Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Good Old Mare

I stopped in at a local day show last Saturday to visit with a few friends. I was admiring a young girl who was just riding the tar (in a good way) out of a sharp looking Fjord pony. This petite little thing wrestled the Fjord through class after class. She looked cool and calm and her pony merrily lumbered her way through the arena as best she could.

A Fjord doesn't exactly melt into the crowd in my neck of the woods. Our English classes are judged in the "Wenglish" or "Engstern" tradition and the Western are, well western. The classes are filled with quarter horses, paints, a few arabs, more quarters and paints, some grades that look like quarters or paints and did I mention the quarter horses and paints?

But I watched this young rider place in most of her classes. They make a fairly stunning pair in my book. She even reins on her little Fjord and their patterns are quiet and solid, even if they don't have a 30 foot slide or a hair trigger spin.

I told the girl's grandmother how impressed with them I was and her answer surprised me a little.

"If she was riding one of the other horses you see here she'd really be cleaning up," she said.

I was a little taken aback. For one thing, that pony is a dream. The other is I know full well the little girl rides the way she does because she had to really work in order to succeed on a horse who doesn't quite fit in. Kids don't learn to ride like she does when they're handed a trained show horse.

What parents often fail to understand is a finished horse shapes a green rider. The rider learns to fit the horse's needs in order to compete. There is nothing wrong with this, but for kids especially, I think it's important for them to learn to shape the horse to fit them. It truly teaches them to ride.

Which is why I was perfectly willing to have my daughter spend her first several years riding and competing on a very willing, gentle but extremely elderly mare, Annie.
Annie was a quarter horse. My daughter had grown up riding her. The kidlet rode with me until she was four, then took over the reins and was off on her own.

Annie never gave me reason to doubt her. She was consistently kind, she loved kids, she tried to do what I asked of her. She was my primary beginner lesson horse. She was also just about the slowest horse on the planet.

Annie was famous for her innovative transitions. When a child would be urging her into a trot for the first time, Annie would speed up her walk and begin bobbing her head in a perfect imitation of a horse at the trot. But those feet would keep on walking. She could "trope" all day. Slow and easy, loping in the front and trotting in the back.

Annie gave children confidence. She would obey when they could make her, but not until they were horsemen enough to get her there. She would lower her head for a hug from the tiniest child. She would stand quiet and soft for the most fearful.

She was perfect. Unless you were my fearless wild child, crazy with the desire to run and wanting so bad to go to the shows with her mom. Annie and my kidlet had been a perfect pair at the day shows. They had become an almost unbeatable team in the 10 and under morning classes.

Now, at 11, my little girl had definitely out-grown her horse. But she was the horse I had for her. She would have to do.

So the kidlet began to teach Annie to rein. She begged me for sliders. I finally caved and had Ed come put sliders on Annie. Of course they were my version of appropriate sliders for a 26 year old horse. Ed shoed her in the back with regular keg shoes, but turned them upside-down so they were smooth. Then he left all the nail heads on to give her some grip.
Kidlet was happy, Annie was safe and we were reining.

I was pleased and impressed to see my little girl get the old mare circling up. She worked hard and figured out her lead changes. Annie, as usual, complied with dignity once she was resigned to the fact that my kidlet was determined to make it happen.

I finally promised to take her to an AQHA show and let her show in the youth reining. I warned her the competition would be fierce, that Annie was old and not a reiner.

Kidlet was sure it wouldn't matter, she knew they'd be fine. We picked a show in Rifle, because it was smaller than some and we would have time to go tubing in the river and take a trip to the hot springs. Kidlet was out of her mind.

The first day of the show came awfully quick. Kidlet was a nervous wreck when she saw the sleek and finished reiners she was up against.The other youth riders were well into their teens, confident and at ease.
She snapped and snarled at everyone in our group (ahh...so like her mother!) and fretted all the way into the arena. She had a look of absolute terror on her face. Annie looked bored.

They under spun and zeroed. They misplaced their markers. They missed a lead. Kidlet's hat fell off, banged Annie on the butt and I witnessed the only buck I ever saw come from the old mare.

Kidlet left the arena with her head down and disappeared. I gave her a few minutes and found her sitting in the truck, crying her eyes out. Annie stood patiently beside the truck door, her reins dangling.

I rapped on the window.

"Get out here and take care of your horse."

I went back to the arena to wait for my class. Kidlet showed up later that afternoon. She was red-eyed, but cheerful enough.

"I cleaned the stalls and watered Annie," Kidlet told me. "She's out grazing."

It seemed the crisis had passed. When we had curled up in our trailer for the night we talked more about the day. I reminded Kidlet of what was important. Remembering her pattern, riding her horse to the best of her ability and being proud of what they could do. She really didn't want to hear it, but I hoped part of my stubborn little girl was listening.

