Well, I was getting down to the last few weeks of teaching horsemanship before it finally occurred to me what an accomplishment had been achieved. To take boys of all ages and teach them the ability to: 1) Walk out in a corral full of horses with a halter and lead rope and catch an individual horse. 2) Lead the horse back into a smaller pen and brush him. 3) Blanket and saddle him correctly. 4) Last of all, place a bridle on. Sometimes bridling was a problem because a few of the horses would not take a bit and required the use of a mechanical Hackamore.
Once I felt there was a bond established between the horse and rider and the boys felt comfortable, they were ready to move on. Sometimes this step took most of the three-and-one-half hours allowed. The next step was the task of teaching them how to mount and dismount before ever moving the horse. This began with a demonstration, which was difficult because my horse is about 16 hands tall, and this “Old Man” has found out how hard it is to mount without a cheater stump or side hill to use.
Now remember, the majority of these boys had never been around a horse, much less ridden one. But we had one advantage ” they were working on their Horsemanship Merit Badge and that was a very strong incentive for them. I only had one boy drop out during the whole summer. The best group was made up of about five older boys from Illinois who did everything I asked and helped each other when one was having a problem. I really had fun with those boys.
Then we began riding in the small round pen at a walk and trot. We moved through a lot of stop, turns and get-ups. I did not encourage a lope because I didn’t feel they were ready for this step. But I did impress hands held about 4 inches above the neck and in front of the saddle horn, mostly for control and to keep the horses from being confused by the flapping hand on the reins.
I intensely worked on keeping half their weight on their seat and half on their feet in the stirrups. This last step is the hardest to teach beginning riders, and takes the most time. There is so much to try to remember for a beginning rider that it becomes very confusing. So in my drill sergeant voice, I would hammer until I got through to them. I know I sound tough, but like a drill sergeant, keeping them safe was my biggest concern.
As the boys became comfortable, we moved into the large pen where they had room to practice what they had learned. Some of the boys would soon be in a lope while others, stiff and afraid, were still mastering the rhythm. On the third day we gathered in the large pen and I tested them. It usually took about 2 hours to work through what they had been taught and polish the rough spots. I had another day of 3 hours to use if we needed it, but all the boys passed. They were not expected to be excellent horsemen, but the goal was that they would feel comfortable around or on a horse. Then I would take them on about an hour-long trail ride and watch how they responded. This was not only an achievement for the boys ” it made me feel that I had accomplished something, too.
Roger Thompson is a CHA certified instructor of advanced Western horsemanship and beginning English riding.