hard, but you have to be gentle with the "frog" in the center.

See? Look at that beautiful grain. Wouldn't that make a pretty coffee table?

With the exception of Risanna, everyone in the family got in some riding time. Aiden was a bit young to really reach the stirrups or control the horse, but we gave him a little ride around the ring a few times before he headed home with Grandma Renaud for a snack and a nap.

How many people does it take to give one boy a ride on a horse? Three, apparently: one to lead the horse, and one on each side to catch him in case he falls off.

Fiona, by contrast, was roughly the same age that our trainers, Lindsay and Julia, started riding, and they taught her accordingly.

What is it with young girls and horses, anyway?

While Fiona was off on Nellie (whoa, Nellie!) I was at the other end with a feisty horse named Bubbles. It took some getting used to, but I apparently caught on very quickly. I was puzzled by their amazement; all I can figure all the motorcycling I've done helped somehow. Mostly, I followed the a few simple principles of driving any vehicle:

  1. Trust the vehicle.
  2. Look where you want to go.
  3. Give subtle, but firm inputs.
  4. When in doubt, accelerate.

Apparently, this works on horses as much as it does on their mechanical brethren — and works fairly well in the rest of life, as well.

Lindsay: "Are you sore at all? Do you need a break?"
Me: "Nah, I'm fine"
Lindsay (surprised): "Really?"
Me: "Well, I just rode here from Indiana on a motorcycle. I'm sorta used to it..."

A great deal of credit, of course, goes to our quiet trainer, Lindsay Labrie, who, I learned much later, is a three-time world champion in the very things we were learning. If her assistant's mother hadn't mentioned it, I might not have known.

When Fiona's and my time was up, Paul and Deborah came out to have a turn. Paul in particular made a point of listening to all the instruction I was given, and trying to do those things from the beginning.

Paul looked right at home on a horse.

Deborah, a little less so at first, but improved greatly as the week went on.

Later in the week, we also went on a trail ride, at a different stable, and discovered how much of a difference the horse makes. Previously, trail rides were the only kind of riding I'd done. I got a semi-retired Belgian draft horse ("Sandy") that resolutely knew the way, and walked in it. After scarcely a week, I missed the control that I'd learned with the other horses — a lot of what I'd learned apparently applied to Bubbles, who responded right away to subtle cues... not this horse! One trains the horse as much as the rider, I suppose...

Anyway, we had fun. it wasn't cheap, but we all felt like we accomplished something!


Jonadab said...

Motorcycles do not trot, directing the entire force of their momentum into a series of sudden vertical jackhammer-like blows, which are delivered upward into whatever is directly above the saddle, such as the rider's most sensitive anatomical parts. At least, I've never heard of motorcycles doing that.

Andy said...

Generally so, until you get into the realm of motocross. My experience with 50cc minis was more pile-driver than jackhammer, but I believe the experience is still relevant.

johnsonweider said...

Very cool! Our cruise shore excursion was horseback riding on Grand Turk, which our kids excelled at - and which Kirk and I were pretty traumatized by. :) It was funny how the nice Caribbean guides kept riding up to see how the kids were doing and I had to tell them that actually the kids ride horses at summer camp and love them whereas Kirk and I hadn't ridden in 20 years and were quite scared. The guides were very bemused. The scariest part was going downhill - at least that was the scariest part until we got into water riding.

That was the part that was so unique about the shore excursion. After a regular ride around the beach, you dismount and they resaddle the horses with a special water saddle (which is very much like riding bareback with just a little foam pad to sit on and some reins to hold onto). Then you get back on in your bathing suit and aqua shoes and ride the horses into the ocean.

Totally freaky. The horses get very excited and run in a herd, which is scary as your legs slam into other horses, etc. It doesn't last long in terms of time, but in terms of experience, Kirk tells me that it will last him a lifetime!

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