Two days later it was time for her next class. She came into the arena silent and focused. She watched the other goes with fierce determination. She snarked at me if I even pretended to coach.

"I know my pattern!" Kidlet hissed at me.

I left her be and kept my stage mother anxieties to myself.

When the kidlet and Annie walked into the arena she sat straight in the saddle and looked the judges dead in the eye.

Annie loped off into her first big circle. I glanced up at the judges. They smiled at the very cute picture Annie and my little girl presented. They also looked resigned at the incredibly slow lope they saw going around the arena. One of the judges looked at his watch and settled back into his chair.

It didn't seem possible but when it came to their small slow circle, Kidlet brought Annie down even slower. It was amazing. I could almost hear the judges groan. Then back to the next big fast, er sort of.

I was proud. Annie was cruising along at her usual crawl and Kidlet sat a little up and forward, her hand up and her legs bumping a gentle encouragement in fine reiner style.
She sat back and took Annie through her clean lead change smooth as silk. The old mare was level and quiet, huffing her way around the pen.

I saw the judges sit up and look a little closer.

Kidlet's second set of circles was as perfect and slow-mo as the first. There were a few whistles from the audience after the second lead change. I saw a tiny flash of a smile whip across my daughter's serious face and then she looked up the pen and started her run-down.

Kidlet sat back and drove the old mare up the pen. Annie rounded her back, well, sucked in her belly anyway, and pushed into the bridle. Although they would have lost a race with a pleasure horse, they still increased speed with every stride and stopped clean. They slid a good three or four feet. Tiny little eleven's.

Their roll back was honest and they repeated the clean run down and stop. The judges were leaning forward and smiling now. Her last stop was clean. They backed straight.

Then came the spins. Annie could not spin. She had arthritis in both hocks and was seriously sway-backed. There was no way to pick herself up and get around.

Kidlet dropped her weight to the inside, took her leg off and drove her forward. They executed four tiny little circles each way. They were done.

I glanced at my watch. My daughter and her mare had been in the arena for almost 12 minutes. Almost twice the length of the average pattern. But there were people clapping. My wild child had gone out there and shown her horse. She was calm, smiling and proud. Me too.

A miracle happened that afternoon. We sat and watched the other kids go. We saw nerves get to them and watched forgotten patterns. We saw over ridden horses blow and buck. We saw over-spins an under-spins. We saw Annie get a third place ribbon.

No one will ever convince me I made a mistake keeping my daughter on Annie for all those years. She loved and treasured that mare. She learned how to take a knock. She learned to compete. She learned to ride. All in the safety of that slow, old mare.


  1. Annie sounds like an absolute treasure. And good for your kid for kicking some butt.

  2. I am crying.....I could feel the pride... Okay, so I am a little depressed and emotional right now, but really, that was the sweetest... story.... EVER...

  3. It's really hard to eat lunch, scroll the page, and wipe away tears all at the same time...But, I couldn't agree with you more about Annie. If only some parents would understand...

  4. What a great story about a girl and her horse!


  5. SNIFF, my gosh I'm tearing up. So sweet, beautiful story. Thanks for sharing.


  6. Everyone else is crying; I'm giggling. In the best possible way. Good for Mugs Jr. for working it out with the awesome Annie!

  7. I can definitely relate to having a horse like Annie. My little sorrel was the perfect horse for me and is now the perfect horse for another little girl, who has her on a free lease. Horses like Annie are worth their weight in gold.

  8. Ah, darn hormones! Lol, as I wiped the tears away it reminded me of my first old horse. He was my daddy's rope horse for many years before he became my barrel horse. He had navicular something fierce, and got to where he couldn't stay comfortable being ridden just as I got old enough to really stay in the middle and hustle a horse through a barrel pattern. My dad said he was never more proud of me than the day I walked that ol guy out of the warm up pen before a jackpot--he was limping. He'd got out of the trailer fine, and warmed up without a missed step. He favored a front foot as I had tried to do a roll back off the fence, and I knew then that his barrel racing days were over. I was 12. It broke my heart-I knew that was probably the last time I'd ever ride him.
    Horses like Annie (and my ol guy) have a special place in heaven, as far as I'm concerned. They're simply priceless. I love reading your blog for so many reasons, mainly because reading it causes me to think back to things I normally try to forget.
    Thank you for that.

  9. New reader, Mugs.

    Your Annie sounds like the soul-sister of my old Story, who also had mastered the art of the "fake trot" for the benefit of small riders.

    Blessings forever upon the hearts and heads of all old, trustworthy mares--and the riders who are smart enough to see their beauty.

