Chapter 16: Horses
While they had been out, Mrs. Batcherly had called Karen to tell her about a lady she knew that had some gentle horses and who offered horseback riding lessons. She seemed to think that this was something the kids just must do and urged Karen to get her kids going with it. Mrs. Batcherly could be a little pushy.
Karen was not so sure. This was generally a pretty expensive activity and somewhat risky. The protective momma in her balked at the danger of putting her children on 1,000 pound animals that were known to be somewhat unpredictable. With some hesitation, she broached the topic with the kids.
“Ok guys, I need your input on something. There is a lady who gives horseback riding lessons…. I am NOT saying we would definitely do this… but if we were to go try it out, is that something that would interest you?”
Four pairs of saucer-like eyes stared back at her. Sarah said, “Are you KIDDING? Of COURSE I want to go learn to ride!!!”
Ellie said, “That could be fun!”
Jack said, “Mom, we gotta go do that! Yes, Yes, Yes!”
And Joe said, “Yes, horsies!”
Jack and Ellie jumped around in glee. Emma banged with her spoon. Karen said, “Well… I never thought I would get THAT reaction! Well, let me talk to your dad and call and see what it would cost. I’m not sure we could afford it, but maybe we could go to a single lesson or at least meet the horses.”
The next day while Emma was taking a nap Karen called the lady, who’s name was Barbara, and asked her about the cost of a lesson for three, possibly four, children aged 13 through 3. Barbara was very accommodating. She said that she could give them all an introduction to horses for a group rate. It also turned out that she was about a half hour away.
When Karen asked Johnathan that night what he thought, he was all for it, so the following week they all got into the van. They had been almost beside themselves with excitement the whole week. It had been very trying, because Karen had been asked about ten times a day when they were going to go see the horses. That very day she had been asked about twenty times if it was time to go yet. It takes a long time to get a toddler, a preschooler and a teenager fed, dressed, and out of the house. Getting herself dressed was almost an afterthought. Sometimes Karen was lucky to get some clothes on. When they were finally in the van, there was a huge air of expectation and excitement.
It was a bit of a drive past farms and forest. Many of the fields held cows, goats, sheep or horses. Every time they passed a horse, Joe would shout “Horse!” Finally, they turned onto a gravel drive. Along both sides of the road were split-rail fences and fields. Several horses grazed in the fields.
They drove up the drive until they got to a large barn. Parking alongside the side of the drive, they saw a woman come out of the barn and wave. Getting out of the van was like a Chinese fire-drill. Kids just started appearing out of every door. Barbara said, “Well, it looks like my group is here!”
Karen said, “Sometimes there are advantages to having a large family. Hi, I’m Karen. This is Sarah, Jack, Ellie, Joe and Emma.” Emma was hanging on to her Mom’s hand and looking up at Barbara with a look of bashfulness. Sarah was holding Joe’s hand. Barbara said, “Well, it is nice to meet you all. My name is Barbara. You can call me Barb. Have any of your been around horses much?”
They all said no, so she said, “Well, I’ll start from the beginning then. Let’s go into the barn. I’ve got a fella for you to meet.” Once inside she said, “I have about ten horses. I got a lot of them from folks who just couldn’t take care of them anymore. This gelding here is called Jasper. He is about fourteen years old, and that is old for a horse, but he has the sweetest temperament. I will show you the different parts of the horse and you guys can help to groom him, then we’ll saddle him and take him out and you guys can take turns going for a ride. I have several gentle horses for riding, and I have students come out for lessons most days.”
She proceeded to tell them all sorts of things about what horses eat, how to care for them, the different parts of a horse and a lot of different things about riding. The kids asked a great many questions but they were itching to pet Jasper, so it wasn’t long before they were taking turns with a soft brush, combing his neck and flanks and tail. They were all entranced. Here was a very large animal. It was a little imposing how large he was, and yet Barb said that he was rather small as horses go. He wasn’t quite a pony, but pretty close to it. He was very patient and gentle and seemed to really enjoy the attention.
When he was well groomed, Barb brought out the saddle and the tack and explained what the different pieces were called and what they were for. She put on his saddle pad and saddle, and tightened the girth, then she put in the bit and they all led him out to a riding ring that was next to the barn. Barb asked who wanted to go first, and suddenly they were all a little shy. Ellie said, “I’ll go!” so Barb brought her over to a short set of steps she called a “mounting block” and helped Ellie get on his back. Being up there was a little scary! Ellie was suddenly a little afraid. She was up so high! What would she do if he wanted to do something? She didn’t know how to ride at all!
Barb said, “Don’t be afraid. I’ve got his halter and he’s not going to go anywhere unless I ask him too.” Barb led him around the ring once and then asked Ellie if she wanted to give riding him on her own a try. She explained how to use the reins to steer, but also explained that you never hold the reins too tight or you could end up being pulled forward onto the ground. Then she let go and Ellie, eyes wide with fright, walked around the ring on Jasper by herself. Half way around she got a huge grin on her face. She got to go around twice. Jasper just did a slow walk in a circle. It was something he was used to doing, so it didn’t take much input from Ellie. It was Sarah’s turn next and they all got to take a couple of circuits. Joe got on with a big grin and was led around a couple of times, and even Emma got to sit in the saddle.
All of this took over an hour and then Barb walked Jasper back to the barn and told them that part of riding was taking good care of your horse. She un-tacked Jasper and they all gave him another grooming and some hay and water.
When the Katz family piled back into the car, they were buzzing with happiness. It had been a really great morning. Of course, they all wanted to come back. Barb said that she could treat them as their own group lesson if they wanted to come at the regular time. Joe was too young for lessons just yet, but she could teach the older three. Karen had said thank you. They would need to discuss finances before she could give her an answer. Inside, Karen, was thinking that she should have known that one thing was going to lead to another and that regular lessons would be the next step. She could get a pretty good price as a group, but it still was a good chunk of money. Also, it would mean her bringing the whole family out every time, since Johnathan was deep into the new field season.
Discussing it that night, Johnathan said she should do it. They had a little extra money now, since they didn’t have to pay for rent. As long as they were out in the country, they might as well learn about some of the animals there. As far as he was concerned, it was a great way to spend their time. So, it became a weekly excursion for them. They all piled into the van and took the rather pretty drive out to the stables. There were a few horses they could use, and Barb started them out on Jasper and a couple of ponies she had for beginning riders. That way, they could all ride at the same time. They had to groom and saddle and then unsaddle and groom the horses again each time, and they were allowed to give the horses a small treat after each ride. Sometimes, they would see other riders either out in the ring or fields or in the barn. Barb actually had several clients and some were experienced riders and leased her horses to ride when they wanted to. Mostly they used English saddles, but some used Western saddles, especially for long trail rides. The kids just loved these days, and as time went on they became more and more confident and were able to post (use your legs to bounce with the horse) and trot. Karen explored the stables with Emma and Joe while the lessons were going on. She had to start taking allergy medicine to get through these mornings though. They discovered a couple of barn cats that were very friendly and had fun watching the barn swallows nesting in the rafters as they swooped in and out making mud nests and chattering to each other.