Horseback Riding, Barn Community, and Parenting
I sat wrapped in a thick coat, scarf around my neck, gloves on my hands, because the arena is not heated. In front of me is a vast swath of soft dirt pocked with the prints of the horses who have been exercised that day. Gleek sits astride one of those horses, riding in a circle on the end of a lunge line while her teacher holds the other end and calls instructions. Around and around they go, walk, trot, canter, and Gleek begins to learn the rhythms she needs to make with her body so that they match to the horse she is riding.
“She’s got a really good seat Mama.” The woman has come up to me while I was focused on the rider in front of me. I’m surprised to be addressed, because I’m in full self-erasure mode. This time with the horses is Gleek’s time. I drive her here. I observe. I do not insert myself into any of the conversations. Gleek’s interactions with the horses and with her teacher are what matter here.
“Thank you.” I answer, glancing at the woman. She isn’t really focused on me, she’s watching Gleek and the horse. I’ve noticed that among the people around the barn. Almost all of them will stop to watch horses and riders in motion. This woman isn’t really engaging with me. I’m “Mama” the sideline sitter for my daughter’s display. The woman just wanted to make an observation to an audience before she moved away to ride her own horse.
I watch Gleek as she bounces up and down, posting to the rhythm of a trot. This is not the first time I’ve been informed that Gleek has a good seat or a natural seat. I watch, trying to see what they see, but my eye is uneducated. I see my daughter on a horse. Sometimes I can tell that she is trying too hard, not letting the motions flow naturally. Other times I can tell that she’s getting it right. I listen to the calls of the teacher and I watch, but half the time when the teacher calls out “There! That’s much better!” I can’t see any difference. I don’t know enough to tell a good seat from a bad one. I can’t tell if these horse people are truly impressed or if they’re trying to be encouraging to a beginner. Either way, I’m glad for the encouragement. Each time we come, Gleek is showered with compliments that are interspersed with gentle education and corrections. It is exactly what she needs and she loves it.
The first few weeks Gleek announced “I want my own horse” as we departed the barn. I agreed that it is a good dream, but made no promises. The conversations have shifted. Now Gleek says things that start with “If I get my own horse…” She has begun to see how complex owning a horse truly can be. You don’t just go buy a horse, we need to understand what sort of a horse will meet our needs and allow Gleek to do the things she hopes to do. That means that we first have to figure out what sort of a rider Gleek is. She needs several years of riding instruction before we can truly know. Horses also require lots of infrastructure and a community of people who are willing to trade off work. We’re beginning to see how such communities work. We’re beginning to understand the ways in which life would need to wrap around horses if Gleek wants that for herself. She has so much growing to do in the next few years, it is tricky to predict what will happen.
I don’t know what these horseback riding lessons will bring. I do know what they are giving to us right now. That is all I really need to focus on. So much of parenting anxiety is generated by attempts to predict the future. Parents feel compelled to do things now because of college applications or impending adulthood. But the future is never exactly what we think it will be. When Kiki was in high school we made choices that went against the standard college prep advice. Those choices did affect her options, but she ended up at a good school that is perfectly suited for what she needs. It is far more important for me to see Gleek as she is now rather than to try to adjust now because of some imagined future.
In another month the weather will be warmer. I won’t have to huddle inside my coat on the horseback riding days. I’m also slowly learning the names of people and horses around the barn. This is part of joining the community. I will need to participate as well as Gleek. Each time we come, Gleek is smoother in the saddle. She’s begun to hold the reins as practice for the future when the lunge line will be removed. Slowly and carefully Gleek is learning skills and most of them have far more to do with self control than with controlling the horse. Around and around she goes, walk, trot, canter, learning to move with the horse. I watch because the process is interesting and because the older she gets the more I become audience to her show.
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