  10. That ... was ... a ... great ... story. Thanks. We are gearing up for our first (8 year old kid and 18 year old horse) show in April. Hope we can smile too.

  11. What a sweet story, Mugs.

    I hope McKinna can be like that for my kids, someday - just the type of horse they need, if not the horse they want ;)

  12. Truely horses like Annie are to my mind harder to find and more valuable than the best finished show horse.

  13. Oh man. I love reading what you write but this one hit close to home with my old gem Naigen that I rescued. I wish I had her when I was young because of her patience and kindness she is the exact replica of Annie in her attitude. She taught so many kids the joys of riding such a well broke and finished little horse. She would as your annie would, lower her head for a hug from the tiniest child. Stand stock still for kids to mount and dismount in the strangest ways (like off her rump lol!) I only seen her buck once too, it was at the gelding that was grooming her when she was in the cross ties and bit her, in affection but not to her liking. Those arthirtic heels got a whole foot and a half off the ground lol! I miss the old bugger so damn much.
    Yet I am glad I had the troublesome, firey pistol that taught me about being a real rider, not just sitting on the pre-fabricated show horse and winning.

  14. That would be the coolest thing. My son, 7, is taking lessons and just last night he and I were riding around the arena. our old mare's 24ish and sounds the same as Annie. She's quiet and sound, but she's definitely not pushbutton and is making my little man work for his experience. He's figuring out that she will stop every time at the front gate, so he started circling her a little closer to the middle of the arena because his scrawny legs can't squeeze or kick hard enough to feel more than anything but a fly to her. He said one day he's going to learn how to run through a field. I can't wait for that day :)

    I love Fjord's too, so beautiful.

  15. I am so proud of Kidlet for "getting it" and doing her best with Annie. I, too, am keeping my daughter, Kitty, on an old mare until she's a much better rider. Kitty wants a prettier, faster, fancier horse. Not the 24 yr old babysitter mare she's on now. Better for her to learn to sit old Sue's bumpy trot and build up those muscles having to give Sue a bit extra leg to get her to lope than a sensitive creature who could undermine Kitty's confidence with over-response and lightening reflexes before Kitty's truly ready.

  16. oh my.

    That was a STORY.

    Made me cry.

    I'm off now to see MY kidlet...the one that brought ME back to the horses.

  17. Oh how sweet! I grew up showing whatever I was lucky enough to ride. And I worked hard. It was tough competition with all the 'high dollar' finished horses and spoiled rotten kids, but we gave them a run for their money! :) My old crazy appy mare tought me a lot and I will always miss her :)



  18. Great story. I only pray that Henry, my son's 21 year old horse, who has a great deal in common with Annie, will make it to 26 in as good shape as Annie did. I will be eternally grateful if my little boy can have a few more good years with this reliable, and yes, very slow, gelding (who just went through colic surgery--for those of you who read my post on this on equestrianink, Henry is doing well at almost four weeks out--knock on wood).

  19. Wonderful story!!! Your daughter must be quite the rider :) But she has big foot steps to follow :)

    I always wished I had a horse like Annie. I know its made me a better rider but I always envied the kids who's horses got sent away for 'tune up's' and they just had to sit there!

    On the fjord issue ....lol... I rode them for a summer and wow they can do dressage things most warmboods cant think about! But they are not a horse I would want to compete on in a WP class!

    Anyways this is the Fjord farm I worked on if anyone doesnt know what they look or move like:


  20. I am laughing so hard that I'm crying. I looove the image of the the slow - fast circles and the even slower slow circles.

    That was great! I needed a pick me up.

  21. If we are lucky we all have one of good old mares. Mine is 26 yrs old this year, and she is still teaching kids to ride. She loves them, she puts up just enough of a fight to make them learn, and never puts them in danger.

    She taught me to ride when she was much younger, and has taught more kids than I can count. Our oldies are worth more than gold.

  22. What a lovely, sweet story. I loved it.

  23. Your stories are always incredible, but this one got me teared up.

  24. My daughter just had her first baby and she is already planning on using her brother's old horse for her little girl in a few years. I hope our old gelding will takes care of my granddaughter like Annie did for your daughter! I loved the part when you told her to come out of the truck and take care of her horse! I always told the kids that no matter what, the horses eat and drink before they do!

  25. what a sweet one this was. I'm crying too. sniff.

  26. Oh, Mugs

    You should have been there Sunday! There was this 6-year something little girl on a small sorrel horse who was just about running away with her. You should have seen the fear on her face as she tried to save face while trying to keep up with grandpa or dad who was riding ahead of her and totally clueless. I saw that horse basically runaway with her back into the arena. It brought tears to my eyes!

