Saturday, March 1, 2014
Memoirs: A Horse Girl Rides Tackless
There are few things in this world that I have loved as long or as unconditionally as I have horses and riding. When I was in middle school, there was a period of time where I could not take lessons, so I improvised. My Oma lived near two older, Arabian ponies, the very same ponies that I first touched and sat upon as a three-year-old child. I brought my brushes and a lead line and (with permission) gave those old horses the grooming of their lives. After a couple visits, I grew tired of just brushing them. Obviously, I wanted to ride, too. I poked around the barn looking for a saddle or bridle, but there wasn't much to be found. I vaguely remember a dusty, Western saddle, which I could never have lifted at the time, and a loose bit hanging on a hook, but this was far from workable gear. So I did what any determined, horse-crazy girl would do; I decided to ride without tack.
First, I tied my lead line to the gelding's halter. I wanted to ride him, because he was the more feisty of the two. I saved the mare, the sweet Littlebit, for my sister to ride, if the experiment went well with King. King enjoyed being brushed and fed carrots, but he wasn't completely on board with the whole riding thing. He probably hadn't been ridden in a good ten years and did not show signs of missing it. It took some coaxing to get him to stand on the low part of a slope, so that I could climb on. I had never mounted without a block or a stirrup, so my first attempts were very awkward and probably hilarious to a bystander. I wonder if the owners could see me from their house?
Once on King's back, I was cautious. I patted and talked to him, trying to show the old boy that I just wanted a little time on his back. I must have gotten on him a dozen times and just stood there, content to just sit, but eventually I wanted more. One day, I took the lead line-reins and turned King around. Then I gave him a little nudge with my heels. Unsurprisingly, he wouldn't move. I tried several times, each time more insistence. King had obviously mastered the stubborn pony routine long ago and was not the least persuaded by my efforts. After careful thought, I formulated a better plan. I slid off his back and walked him by hand away from the paddock gate and the mare (who was actually his sister). I positioned him on the low part of the hill, so that I could (more) easily hop onto his back. I knew before I got on, that my plan was going to work. Suddenly, there was life in the old horse's eyes and a new anxiousness. He wanted to be back at the gate. I grabbed mane flung my leg over and clucked. My pony cantered up the hill eagerly and stopped at the mare.
I had done it! I had ridden King without a saddle or a bridle and survived!
And so began many happy visits where I rode King up the hill to his sister. I dare say, he grew to enjoy our short jaunts, because he became less and less ornery. I was even able to ask him to wait for my signal to run up the hill and later on, I was able to steer him around the paddock in his halter. He did try to buck me off a couple times when I urged him to walk away from his sister, but thankfully my young legs were wrapped tightly around his barrel and my butt never left his back. I always rewarded him with carrots when he was compliant and eventually I had my sister riding the mare, so walking away from her was no longer a problem. I learned a lot from those short, bareback rides and I think of them fondly.
I was reminded of what it is like to ride in a halter a little while ago. I had not sat on my horse in many, many weeks. I looked at his blanketed back and the thick rope lead line. I looked at Harley and asked, "Are you up for a walk? "
Thankfully, he was. I felt like a kid riding my pony again, but without any anxiousness about how he might behave, because this was Harley, and I knew he would be a good boy. We walked around the yard and the riding ring, paying visits to the other horses and just enjoying one another's company. Harley snorted with happiness and I felt that twinge of excitement at being on my horses back tackless.