Riding Lessons

Readers: Here’s a lovely piece about …well, not exactly about any Free-Range issue in particular. But it sure resonates. — Lenore

By Julie Ann Kodmur  

Who knew how much you could learn from a bunch of horses?! Certainly not me – until my then-3 year old daughter started taking lessons at a humble barn in the small town in the Napa Valley where we live.

Watching the children practice emergency dismounts early on got my attention: little bodies flying over the big bodies to land smartly on the ground with big smiles, nice and tidy, nice and safe, nice and prepared.

Lesson: Always be ready, don’t dread any mishaps, just do it!

How cute, I thought, when the local paper did an article on the stable and there was my daughter zooming through the air in her purple sweatshirt, glowing with the pride of being in control. And yes, a few moms raised their eyebrows at me, some whispering, “How could you? Don’t you know what happened to Christopher Reeve?”

Today we’re at the stable five or six days a week. We trade some of my daughter’s lessons for chores, which include, yes, shoveling the deep stuff. Still today, after five years of this routine, my husband shakes his head in wonderment that when we wake our daughter up very early in the morning to go shovel manure and she bounds up out of bed with a smile. Or, if you let her sleep in a bit, with a scowl because you didn’t wake her up sooner.

Lesson: Enthusiasm trumps the ‘dirtiest’ of chores.

We also feed the herd of horses. The horses are all types, from a persnickety Shetland to a majestic, elderly Iceland pony who’s going blind, to a couple of handsome mustangs, to some affectionate broken-down thoroughbreds who have been rescued. Who knew how complicated feeding some animals could be? My daughter can discourse at great length: The geldings are fed first, before the mares; there’s an exact amount of water that goes into the grain, be careful because the horses’ personalities change when food is in the air, and more.

Lesson: Empathy. Everyone’s hungry.

Strawberry roan? Leopard appaloosa? Fallabella? Welsh pony? Colors, names, breeds. How much can a child’s brain retain?

Lesson: Unbelievably lots. When a kid is motivated, that ‘little’ brain can hold a universe.

The law of the herd. The spirit of the herd. One of my longest-standing curiosities about the barn is when and if the horses lie down. Sometimes the kids ride at odd hours or late at night (recently, memorably, very late in the moonlight, practicing formations for riding in the local July 4 parade). Even then, rarely do you see more than one or two of the horses lying down. Turns out there is always one watching out for the others, literally on his or her feet, ready to whinny out the news of a visitor, whether human, coyote, goose or dog.

Lesson: Someone is always watching out for you.

 To read for more of Julie Ann, see www.julieannkodmur.com.

To find out more about the stable, please see www.sunrisehorserescue.org. The site is down temporarily, but should be up this evening  (Aug. 5, 09).

10 Responses to Riding Lessons

  1. Jen August 6, 2009 at 8:37 am #

    My mother in law rides dressage and cant’ wait to teach my son all about horses and riding, plus all the good stuff in this article that goes with it! Yay for Sunrise Horse Rescue and the good work they do, both with kids and their animals.

  2. Bob Davis August 6, 2009 at 9:22 am #

    There’s an old Western saying: “The best thing for the inside of a man is the outside of a horse.” And by extension, for women and children, too. Saddle up!

  3. micheleinplaya August 6, 2009 at 9:23 am #

    My parents bought me my first horse when I was 5. We had our own barns out back so it was easy to wale up early, get the chores done and off to school. Everyday when I got home…more chores then riding time! I’ve had several more since then and I am convinced I learned just as much hanging around the barn as I did in the classroom. My kids have shown little interest in riding so far. Maybe someday. I think it is one of those things you are either passionate about…or not.

  4. MaeMae August 6, 2009 at 9:40 am #

    Great job, Mom. My parents had me do the same thing. I worked in the stables in exchange for my lessons. It is one of the best things they ever did for me. Now as a single mom of two kids who like to do everything, I still use that lesson. I have cleaned in exchange for their piano lessons, babysat in exchange for their piano lessons and my oldest has worked as a mother’s helper for her violin lessons. You are teaching your daughter a life lesson that will enrich her life forever. The work ethic will always stay with her.

  5. How Green Is My Valley August 6, 2009 at 10:54 am #

    We never owned horses (they just weren’t in our price range) but I did have several years of English riding lessons. It was tremendous discipline, both in terms of riding and in terms of caring for horse and tack afterward.

    Oh, and sometimes I fell off. It wasn’t fun, but I literally got back up on the horse each time. It all turned out fine.

  6. Chelly August 6, 2009 at 11:26 am #

    My daughter loves to ride. We are currently looking for a new stable for her to join since we moved here a year ago. It normally wouldn’t be so hard, but we are trying to find a good stable that knows both English with German so my daughter, who hasn’t started learning German yet can still learn. We think we found one, and it is actually right off base, so that my daughter can get up and walk there if need be by herself.

    Oh, and how she loves to muck stalls and feed the horses!

  7. HeatherJ August 6, 2009 at 12:38 pm #

    I love it! I never had my own horse growing up, but had a few friends that did. We would go out trail riding for hours-bareback! We had so much fun! I also was lucky enough to go to horse camp for 2 summers. I fell off and was bucked off several times. No worse for wear. I hope one or both of my daughters will have an interest in horses. I would love for them to have lessons for all the reasons listed above.

  8. Mrs Embers August 6, 2009 at 5:07 pm #

    Great article! I think it has a lot to do with Free-Range parenting: helping kids gain confidence and self-sufficiency can only help them handle themselves when they’re away from mom and dad (and the stable, too!).

    I desperately wanted riding lessons when I was younger, but it was never in the budget, and no one cosidered bartering chores for lessons. I still wonder whether that experience would have helped me become more confident and self-sufficient than I was… and than I am today.

  9. Alexicographer August 6, 2009 at 11:53 pm #

    Wonderful post. I’ve been riding since I was about 5 and often think about how that contributed to my “free range” experiences both as a kid and as an adult. As someone who’s done a lot of teaching riding, too, I think horses are just wonderful for kids who are really motivated to want to ride them. There’s something about horses … trainable, generally phenomenally gentle and generous — especially with children, yet also large, unpredictable, and yes, dangerous that makes them (IMO) especially good teachers (for children and adults and especially for adults teaching children) about how to think about and minimize risk while still having fun.

    Those with some knowledge of horses but lacking the time/resources to engage with them right now might look into whether there’s a therapeutic riding organization in your area that needs volunteers. Even those without a good knowledge of horses (or parents with children too young to participate as volunteers working with the therapeutic programming itself) may find volunteer needs you can meet and will enjoy — and an opening to get more involved over time. And horses can provide a wonderful “free range” opportunity for children and adults with physical (and other) disabilities, so well-run therapeutic programs can do a world of good.

  10. dahozho August 13, 2009 at 12:43 am #

    To add to Alexis’ comments– horses can also be wonderful tools to reach and help troubled kids. In my experiences as a western horsemanship instructor, I’ve seen amazing changes in kids with behavioral problems once they get around horses, are given responsibilities,and have the experience of helping other kids. Sure, problems still exist, but a break in their cycle of behavior is a fabulous experience for both the child and the adults who usually only see the negative acting out.

    Its great. Can’t wait for my son to start riding!