A few months ago my trainer asked if I minded lessoning with one of her younger riders. There had been a last minute schedule request. The little girl was about 12 years old. When I told her I was more than okay with it, she answered, “I thought you might be. You love kids!”
That is a true statement. Kids and horses are the reasons why I spent summers as a horse camp counselor. However, as the lesson progressed, I realized this was a different kind of experience.
The little girl and I took turns doing the three jump exercises, and while I always try my best in lessons, I felt the need to try even harder. She was watching me!
The lesson made me think about my riding skills in a less self-centric way. I’ve always strived to be a gentle rider, but it was a great lesson for me to remember that everyone, not just the horse and my trainer, can be affected by how I conduct myself.
Don’t cut the corner. Don’t lean to the inside. Sit up. Don’t rush. Don’t jump up my horse’s neck.
I want to do all of those things all the time, but I’m only human, and let’s be honest – sometimes I don’t. But with this little girl watching, I felt like I HAD to. I could tell my trainer was working with her on corners and collecting herself in between fences. Only once did my trainer say, “See how Allison went around that corner? Make sure you do that with your pony, too.”
Even though I’d already resolved to be at my utmost best, that reference solidified it.
At the same time, the lesson was very humbling. The little girl was a rock star! She was eager, always listening and so, so excited to be riding. Sometimes, when the other lesson rider is doing an exercise and I’m waiting for my turn with my horse, I catch myself thinking about what I need to do when I leave the barn or marveling at the beautiful weather. While nothing is wrong with either thought, the middle of a lesson is not the time for them. I can learn from watching others sometimes even better than I can learn by performing the exercise myself.
Horseback riding is such a special sport. Riders don’t age out of the sport like gymnasts or football players typically do. We only get better with saddle time, and sometimes, that saddle time is best spent with a younger rider.
Always be positive. Always believe you can do better. And always have fun. Trust me, the moment your horse feels your positive vibes, the even better your horse will feel. There’s nothing like having a great ride, giving your horse a good pat on the neck and then noticing that sweet 12-year-old do the exact same thing to her horse only moments after you.
We’re always teachers, even when we’re the student in our lessons. Especially when we’re in lessons with kids.
Allison Griest is a freelance writer based in Texas. Follow her on Twitter: @allisongriest.