    The young girl on the Fjord mare continued to ride well on the speed events and is even taking dressage lessons on her!

    FWIW "Cougar the Brave" spooked/shied at the SECOND barrel! I think it was because it was against the white panels vs first barrel that was lost in the crowd on the panels.

    Maggie Z, the Brave

  27. I have a little four year old lady who is as fearless as they come, especially with all of her four legged friends. I pray that I can find an "Annie" for her so she can discover early on about the value of a good horse!! Thanks for sharing your stories! I know they give hope to me.

  28. Wonderful story again, Mugs.
    I believe your Annie is the kind of horse the rest of us horse parents are looking for when searching for the first horse to our kids.
    To me the most important asset in the first horse is it being SAFE.
    Self confidence and joy is so easily shattered in children.
    (A safe and gentle horse keeps the parents from getting a heart attack too.)
    Having a horse/pony that makes the child feel safe and helps the small rider to master things is such an asset, but they are not easy to find, and even less so if you are speaking of small ponies.
    The "safe"-factor is not that easy to evaluate when you’re out there to buy. The horse to be sold is in familiar surroundings, and with a rider he is used to. The selling rider is older and masters the horse better than the new child will.
    I wish it was easier to persuade parents to buy older horses to their kids when they are looking for a first pony/horse. The “been there, done that” factor is worth a lot IMO.
    I find that small ponies are often spoilt, maybe a result of the parents not setting clear enough frames for what is tolerated or not. It is also difficult to correct a small pony in the riding as you cannot ride them yourselves.
    We bought the first pony to my daughter when she turned seven.
    Felix was a cross Shetlands pony – Gotlandsruss.
    Gotlandsruss is an old Swedish breed. They look like a smaller Icelandic horse, and they still live free on the island of Gotland.
    Both those breeds are “pony smart”, the instinct of survival lies close enough to create a lot of interesting situations, hehum.
    We renamed him “Bøllegull”, Rascal-sweetie. He was sweet most of the time, but when presented with the opportunity he just couldn’t help himself, lol.
    So my daughter also learnt to ride. She just had to be more stubborn than him.
    With Felix she did a bit of everything. She went trail riding, started dressage, show jumping and pony racing, and also tried cross-country. (Problem with the latter was to find small enough obstacles, lol).
    He did not only learn my daughter to canter, but several of her friends too…
    Sadly small ponies don’t grow, but children do. We sold him on to another small rider, but we speak about him often.

  29. Oh, and how nice to hear that you have Fjords over there as well, even doing Western!

  30. Ahhh... you got me in tears at work! In the bestest way though! What a proud mama, and fantastic horse! God bless the babysitter-kid mounts. They are truly one in a million. I think it was a great lesson for you kid to learn. Just because Annie didn't fit perfectly, you don't cast her aside for the newer faster model. She could do it, just, at her speed.

  31. My daughter and I have been guilty of not being happy with what we've got and dealing with it instead of lusting after a more trained, expensive, flashy, whatever horse. Thanks for making your point very clear that the horse you have worked your butt off with and learned so much from and can trust just may be the horse you need right now, at this very moment.

  32. The first horse that was really dear to me was a Fjord, a riding school horse.
    She knew all the tricks and was not very happy to be groomed, but to me she was the best. So they have a special place in my heart!
    I'd love to share a couple of nice pictures of some Fjords with you if I may?
    (First three are of approved stallions)





  33. I'm misty-eyed at the end of that story. So many great messages there. Thanks for making a mom's day.

    I bought an ancient schoolie for my daughter's first horse, too. Now I ride him. When I had to take him to the vet (for colic, he is fine, now) I put down $600.00 as his maximum value because that's what I paid for him. Later, I felt bad, because I realized it would take a several thousand dollar horse to replace his training and "been everywhere, done everything" experience. He ran 22 seconds on barrels with me the other day and only that slow because I pulled him in - it was too fast for me!! Love that old boy!!

  34. Wow, Annie sounds NICE. My parents were, and still somewhat are clueless about the horses that we buy or get for free. My first horse was a freebie and somewhat opposite of Annie. He was 33/34 when I got him and is about 38 now. He liked to buck some, and also enjoyed trying to gallop home (though only if we were loping or trotting towards it at the time, no bolting). However he was also pretty sane in the ways that mattered to me. I could get on him off of anything, and ride him with a peice of twine or a dog leash around his nose. I can remember times when I tied our llama and him together by the halters so the llama wouldn't run off, and times when I carried sleds and big bow n' arrow targets on his back (those were our 'jumps'). He taught me alot and both gave and took alot of my confidence leaving me a pretty secure rider. Oddly enough, any confidence he caused me to lose, I just regained when I started riding my two year old bareback everywhere. Now he is retired and loving it, though I still pull him out once in awhile and go for a ride with the goats following us like dogs.

