I took my first horseback riding lesson when I was 7 years old. I won't get into how long ago that was, but let's just say it's impressive that I remember it so vividly.
The air in the arena was crisp and cool, and smelled slightly sweet from the hay stacked in the attached barn. My mount for the lesson was a stout chestnut quarter horse with a soft eye and a belly as round as a barrel. He was quiet and slow, an ideal school horse really, but even so I swallowed hard when I felt the power of his muscular frame as we took our first trip around the arena.
I was on top of the world. Riding was all I thought about, all I read about, the only part of the Olympics I watched in rapt fascination. It was all I wanted to do. At the end of my lesson I halted my trusty school horse in front of my instructor, looked her in the eye and said, "When I grow up, I want to do what you do."
Fast forward - ahem - some years. I am standing in the arena looking up at a timid young student on my school horse. My sweet, steady, amazing school horse who I know like the back of my hand. I can move this horse with the brush of a finger. We work together like a team that has spent years getting to know each other, because that is exactly what we've done.
The student is visibly nervous, the tremor of her lower lip gives her away, but I reassure her she's in good hands. Her mother told me beforehand the student has problems in school. She has trouble making friends and standing up for herself. I told her mother this is a familiar story.
I tell the student we will begin slowly and that she is in charge of these lessons. We talk about communicating with the horse using her seat. In the first lesson, she learns to stop the horse using her body instead of the reins. She's delighted to show her mother. Her mother asks in earnest, "How on earth did you do that?"
The student just giggles. Later, she leads my school horse to the untacking area. As we pass a delectable looking patch of grass the school horse pokes her nose toward it, straining for a bite. The student, only the size of a few milk crates stacked on top of each other, furrows her brow and marches determinedly on. My school horse sighs and follows. I glance over at the student's mother and we share a smile. The student will learn more than how to ride horses with me. She will learn to be assertive but fair, kind and consistent, how to be a good leader.
A few days later I am standing in the arena looking up at an older student, one who rode extensively as a child. One who had a bad riding experience on an ill-trained horse and put his riding boots in the closet for good. Or so he thought.
We met at my booth at the NW Washington Horse Expo. He told me he used to ride and thought about getting into it again, but was ashamed by the fear he felt. I handed him my card and told him to think about it and give me a call. I told him the lessons can be what he wants them to be. I told him he has the ability to take charge again, and if he doesn't believe that we will reteach him those skills.
Looking at him now is a kick, his eyes are sparkling. It makes me smile. The student has skills, but they are rusty and we work hard. He schedules more lessons and says he's on his way to the tack store to buy new riding gear. He is pumped. I love doing this even more than I thought I would when I was 7.
These are only a couple of stories. It is difficult to sum up the benefits of the sport of horseback riding in a succinct fashion. Whether the rider has goals to show or just wants to ride for pleasure, this is an incredible sport that teaches communication, fairness, sportsmanship and, most of all, how to be good teammate.
The relationship between horse and rider is mystical and incredible, and the experience of a lifetime. I am so pleased to offer this kind of experience to local riders, both beginning and returning, both young and old.
ABOUT WINDOW ON MY WORLD
Window On My World is an occasional essay in Monday's Bellingham Herald that allows Whatcom County residents to share their passion for what they do, an idea or cause they support. Send your Window On My World, which must be no more than 700 words, to Julie.email@example.com.
Andrea Heimer operates Rolling Stone Equestrian LLC, a mobile riding instruction service that provides horseback riding lessons in Whatcom and Skagit counties. For more information, go to rollingstoneequestrian.com or call 360-220-5396.