I decided that I wanted to ride horses when I was about 10. I didn’t ask for a horse right off the bat like a lot of kids, I asked for lessons. I was practical like that I guess. Of course, I asked for a horse very soon after starting lessons, but I was realistic enough to ask for lessons first. I knew my parents wouldn’t go for it otherwise. My parents were very supportive of my lessons. I took lessons at a very popular barn in town weekly for two years before getting my first horse, Logan. I’ll write about him in the next portion.
Anyway. The lesson barn. There were tons of kids, a variety of horses who were ridden in a variety of disciplines. It wasn’t a serious show barn or a place where you were required to wear breeches and boots. Tennis shoes were very common, and were frequently sucked into the abysmal mud of the paddocks behind the barn. There was a hodgepodge of helmets in the bathroom that we could wear should we want to be safe, but it wasn’t required. All the saddles were equipped with breakaway stirrups-the type with rubber band on one side of each iron. It felt odd to ride in standard irons after so many years of lessons with those.
Working for lessons was an option for kids who wanted more saddle time than their parents wanted to pay for. The first summer I started working at the barn, I thought I was going to die. So.much.manual.labor. BUT, as a kid who wanted a horse, this was the reality check that I needed. The work that I did for extra lessons makes me giggle in comparison to real horse ownership. At least you did get to ride after you finished your chores. As an adult who owns her own barn, that is not always the reality.
We rode Morgans, Saddlebreds, Tennessee Walking Horses, ponies, quarter horses and a couple of crosses. Most of the horses rode in cutback style English saddles, but a few had hunt seat saddles. Western riding was not common really, and the western saddles were generally reserved for riders who had mental or physical disabilities who needed the extra support. The barn had a very busy therapy business for people with mental and physical disabilities, so if you were working at the barn in addition to taking lessons, you would assist with these riders frequently. The first time I learned how to tie a cinch on a western saddle was because I was tasked with tacking up an elderly TWH for a disabled rider.
For a long time, I rode exclusively English. Even if you came to this barn to learn how to ride Western, you rode English first to develop your balance and learn to post. Which makes good sense. Holding onto the horn isn’t a good way to stay on the horse (though luckily, I’ve never attempted that). I got Logan two years into riding at this barn, so that reinforced my desire to ride English (he was a 3 gaited ASB). After I got Robin, I started riding Western, though not on her, because she was kinda crazypants as a two year old. My parents got me a Western saddle for Christmas of her two year old year, which made me think about the future I suppose? I was all of 15 at the time, so who knows. Anyway, for some reason, I started riding Western on the two horses who were actually fairly good at it. Patty, a Quarab mare, was fun, but the more challenging of the two to get a really good slow jog out of. Star jogged slower (he was a lazy turtle pony)and was generally easy to get along with.
The instructor held monthly “shows” during the summer at the barn for her students. If you boarded your horse there, you could show your own horse in anything you wanted. However, if you were planning to ride a lesson horse, you had to put down your top three choices for horses and she would pick which you got to ride in each class you signed up for. These shows were casual like lessons. No one ever really wore appropriate riding attire, let alone show clothing. It was easier on parents this way. Worrying about the cost of show clothing for a growing child in this casual of an environment would’ve been a waste of money.
I took lessons at this barn until I was 16 or so. I got a good foundation in balance and basic horse care, but by this time, construction was basically complete on my barn at home, so I started riding at there instead.