  35. Great story. I never had a riding lesson until I was in the "re-rider" catagory. I was 16 when I rode my first "finished" show horse. When I was young we couldn't afford fancy horses/tack or lessons, so I gleaned as much information from friends that were taking lessons and by watching. Much like you did mugs.
    I understand what you are saying about riding the finished show horses vs backyard (not sure if that is the right word??) horses. Children that ride at show barns are basically taught to sit and cue a show horse. Period. They aren't taught to "ride". They are lost when they are asked to ride a horse that isn't push button.

    I think that your daughter sounds like one heck of a young lady. Strong, independent and intelligent. What a great combo. I am proud to say I have one of those too. :)

    I recently rescued an AQHA mare (22 years old) that sounds much like your Annie. I think she was someone's old show horse that they threw away. My hope for her is that she is going to get healthy and find a young person that needs a wonderful partner to learn some skills on. These old horses are worth their weight in gold.

  36. Awwww...this brought tears to my eyes and a big smile to my face - and took me back to the "good ol' days". :)


  37. So many of us had an Annie in their lives.I love hearing about yours.
    I have to be honest. I was a just hang on, never wear a helmet, run around the neighborhood on my horse kind of kid.
    I could probably get flamed hard by some folks for this, but I had pretty much the same attitude with Kidlet. She used to sleep on Annie's back during the horses afternoon siesta. She crawled over, under and through that mare on a regular basis. She rode her forward, backwards, sideways, sitting, kneeling and standing.My one concession to my child's safety was Annie.
    I'm not advocating that kind of idiocy mind you, just admitting I was pretty tolerant.
    My conundrum is, I don't know how else to create a rider like my daughter (as in letting her create herself).
    Kid's who learn in an arena under an adults watchful eye don't ever learn to ride like the ones who race around like banshees, bare-headed in the wind.
    If you saw Kidlet swing up on her colt bareback, flat-footed and from a standstill, then go flying down a mountain trail,sticking to that colt's back like a tick, you'd see what I mean.
    How can you teach that? I can't.
    I'm not sure what the answer is.

  38. Mugs-
    I'd like to know how to do that to.
    I can't count the times I rode my horses around in the pasture bareback, in shorts, no shoes on, lol! I learned so many things on my own, that I didn't realize until I was older. I can't handle thinking about my little boy climbing off the fence to get on one of our big geldings--but that's how I used to do it!!

  39. Growing up, I always envyed the girls with the fancy, high-dollar horses and training. This story opened my eyes a little. I've always known that my first horse Maggie was a jewel. (you can read her story on my blog). She was a mix breed Morgan / QH and in her senior years. She carried me all over the place. I know that she made me into the rider I am today. I've also always felt that I missed out on so much because my family could never afford for me to take lessons. I pretty much learned everything I know on my own. Now that I'm grown up I take lessons but I only had a few when I was younger.

    Loved this story! I think most of us that grew up riding can relate to this somehow!Thanks for this Mugs!

  40. I feel kind of bad when I watch kids that haven't had an Annie to maul. My first horse was an old "been there done that" ranch horse and he pretty much let me do anything I wanted. I rode with 4 or 5 other girls and we were a bunch of wild children out having a great life. We came up with so many crazy ideas and he just went along. When I got my next horse, I just expected him to do the same and for the most part he pretty much went along with the program.

    Here's a couple....
    How about the using the horse for a vault? Running up behind them, jumping up, placing two hands on their rump and landing on there back? I look back on that one and go what the hell was I thinking?
    Or Tire Rides... take a long rope and put it through the hole of an old tire and hook both ends onto your saddle back cinch rigging. Then put a kid on the tire and go like a bat out of hell (in the mud was the best). Next it was tire ride races. I could go on for days. I probably should be dead or disabled. :)

  41. I think wild child riders' guardian angels go into early retirement with their wings in tatters!

  42. The tire rides are great!
    We used to pull inner tubes in the snow, and use corregated sheet metal as a "prairie tobaggan" across the fields..... I guess you could say our horses were broke to pull.I tied off my saddle horn though.
    The kidlet and her tribe used to ride their "butthead horses". They would ride them sitting backwards. They would walk, trot, lope and fall off, all backwards.
    We used to set up sprinklers in the indoor and they would all play broom ball in the sprinklers on a hot day. Nobody died, but there were lots of scrapes and bruises.

  43. Now that's a class I would have loved to have seen. I'm sure she was the oldest horse at that show!

    Good for them.

