My daughter is 10 years old. Since she could sit up on her own, I’ve been putting her on my horses and letting her sit on them while they eat. That turned into “pony rides” on the leadline, even though my giant thoroughbred definitely is not a pony. I hoped that she would fall in love with horses and want to ride with me. I had visions of tiny breeches and fat ponies and trotting in circles around the arena hopping over her first jumps.
Alas, she did not seem to have the horse bug. She enjoyed grooming them and leading them and being led around on them, but she was scared to ride independently. Granted, she’s seen me get bucked off, bolted with and reared with, so she knows exactly what can go wrong, but when I was her age I could get bucked off six times in a row and go back for more because I loved riding and nothing could dim my enthusiasm.
For years I’ve been trying to convince Elle to ride. I would borrow a totally safe horse from a friend, put her on him and she would come up with some excuse as to why this wasn’t the horse for her. Too big, too quick, trots too much, etc… All legitimate reasons, I suppose, but they wouldn’t have mattered to me when I was her age. Elle’s best friend is horse crazy and often goes to the barn with us. Even when the friend would go ride off, Elle couldn’t be convinced to go along with her.
There is a twenty-something year old horse at my barn named Gracie. She doesn’t get ridden much, but she is bomb-proof and gentle as a kitten. She’s a draft horse so she is HUGE, but she is a true gentle giant. I’ve been trying to convince Elle to ride her for a year, but Elle flat out refused. Her excuse? She’s too big.
There is another horse at our barn that is owned by a friend of mine. This horse’s name is Bella. Elle’s best friend has been riding her and I think Elle was feeling like she was missing out. Now keep in mind, Elle’s friend, let’s call her M, has been taking riding lessons and is jumping now. M is way more confident than Elle and can handle some naughtiness in a horse, and Bella is naughty. Today Elle told me she wanted to ride Bella too. I explained that even though Bella is small, she is way harder to handle than Gracie and Elle would need to be super confident to handle her.
Elle insisted and I relented. “Fine,” I said, “Ride Bella and see what happens.” Sure enough, Bella was naughty as all get out and ended up just trotting back to her pasture gate as if to say she was done working for the day. Elle couldn’t handle her, as I predicted.
Then Elle pipes up, “Can I ride Gracie instead?” Why yes, yes, you can. I’ve only been trying to get you to ride her for ONE WHOLE YEAR. We pulled Gracie out of the pasture, Elle hopped on and off they went. Gracie is pretty much perfect. Every now and then she’ll drop her head and grab a snack of grass, but she goes where she’s told and she is far, far too lazy to ever take off with anyone. Elle had a fantastic experience with Gracie. She finally felt comfortable on a horse, comfortable enough to ride independently.
This just thrills me to pieces. My dream is to have my daughter want to ride with me. I want to head down the trail together. I want her to have the experience of loving a horse, of borrowing their strength and power, of being able to forget her troubles by heading to the barn. Horses have quite literally saved my life, and giving my daughter the gift of horses is one of the best and most unique things I have to impart.
She says she wants to keep riding Gracie and I pray that she continues. Gracie is at the age where she needs to be ridden to maintain the muscle in her back. If she doesn’t get worked, she’ll end up with that sway back that you see in older horses. Elle needs something she can ride and Gracie needs to be ridden. It’s a win/win and I am the happiest mom on the planet tonight!