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WHAT SCHOOL HORSES TAUGHT ME

EQUUS - - Equus - By Court­ney Graf

Iwas not one of those priv­i­leged young rid­ers who com­peted at shows with a horse of my own that I could ride when­ever I wanted. No, my time in the sad­dle was lim­ited to a sin­gle les­son each week, and al­ways on a school horse.

I do un­der­stand now, and ap­pre­ci­ate, how big a com­mit­ment it was for my par­ents to grant me even the one les­son per week. But any ex­tra rides I wanted had to be earned. That might mean hours of clean­ing tack and muck­ing stalls or spend­ing my en­tire Sun­days help­ing the younger chil­dren tack and un­tack their horses. I cher­ished ev­ery ad­di­tional ride.

The best part was get­ting to know the school horses. Ev­ery les­son barn, it seems, has a sim­i­lar cast of characters: the lazy one no one can get to go for­ward; the ornery one who knows ex­actly how to send a child fly­ing; the wild one who spooks at the same spot on the rail each and ev­ery day.

At my child­hood barn we had Pokey, who re­ally did go as slow as pos­si­ble. Sy­bil truly had 12 per­son­al­i­ties, and you never knew which one you would meet on a given day. Let your at­ti­tude turn sour, and Pop­tart would launch you out of the sad­dle. It might have taken eight lessons to fi­nally get Bob to can­ter, but you’d have such a won­der­ful feel­ing of ac­com­plish­ment once you’d achieved that goal.

Each of these horses and ponies taught me some­thing dif­fer­ent. Now, look­ing back, I re­al­ize that I owe much of my suc­cess in adult­hood to those won­der­ful horses. Here are just three of the skills I learned from them:

Ad­just to un­ex­pected set­backs. If my school horse turned up lame the day be­fore the show, I was able to con­fi­dently ride any other horse avail­able to me. When you work hard for some­thing in your life, it is so re­ward­ing when you fi­nally achieve it. Yet so of­ten life does not go as we’d planned---so we need to

SPE­CIAL: The pony, Mowgli, wasn’t part of her barn’s rid­ing pro­gram, but Court­ney Graf val­ued her time with him just the same.

learn to just roll with the changes and take what life gives you. Keep it pos­i­tive. I started in­struct­ing straight out of high school. I did not have the most show ex­pe­ri­ence. My re­sume was not im­pres­sive. But I was able to ride any horse given to me. I could ride through the bucks, the stops and the spooks with a smile on my face. No one can teach you how to reg­u­late your emo­tions bet­ter than a school horse. Let your­self be scared and you will scare your horse. Be flex­i­ble.

There is no one right way to do any­thing. An ap­proach to com­mu­ni­cat­ing that works per­fectly for one horse might com­pletely con­fuse another. This is not be­cause they are stub­born, lazy or ornery. All be­hav­ior is com­mu­ni­ca­tion---and we all com­mu­ni­cate in dif­fer­ent ways. It is our job to learn the best way to com­mu­ni­cate with each horse. I have worked with youth for my en­tire pro­fes­sional ca­reer, and this prin­ci­ple could not be truer for chil­dren as well.

And so, I’d like to of­fer a word of ad­vice to all the show rid­ers out there: Next time you take a les­son, try a school horse. You may not be able to main­tain perfect form the whole ride. You will not get to prac­tice your most ad­vanced rid­ing skills. You will not jump the big­gest jumps. But you just might ex­pe­ri­ence some­thing price­less.

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