    My friend just posted on a board we're on...her kid's old AQHA mare took her for a gallop the other day. Mare's got to be 30 if she's a day. Came through CBER, no history except a brand on her butt and broke to death. Skinny, starved...dropped a stillborn foal and then got adopted to my friend. That was 3 years ago. Those old mares know what tough is.

  44. >>If you saw Kidlet swing up on her colt bareback, flat-footed and from a standstill, then go flying down a mountain trail,sticking to that colt's back like a tick, you'd see what I mean.
    How can you teach that? I can't.<<

    Eh, you actually can. It involves tons of no stirrups, no rein work. It's nowhere NEAR as much fun for the kids as the "run around like a banshee on every half broke POS on earth" method, but it creates fewer gray hairs in the parents. :-)

  45. Sorry Fugs-gotta disagree. I spent a lot of years teaching kids with the no reins, no stirrups, balance, position, etc. It produces good riders, but not like I'm talking about.
    Once again, I'm not condoning this as a teaching method, I'm just saying there's a difference.

  46. I think that kids look at the "butthead" horses as a challenge. I remember always wanting to try out the really obnoxious ones just to see if I could ride them. The ground was alot softer back then. ;)

    Fugly... I am not sure that you can teach what you learn by being a wild child... sitting the spook, etc. you just don't get that kind of exposure.

  47. I'm 50 and was one of those wild children with no helmet, wind flying through my hair...all summer long. My parents hadn't a clue where I was!

    I learned out of necessity for survival, sort of. Lots of trial and error. We couldn't afford lessons...just an occasional lesson from our 4-H leader.

    So, still today, I can have someone try to teach me something, but until I get out there by myself with the horse, I don't get it.

  48. kel- they (the five little hooligans, including kidlet that were at the barn I worked at) called them butthead horses because they rode backwards. Facing the horses butts. They would reach down and tweak their tails and make whinnying noises. When the horses would poop they would yell, "Oh no! She threw up!" When the horses farted they would yell, "Brush your teeth butthead!" Things like that. Usually while I was teaching some earnest young kid to trot around the arena in two-point position.
    I had no control.I am ashamed. Sort of.

  49. "I don't know how else to create a rider like my daughter"

    I dont truthfully know how to. I think your daughter is a much better rider than most of us are.

    Here is kinda my thought on it...Its almost impossible with most 'training' barns format these days to have kids that comfortable. Truthfully, I did most of my crazy behavour at that Fjord place, young enough to love it old enough to be safe. Every morning 4 of us would grab the older mares, bareback, halters with leads for bridles (we did wear helmets!) and "round up" the 20 or so young stock that grazed the 40 acres. Mostly full out. Fjords cant do western pleasure but they can cut!

    Anyways I think the current lesson program (20min tack, ride one hour, untack ect) doesnt teach horsesence.

    Thats why Im a big beliver in camps where the kids DONT ride a whole bunch. Where they learn showmanship not because of the show class but because of how it influnces the horse, how to set up a course (and then jump it on your own two legs to figure out why that turn wont work!) how to lunge a horse (Ive met people who never knew how to lunge untill there first horse was running around them in circles) There are horse owners that dont know how to clean out there own horses stall! (not saying that you have to but you should know how!)

    One barn I worked in the kids had never ridden bareback. These are kids competing AQHA Youth, that never did it. Think on how much FUN they were missing out on let alone all the good stuff that teaches you!

    The barn Im at now has a good program for the 14-18 kids. There 'given' a broodmare at breeding, that is their responsiblity to care for. When the foal is weaned they take over the foals care all the way untill they are 3 or sold. Now these are not beginner riders, they have supervision at all times, and the colts progress from the kids just tacking for the trainer to cooling out to more riding time. (and if when the colt gets hurt they handle, with help, the treatment) But you want to talk about Horsemen in training!

    Sorry its so long!!

    Also glad to hear Im not the only one that can hardly talk to people at shows!

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  52. OMG Mugs, I'm laughing out loud here at work over the "butthead" thing. We used to ride backwards in college but we never named it anything, I guess because we were just so much more mature in college....yeah, right...I did more stupid stuff at the university's student Co-op barn(with very little faculty supervision) than I ever did as a younger kid :)

  53. I took formal lessons as a kid...and I rode the horses at the family ranch bareback, backwards, double, and yes, mounted and dismounted over the tail. Lets not forget standing up at the trot. That was always fun. Not to mention sliding them down the big sawdust pile (sort of like a backyard dune of loose sand--essentially the horse just avalanched down forty feet, with us whooping and hollering on top of them). And yeah, at those riding lessons, I learned to jump three and a half feet. What did I do? Went back to the ranch, built jumps out of junk and made the cowhorses learn to jump three and a half feet. We crashed through a lot of junk, but I can't remember horse or rider ever getting hurt. No adult supervised us once we were past ten years or so. No one ever wore a helmet on the ranch, I can tell you. I had a ball. I really learned to ride. You can guess where. Not at the lessons. At the ranch.

