by Laura Crum
Not so long ago I would have told you that I didn’t plan to ride any more young horses. And I meant it. I never thought I’d climb on anything less than eight years old and a reliable, broke horse ever again. I’ve trained somewhere upwards of a hundred colts in my life, but since then I’ve taken quite a few years off to be a mom, I’ve grown middle-aged and stout, and I just don’t feel up to riding/training young horses any more. Sounds fair enough, right?
But then my friend/boarder took a three year old colt in exchange for a debt and asked me if I’d train him (I trained a few other horses for this friend that he liked.) I said no. I said I was done with training horses. We turned the colt out in my sixty acre pasture and let him learn to be a horse. We sent him to a trainer we both trusted. And now Smoky is five years old, a green broke horse, and back in my barn. And guess what? I’m riding him…and enjoying it.
I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but somehow I became convinced that I’d feel OK on Smoky. And from the very first time I rode him, I felt fine. Yes, he’s green, and requires support, guidance and correction that the mature horses don’t need. But he’s kind and willing, a bit lazy, and shows no real resistance. I feel very safe on his back. He lopes nice circles in the arena and goes down the trail without spooking at anything. So far so good.
And then, yesterday, the wind was blowing like crazy. My son was determined to ride. I saddled Smoky, and the colt was looky. Why wouldn’t he be? The trees were crashing around; I heard one go down up on the ridge.
“We aren’t going out on the trail today,” I told my son. “are you sure you want to ride? Its awfully windy.”
“I can go faster than the wind,” my kid replied.
I saddled Henry, my son’s horse, who appeared completely calm and unworried by the wind. At the same time I regarded the obviously anxious Smoky, who wasn’t very happy about the blowing trees. And I felt a knot of anxiety in my stomach.
I could cope with Smoky being looky and/or jumpy—I knew that. But I wasn’t sure I could do this and still keep my focus on my kid and his horse. And when I ride with my kid, my focus is on him, and keeping him safe and happy. And even Henry is capable of spooking if a tree tips over right next to him. So I felt anxious—worried that I couldn’t deal with all these factors.
In my younger days I’d have stuffed the worry down and climbed on the colt. But I’m older now and a mom. I took a step back mentally. What is important here? What is important is keeping my kid safe. It will do this colt no harm to stand saddled and tied for a few hours and not get ridden. It will, in fact, do him good. And I climbed on steady Sunny and rode with my kid.
My son had a ball, loping endless circles on a wild windy day. His grin was a mile wide. I kept my eye on Henry, who remained completely relaxed the whole ride. It all went well.
And when I unsaddled the gang, I was glad I’d paid attention to my instincts. Not just because everybody was happy and healthy, but because I’d been relaxed and enjoyed my ride. I had done no harm by not riding the colt when I felt anxious. I’ll ride him again, many times, I hope. I had simply done a smart thing.
So I want to put this little wisdom I’ve gained out to all the others out there who, like me, once rode better than they do now. I’m finding its Ok to limit myself to what I feel comfortable with. I don’t need to beat myself up over being afraid. I can enjoy riding Smoky when it feels right, and I can do him no harm by giving him some time tied up and saddled when it doesn’t feel right (and by the way, this is an old horse trainer’s trick for getting horses broke—lots of time standing around saddled.)
I read a very good blog post on Janet Huntington’s Mugwump Chronicles blog on this same subject the other day, and it really inspired me to keep trusting my instincts. As a fiftyish “re-rider”, my main goal is to keep myself and my son safe, and my second goal is to have both of us relaxed and happy horseback, rather than anxious. Pushing myself to do what I don’t feel comfortable with does not further these ends.
And it still turns out that I can ride young horses (gentle ones, anyway) and enjoy them—as long as I listen to my instincts.
Anyone else have any insights to share on this subject?