Tribute to the Lesson Horse
Since creating this blog, I have taken a lot of time to think about the school horses that I have met along the way. For two summers during my undergrad years, another student and I stayed and rode the school horses to help keep them in shape in exchange for some extra credits. I soon became familiar with many kinds of these incredible mythical creatures.
Mythical creatures, you ask? Lesson horses are truly something of legend, but not necessarily one of armor-clad knights or witches in the woods. No, this tale is close to home, yet filled with some genuinely remarkable and unforgettable animals.
So let us begin (didn’t know it was story time, now did you?).
Long ago, in a barn not far from your home, a stable of horses sits serenely on a grassy hill. You will enter this barn upon your introduction into the horse world and it will grow and change along with you. Its structure is one that will become incredibly familiar; the smell of leather and hay welcoming you each time you step through the door. In here is where you’ll meet the owners of the nickers that will echo through your memories and bring countless smiles to your face, even long after you have parted.
Although no two are exactly the same, I have recently been able to categorize some of these breathtaking horses based on dominant characteristics. Here is the current list:
The first of these fabled creatures that you are likely to meet is probably one of the most extraordinary kinds of horses that I have ever had the pleasure of encountering. These literal saints on four legs are who give us our first taste of being an equestrian and it is their job to keep us safe while teaching us the ropes of riding. Guardians can come in almost any shape or size, as this category centers around good behavior and big fricking hearts. Dandy, my first horse, was most certainly my own personal Guardian. After falling off multiple times in a row, timid, eight-year-old me began to lose my confidence in the saddle. It wasn’t until I met my love at first sight pony that I regained my passion. These horses, no matter the time or setting you meet them in, are what help you build your foundation as an equestrian and are a vital part of learning horsemanship. They’re our equine babysitters, our quadruped protectors, and the most tolerant creatures that will take almost all of our bulls*** in stride. A Guardian is truly one of the most special horses and never forget that it was this beautiful creature that gave you your first set of wings.
Next (and oh boy, you better prepare yourself for the amount of dork coming your way) we have the (in)famous Hobbit. For non-Lord-of-the-Rings-enthusiasts, hobbits are small, hairy footed creatures that enjoy life’s simple pleasures and lots of food. Any of this reminding you of some fluffy pony from your childhood? ‘Cause I’ve certainly got a very specific chunky, grey Welsh, who we occasionally called “Wicked” in mind (for Lord of the Rings fans, he was truly more of a Took than a Sackville-Baggins). Regardless of family tree, these ponies are just that: ponies. The true epitome of hungry and opinionated. While the Hobbit is way too d*** adorable for its own good, don’t be fooled by its small, shaggy exterior. These ponies will pluck your nerves, push you around, and practically inhale your hand for a snack. But they make you smile and teach you how to be tough (I fully credit “Wicked” for turning tentative child me into… well whatever it is I am today). In fact, you never know if that fuzzy pony out there in the field is Bilbo Baggins kind of pone (yes that word is spelled correctly and is pronounced like “tone.” Fight me) and he might take you on your next big adventure.
Standing at probably way over sixteen hands is our friend, the Giant. While a daunting new experience for a lot of riders, mythical equine creature number three is honestly one of my favorites. Hulking, woolly draft horses with their feathered feeties and big snoots; they’re just precious (see above for pun). Now of course every horse is an individual, but if I dare make a generalization from my own experience, many of the horses that fall under this category are reliably big squishy, softies. In addition to being super chill kiddos, there isn’t much that tops the sensation of hearing nothing but enormous hoofbeats while riding (plus, what equestrian doesn’t have galloping a beautiful draft across some sort of moviesque landscape on their bucket list? If you don’t, update your list, ‘cause you now want to). The Giant is a kind of horse that teaches you not to judge a book by its cover; that big and power doesn’t have to be frightening. In fact, it’s just another journey.
Ever had a horse that was an angel one day and then would spook over the stupidest s*** the next? I now introduce the Gemini, and as one myself, I can confirm how frustrating dealing with twin personalities can be. With fleeting thoughts and short attention spans, horses under this category are often exciting to ride or work with since its typically a gamble of which persona you’re going to get on that given day. Are we going to quietly work on a loose rein or decide that there’s a tiger in the jump that they have seen almost every day for the last three years? Who knows?! You will once your butt is in that saddle! Although a bit capricious, these horses teach you how to be adaptable and to truly feel what the horse is doing. By working with a Gemini, you will hone your skills in reading the horse and riding in the moment.
A speed demon; a go-er not a whoa-er; one of those hold mane and pray kind of horses. You likely know of a Dragon and these horses are either absolutely terrifying to you or a fricking blast (and you can call me Sonic the Hedgehog cause I gotta go fast). During my years at Wilson College, we had two horses in the barn who a bunch of us literally called the Red Dragon and the Black Dragon. Both were mares (you probably already guessed that) and both were *enthusiastic* jumpers. And they had every reason to be enthusiastic cause they were d*** good at it! The Black Dragon wouldn’t necessarily run away with you, she would just canter. And canter. And not stop. Miss Red Dragon on the other hand had previously been a competitive jumper and had some opinions. Most of the time she’d take you right to the fence, but if she decided to throw you for a loop, you’re likely going to find yourself taking off for a jump at least a stride and a half before you actually should (and you will clear it). While these horses can be incredibly intimidating, they too teach us wonderful lessons, such as fast can be fun and learning how to slow a horse with more than just your reins. Despite what the fairy tales have told you, it’s much more fun to tame the dragon yourself than to wait to be rescued.
Possibly the Actual Devil
There will be at least one horse in your equestrian lifetime that simply does not like you. This spiteful creature has no reason for despising your existence, but good, sweet Lord, its one true purpose is to make your life as complicated as it can. Wanted to ride today? Psh good luck, ‘cause turd ball over there not only found the biggest mud puddle to roll in but is now running around the pasture like someone lit a fire under their tail and you’re fairly sure they’ve pulled at least two of their four shoes. Wanted a nice, quiet, productive lesson? Jokes on you, ‘cause this a**hat wants to show you the dance of his people and is performing something closer to a Lipizzaner’s courbette than a left lead canter. Yet, all situations have a silver lining. While this horse will probably frustrate the crap out of you, learning how to work with an equine partner that pushes your buttons is vital to being an equestrian. If you can keep your cool with the h*** spawn who is probably plotting your demise, then you are more equipped to handle similar stressful situations in the future.
What's so captivating about these mythical tier horses is that they are so much greater than time itself, as stories of them will be passed down from this generation of equestrians to the next. Some of the greenies we ride today or foals we birth in the next few months, will become tomorrow’s lesson horses. Although legends rarely occur in our lifetime, we can always treasure the memories we’ve made with legendary horses along the way.
Thanks for reading and I hope you have a great ride (and don’t forget to give your favorite lesson horse all of the love)!