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[Horsie] The Evaluation Lesson

For a long while now I’ve been debating some sort of out of the house activity that I would enjoy. I’d been looking at some classes at Maryland Hall in Annapolis, as they offered a variety of creative things to do and I’ve been jonesing for something creative to do, and I’ve been toying with the idea of taking riding lessons again. Both had costs associated with them, and so it’s taken me awhile to decide.

While the the classes at Maryland Hall would be cheaper, I decided on riding. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, it’s been twelve years since my beloved Whinney was put down. She was a great mare with lots of personality, and I missed her greatly. Part of the reason I didn’t ride was because it was just two soon. Secondly, I sorely miss riding, and I sorely miss doing the activities I used to do as a child while riding horses. So, as much as I love being involved with theatre, and on stage, and as much as my degree was tuned in that direction, horses just won out in end. Nothing can overshadow my first love, really.

So, that necessitated a search for a stable that was cheap, and had hours that fit me. I went with a place called Beech Grove Farm. I set up an appointment two weeks ago for an evaluation ride, then stressed for about a week while waiting for that lesson to come. I feared that most of what I learned would go flying out the door, or that suddenly I’d develop some fear of horses that I never had previously since it had been twelve years since I’d ridden. That fear was all for naught, everything was fine. I also think part of the fear is that most horses on most farms are so goshed darn BIG and my Whinney was only 14.2 hands tall, just barely a horse by most standards. They only have outdoor rings, so when I ride, my times are restricted to daylight hours only.

I arrived last Wednesday at the appointed time, and they were confused as to who I was. Apparently they forgot I was coming, but there was nothing to worry about as they were prepared to go ahead and take me for the evaluation. Anita, the owner of the farm, asked if she could work with another girl first, to get her acclimated to riding again. Apparently the girl had been away from riding almost as much as I have, and we seem to have quite a bit in common. I didn’t get to meet said girl, or get to know her name, but it was interesting learning about her during my own evaluation. Also, apparently, she’d had a melt down right before I got there about the method which she wanted to learn how to ride again; she’d wanted to do English, but I think they are starting her Western because of said melt down.

From there, I was introduced to a lovely Quarter Horse mare named Georgie. She’s absolutely beautiful. She’s a rich sorrel color, like my Whinney was, and has a large blaze on her face. She also has a stocking or two upon her feet. She’s easy going and very well mannered, though she didn’t seem too pleased to see me coming into the paddock with a lead line. She almost looked like she was ready to bolt, but she didn’t. I said hello, scratched her neck, and clipped the line to her halter, and off we went to for grooming; which she greatly enjoyed.

By the time we were finished tacking up, with her wearing a nice, familiar Western saddle, Anita was done with her other rider and ready for us to come into the ring. Given that it’s been awhile since I mounted a horse normally, and I’m not as nimble as I used to be, I decided to use one of the provided stools to get onto Georgie. I adjusted the stirrups and waited for directions.

My first goal was to walk around the ring, and get a feel for the horse. Now, this might seem an easy task, but apparently Georgie and I were not yet of an accord with one another. That, and apparently I sat astride her so confidently, that she felt confident in going faster. Georgie is a professionally trained horse, with points in both English and Western under saddle. Georgie is trained to respond to the slightest bit of pressure. I had to work to keep her at a walk, rather than moving into the jog she thought I wanted. So, my first task, as part of my first goal, was to learn how to not push her forward into something more without realizing it. Experimenting a bit, I found if I closed my eyes and just rode, I relaxed more and she stayed at the gait I wanted her to; but the drawback to that is I can’t keep my eyes closed forever while riding.

My second goal was to keep her at a jog. Georgie has this nice slow and steady jog, if you can find it. It’s more a shifting back and forth of the feet, slightly slower than a trot and much smoother. When our first goal was to walk, Georgie kept wanting to go into a jog, and I had to work for her to walk. You’d think allowing her to go into the jog would be much easier, after the walking bit, but it wasn’t. Once she was allowed to go into a jog, she wanted to notch it up a bit and go into a trot; again because she thought that’s what I wanted. So, we had to work at moving at a slightly slower pace, while also doing serpentines around the ring.

This is where things got tricky. Beech Grove Farms has 101 Australian Shepherd dogs. Alright, not 101, but about 26. Their dogs had litters of like 8 and 11, and there are puppies and large dogs all over the place. The ring was full of dogs. So throughout my ride, not only did I need to learn a new horse, but I also had to avoid the dogs, which made me somewhat nervous. One rather cute puppy was soundly asleep in the corner of the ring – nothing was waking that puppy up. So, working at keeping a slow pace, while learning to steer with my legs – which I had just learned how to do in the evaluation – and keeping away from the puppies and dogs while riding, all proved to be a challenging enterprise. However, it was also a very rewarding enterprise.

I was happy with the results of the evaluation. Apparently, I’m more skilled than I thought I was – even if I didn’t know how skilled I really was before. I have a steady seat, but I need to learn how to properly balance myself so the horse understands my signals. I also need to unlearn some bad habits. That right rein somehow keeps sneaking up so it is shorter than the other one. I also need to learn just how much pressure to give the horse, and work on steering. I told Anita that I am interested in getting back into competitions again, and just riding for pleasure. Apparently they allow their students the use of their horses in the showing circuit they are in, so this is a very useful thing.

Also, it turns out that Anita and I have a connection to one another, that we didn’t realize from the beginning, which makes working with her very cool. I used to be in 4-H as a child, and the leaders of my club, the Pony Express, are acquaintances of hers. Talk about a small world!

I was very satisfied when I left the evaluation. I’m definitely going back to train there. I need to call on Thursday (tomorrow) to set up a schedule with them. I’d prefer to do group lessons as they are cheaper, but I’m wondering if I won’t get more benefit out of private lessons. That’s something to chew on.

While I’m chewing on that, I’m continuing to bask in the feeling that something in my life has clicked for me once again. I’ve come home. I did not know how much I have missed riding and working with horses until now. It’s a very vital part of my life that I gave up a long time ago, due to that certain someone in my life mocking my interest in riding and not wanting to participate with me. This is not a part of my life that I can ever imagine giving up again. It’s too important to me, part of something necessary to feed my soul and keep it happy – if that doesn’t sound too silly. It’s part of who I am, and I’m not willing to lose that person again.

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