Since I have been here in South Africa I have had the opportunity to ride many incredible horses, however there is one opportunity that stands out above the rest, being the first to ride a horse.
It was my second week here and Riekie was giving me a balancing lesson in the round pen when she said, “I think we need to give you a project.”
“Oh? What kind of project?”
“See those horses over there?” As she motioned to the pens on the side of the area, “Those horses haven’t been ridden yet, want to take on the responsibility of starting them?”
…. and since I wasn’t going to say no, here I am, and well I am beyond happy I accept her request.
Since I have absolutely no idea what I am doing the first place I turned was obviously google. I read many articles on the different ways to back a horse and after spending time researching them the only thing I was certain of was I was going to have to treat every horse individually and would not be completing the same tasks on each horses check list. The article that stood out to me the most was titled “Could You do the Splits in a Day?” And I loved that question because it put into perspective what we were trying to accomplish with these horses. We are trying to teach them something that many others can do, however, it takes time and especially patience to accomplish it. So whenever I get frustrated, I just think, could I do the splits in a day?
There are two horses that have never been backed, and one that has only been ridden minimally. And all three have very different personalities.
The horse that I originally thought I would get on first, however, is the only one I have yet to be on, or anyone has yet to be on, is Heaven’s Touch and he is Riekies own Colt. Heaven is a stallion that originally had responded the best to long lining, but the real challenge with him is actually just standing next to him. He has a very gentle heart, however trying to walk, reach, scratch, any part of his body past his shoulders is a no fly zone. He likes to keep you in his sights at all times. He is a challenge, but I’m sure he will come around, or in his case stop coming around… eventually. Fortunately he has become Val’s (Our new groom, my new friend and partner in this endeavour) main project.
The next horse, Love on the Rocks, or as I call her Rocky, (sorry Carly), is the horse that has been backed, however minimally and not in a while. While long lining her, I found she was the horse most responsive to my energy, or in this case the only that I didn’t have to hold a whip to encourage forward motion. I thought she would be the most work to get on, she ended up being the first of the three I rode. When I first started this project, I thought all three horses had yet to be ridden, so when I finally mustered up the courage, threw a saddle on her and just got on, my overwhelming pride was quickly squashed from learning, that no, in fact Riekie had ridden her a few times before, it was just a good idea to keep working with her. I also learnt that if I was to get on a green horse like I had gotten on her, without long lining her first to get her used to the saddle, without letting her get used to my weight before actually asking anything of her, I would have, more then likely, have found myself face down in the dirt. I am very thankful for small miracles and choosing her first out of luck and nothing else.
Finally, Big Night Out, or as I call him Mr.Big. The horse I was actually the first to ride. The first time I got on him, I don’t think I took a breath. Which is ridiculous because he was so calm the entire time. We trotted around, with actually a lot of encouragement to go forward. His calmness was a blessing compared to what I was expecting to happen. I was expecting more of a scene out of a western, where the cowboy throws his leg over and the horse goes straight in the air, bucking, spinning in circles, rearing. A power struggle between horse and rider until finally there is a clear winner. Thankfully it has been the exact opposite. I have had the pleasure of riding him three times now and each time it gets easier, and by easier I mean the more he actually wants to do something and not just stand there. We are both learning what the other is looking for.
The biggest struggle I have is knowing nothing. Not knowing when I have achieved something with him, or not knowing how to overcome an obstacle with him. Thankfully there is Riekie for all of that. Today for instance I was concerned because he wasn’t moving forward when I was kicking him, and her response was, “Well he doesn’t understand what you are doing and why you are doing it.” And it was like, oh duh! With both of us never having done this before we are like the blind leading the blind and one of them has a whip. He is such a sweet heart though and I know in no time we will be focusing more on the how he is moving, and not so much on “Yay, he is moving!”