Time to Take the Reins

Story has been taking horseback riding lessons for a while now and has loved every minute of it. That is, until she got a new instructor. After three lessons with this new horse master, Story decided she is definitely not a fan: “Mom, she’s just mean!” I, on the other hand, am crazy happy with this new instructor.

The first riding instructor taught Story a few basics but, for the most part, let Story take control of the lesson and do what she wanted, within reason. The first instructor saddled the horse, while talking Story through the steps. She held the reins while Story mounted. She positioned Story’s feet in the stirrups when they came out. She helped Story dismount. She cooled down the horse on her own time, so that Story could have as much time as possible for fun during the lesson. I appreciated this and enjoyed watching Story have a blast with this extracurricular activity.

Then the instructor left the position and went back to school. I figured they would hire another college-age kid to give lessons. I was very wrong.

When Story and I walked into the barn for that first lesson with the new instructor, we were immediately surprised with the differences. Story donned her usual helmet and began to make her way to the stalls. A woman stopped her and questioned her helmet choice. Story, defensive, said it was the same one she always wore. The woman tried to adjust it to fit better and declared it was the wrong size. She gave Story a different one to wear and adjusted it for Story’s head. Story complained that it was too tight. The woman only responded by introducing herself as Story’s new instructor.

Christine had Story pull out all the tack and saddle her horse. Of course she was right there the whole time but stayed back as she expected Story to follow her instructions to saddle the horse properly. I could tell by Story’s posture she wasn’t into this.

After finally saddling the horse correctly, Story turned toward the arena and took a step. “You forgot your horse,” the instructor called after her. I couldn’t hear what Story said, but she was not amused. Nonetheless, Story led her horse into the arena and walked him around for the warm-up.

When it was time to mount, Story handed over the reins and climbed up on the step. Christine explained the importance of Story always having control of the reins, even and especially while mounting. Story nodded but didn’t reach for them. Christine had her step down and pick up the reins. It took Story a few tries to get the reins over the horse’s head, but she finally prevailed. And still she let them go. She climbed the step and was preparing to mount when Christine interrupted her again to remind her about the reins. Even though I could only see the back of her head, I knew Story was rolling her eyes.

The first lesson was primarily an assessment. Christine wanted to determine for herself Story’s skill level and gave her a series of commands that Story sometimes understood and sometimes didn’t. By the end of the lesson, Story was quite frustrated. When dismounting, she again let go of the reins. Christine again explained the importance of holding them at all times. Story grumbled as she put away the tack and brushed down her horse.

The second lesson was pretty much the same, except the seasoned horsewoman now began to strengthen Story’s skills and introduce her to more. Story tried to take control of the lesson, but Christine didn’t let her. I was loving it, Story not so much.

After saddling her horse for the third lesson, Story led the horse to the mounting block. Christine stood off to the side and watched her. Just as Story was about to swing her leg over, the horse started to walk off. Christine stopped the horse, and Story got down, shaken. Much to my chagrin, Story accused Christine of letting her get hurt. (She wasn’t at all hurt; she didn’t even fall.) Christine calmly asked Story what she forgot. Story didn’t respond but prepared to mount again. This time, she had the reins.

Story is at the age now where activities are meant to build skill and require work. I never thought about there being a transition between activities that are purely for fun and those that require dedication and effort. Neither of us were prepared for this transition, but now that it’s here, I’m glad to see that Story has finally learned to take the reins.