    Yes, I'm lucky I wasn't hurt. I do make my son wear a helmet. But I let him play around on his old, gentle gelding. I don't give him formal lessons. He does ride really well. I'm with you, mugs. If possible, kids should be given a bomb proof old horse and allowed to play around. Its the best way to learn to be a horseman.

  54. That is priceless... just when you think that you heard it all. We did ride backwards, standing up, double, back to back, side saddle w/o the saddle, tried going from front to side to backwards to side and back at the trot bare back (fell off alot). We were on 20 acres and no arena or boundaries and no adult supervison at all. We had carved out a flat spot and one of the dads hauled truckloads of shavings for us to call our arena. But if you got to screwing around to much you could and did end up in the blackberry bushes.

    I always kind of laugh to myself when I see an ad for a horse the person is standing up on the horses back. I wouldn't do it today, but back then you had to be able to ride at least at a walk standing up because when the plums were ripe the horses could get all the ones you could reach sitting down. Some things were just necessary. :)

    I look back on it now and chuckle. If I had a suitable place, I would take my kids for a tire ride. :) They wouldn't get it, but I would love it.

  55. I am one of those race around bareback people, but I can't hop on bareback without a fence or stump or tin can to stand on. I could blame it on being 5' tall... but I haven't practiced much either. Luckily my 2 y/o will 'bow' for a carrot :) But I did start out with formal lessons, sort of... it was more of formal lessons for a month, then 'horse camps' for a week or two each summer, then a few years off until I got lessons at a barn a few miles away from my house. Except after my trainer saw I could stay on and didn't mind bucking she put me on everything from ex-barrel racers who would try to run her down while I was on them to the horses that bucked every other stride. It was very educational, eventualy I got to play with the horses for free and then she gave me my old opinionated gelding who furthered my education on the whole bareback and insane part. This of course progressed to me buying a foal, then a huge tempermental halter filly, and finally to an untouched 3 year old. My parents never really thought too much about the pros and cons of me having start each of my horses without any assistance, but as much as parents get called out for that sort of thing, I certainly appreciate it now... Its more fun.

  56. You went and made me cry with this one. What lucky girl... and not because she had the fanciest horse. Because she had the right one.

  57. Great horses like Annie are worth their weight in gold.

    We have a little grey mare at our barn that will be 20 this year. She has taught many, many children to ride with the patience of a saint. She will plod around in slow-mo for a beginner, cart walk-trotters around in their first show pen experience, or move out for the more experienced rider. We joke about cloning her. =)


  58. Thankyou for sharing Annie and kidlet with us. Their story makes me realize what a treasure I have in Bridgette, our 20+ mare. She and I have waited for her colt together, we've treated injuries patiently and quietly, and she's taken on the job of teaching this very unconfident, Sunday rider how to stay on and enjoy herself.


  59. This is a _wonderful_ post. Thank you.

  60. Just by looking at the number of comments on this post it looks like you've hit a cord! We all have those stories and we weep with joy over them. Me too! Horses like Annie are few and far between. I had one for my girls too. I had one of my own.
    Mothers like you are few and far between also. It's a lot easier to mount our children on finished horses so they will win- but like you- I don't think that is the point. Frustration, determination and able horses make good horsemen and that is a lot more important in my book than merely being a rider.
    Thanks for the awesome story!

  61. The concession to safety at our house was always wear a helmet - I know thats not a western thing - but riding english, and having a Mum who bust her collar bone protecting her head just befor the biggest show of the season meant that helmets were worn. That doesn't meant that we didn't go screaming around the district making jumps out of fencing materials left on the road side "road closed signs were great - haul them onto the grass verge - jump them, then put them back. I think my favourite road rides were the ones after a big storm - going and seeing what new wind fall there was to jump!
    Our Annies were about 11 hands high - they initally carted us around, but as we learnt we had to do things right or we'd be ignored! We did everything on them, didn't win often, placed a lot, but we could do both the morning and afternoon classes on the same pony, then ride the one day events in winter, while other kids took the winter off, or had another pony.
    Mickey Mouse and Sparky were the worlds best learner ponies (acording to my sisters and I).

  62. Trust me guys, I will never mock somebody in a helmet. I totally concede that we cowboy types are total idiots about some things. Wouldn't let the kidlette near her bicycle or motorcycle without one, go figure.

