Here's to the Lesson Horses!
Catching the Horse Bug
If you were born with the horse bug, you probably, like me, relish anything horse! This includes horses on the news or on TV. Even the non-horse people have heard of racehorses that win the triple crown like American Pharaoh and Justified.
Avid equestrians follow the riders and horses in their chosen discipline. They can name their favorites and dream of one day riding a horse like that. Maybe they have big dreams about getting that far with their own horse.
The superstars of the horse world play an important role. They are like the bait that entices potential horse-crazy people into this crazy horse life we live in.
The First Horse You Ride Will Hold a Special Place in Your Heart
I have spent the last 18 years as a riding instructor, teaching clients on lesson horses owned by our farm. As a kid, I remember the horses at my first lesson barn as plain as day.
In my humble opinion, the lesson horses are the unsung heroes of the horse world. They come from many different places and in many different shapes and sizes. Some of them are stately and admirable looking in their typically older age, others not so much.
The great thing though is that the child or even adult is getting a chance to be close to a horse for the first time; all things equine are beautiful.
Climbing the Lesson Horse Ladder
Some of them are the “push button" type or maybe someone’s retired show horse. Some of them are the horse everyone wants to ride. The horse that does something well whether his rider does the job right or not. The confidence builder, making a timid rider feel like a rock star after a lesson. This type of horse gives them the confidence to move up the lesson horse ladder.
The next rung on the ladder would maybe be a stubborn pony who constantly tries to put it’s head down to grab grass or maybe stops at tiny jumps. She teaches her riders to be assertive, that if they ride like they mean it, the horse will listen. Another important lesson these horses teach is how the littlest faults in our position make us insecure in the saddle and affect our ability to assert ourselves to our horses.
Then there are the horses that will test the students a little more. The ones with the dirtier tricks. Maybe ducking out the gate, running out of a jump, or stubbornly only picks up the correct lead when the rider asks perfectly right.
These horses are the ones that distinguish the real horse crazy from the “horses are just a phase" people. These guys make it a little harder for their riders. They are well trained but won’t cart you around like a passenger. They require you to use your skills and really ride. When you get good on the horses on this rung of the lesson horse ladder, you have made big improvements. You are more aware of your body position and realize you are finally making corrections and giving cues automatically. Those small tweaks in position and corrections you struggled with become muscle memory and now things really click. You will have hard lessons, but the light bulb moments will be happening more and more each ride. You could seriously light up a Christmas tree at this point with the light from all your riding revelations.
Then when you are ready to put a boot on the next rung of the lesson horse ladder, you will ride horses that know more than you do and have done more than you have. They have more complex things to teach you, like, lead changes, maybe jumping full courses, trying dressage. These guys are confident in their jobs. The difference between these horses and horses that fall into the “push button" category is that they have not been deadened by inexperienced riders kicking and pulling at the same time. That is why these horses can teach you the finesse of feel and timing that the “push buttons" aren’t able to. It will be frustrating and rewarding at the same time.
Riding the horses on this rung of the ladder is when you will first realize how much everything about you is mirrored through your horse. You will come to the realization that most of the time if the horse does something wrong, you probably were doing something wrong also. They give us another level of maturity as riders because they humble us and teach us that you always have more to learn when it comes to horsemanship.
The Heroes of the Horse World
They have “heart," as horse people have been known to say. It’s not the same kind of “heart" that gives horses like American Pharaoh or Justified that “X” factor they needed to win the Triple Crown or an eventer to thunder around the cross country course at Rolex.
They have hearts that are gentle and kind. They are patient and help even the timidest riders gain confidence. They teach us to listen to our horses and humble ourselves when necessary. They teach us persistence and resilience. They teach us not to give up. They teach us that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that everyone, including every horse, has something to contribute.
They give new riders the safe and positive start they need to get hooked on the horse life, and there is no better life to be hooked on!
We all had to get on the horse crazy ladder and start somewhere. So here’s to the lesson horses! The grass grabbers, jump refusers, wrong lead picker-uppers, and that gem of a “push button." You know, the one that makes us all feel like we could ride any horse in the world!