  63. That's beautiful. My daughter (who will be 12 next month) learned on our 23yo rope horse. He took care of her while all the while challenged her as well.

    She has since moved up to a more finely tuned pleasure Paint mare and a wild and wooly speed demon that I handed my reins over to her. She was ready and it was all because that non-conformist old rope horse taught her his ropes.

    Pleasure coaches called him "annoying". Speed coaches said "I bet he used to be fast."

    He's priceless and he has been instrumental in my daughter's horsemanship. All the tears, and all the smiles... they go back to Spike.

  64. *** Kid's who learn in an arena under an adults watchful eye don't ever learn to ride like the ones who race around like banshees, bare-headed in the wind. ***

    I understand what you're saying. When you mentioned the snarky "no coaching" comment, I felt you lol. The best times my daughter and I have had while she's learning to ride is when I just tell her "JUST GO RIDE!" and she takes off on her choice of mount for that day and wanders around on her own.

    One day a few years ago she chose my clownish-gelding and here they came back.. her on foot leading him. I stood on the deck and hollared "What happened?" (insert dirty look here)

    Johnnie was notorious for pulling pranks to see what he could get away with. He pulled one on her that day.

    She sneered at me... led him over to the trailer and crawled back on him bareback. He had dumped her out in the field but she couldn't get back on out there.. so they had to walk lololol. I took a sip of my drink and watched her get back on and go out again.

    It's moments like that that make me very proud. And it's moments like that that make me realize it's just not that she can ride... but it's that she can RIDE.

    And when I watch her in her English garb in a beautiful extended trot with her Paint mare not missing a diagonal or lead and then switching over to barrel saddle, skid boots and long braided mane flying at warp speed on my old buckskin crazy-man... it all comes together.

    It's because I told her "Just go ride".

  65. This post makes me glad I've had a bit of both - lessons AND "wild" freedom. Picking apples while standing on the back of a farm's morgan, summer after summer, and putting the poor boy over caveletti are some of my best memories ever.

    Thanks for the info on Fjords too! I am about to start helping someone exercise their young Fjord and I've never ridden one before.

  66. equus-The few Fjords I've known have been cheerful, willing, very pretty movers and heavy on the front. And extremely kind. Considering their draft background I guess that makes sense.
    I'll post soon guys, I'm just slammed.

  67. Equus- I am so excited to hear about your project as I am from Norway.
    I agree with Mugs re. the Fjords, but please allow me to add some extra info.
    They are actually one of the world’s oldest and purest breeds, and the markings are similar to the Przewalski horse.
    Viking burial grounds show that man have bred Fjords for about 2000 years.
    They have their home at the rugged west coast of Norway, with steep mountains and fjords, and have been used as a draught horse, a driving horse, as a pack horse and as a riding horse in tough terrain. So the use has been multipurpose; as it still is today.
    Fjord horses are healthy and strong horses, they often get very old.
    They are easily fed and sure footed.
    They have a gentle and calm character but can sometimes be a bit opinionated and heavy in the front.
    (You just have to get those hind legs working!)
    Best of luck, and give those American relatives greetings from Norway and a carrot from me!

  68. Every Fjord I've ever met has been a joy to be around, they are too cool.

    Hey everyone, go check out horseofcourse's blog entry from yesterday, it's hilarious!

  69. Lovely weather and three moose today, Mugs!
    How are you doing with the horses/work/everything else-puzzle? You're still hanging in there?

  70. Here's what I think:

    You can totally teach the RIDING skills...watch a good medal equitation rider jump without stirrups and you can't argue she's indeed tight enough to stay on just about anything and has balance to spare.

    What you can't teach in the arena atmosphere is the psychological component - COURAGE. I didn't have my own horse until I was nearly an adult. Until then, I went around in circles with a helmet on my head - no bareback, no trail riding, no craziness. I never got to gallop or jump or do any of that until I was 17. With my own horse and less structure, I would probably have tried more, fallen off more, and learned not to fear falling so much.

  71. Haha, I know the "trope" all too well. My silly old lady would trick me into thinking she was trotting by doing that. I had a terrible time back then telling when she was actually trotting. :P

    What a great story. Annie sounds wonderful. :)

  72. That was a great story.

    Having had opportunities in childhood to rip around on very broke, trustworthy horses is a wonderful thing. I had those chances with friends who owned horses. I could say it taught me to have guts, but that wouldn't be true. Back then I had plenty of guts. I just didn't have any sense. Now I have more sense, and I need to build back a supply of guts.

    But those saintly horses and ponies that teach people to ride, they're really priceless.

  73. Oh my gosh, that gave me goosebumps. What an amazing horse and an amazing girl.