Learning Horseback Riding as an Adult

I never wanted a pony when I was a little girl.

Photo of Carolyn Pullman and Bella (Black Ice) at Penguin’s Wanderlust

My daughter, however, did. So she ended up with a multitude of toy horses. Plastic ones, hobby horse ones — one even with sound effects. All kinds. Then while looking for an activity for spring break in about grade 3, we found a riding camp at a local stable. Granddad was happy to pay for the camp. She had fun there grooming the horses and getting to ride an hour or so a day. Nothing further happened with horses for another year or so.

Then in grade 5 we signed her up for weekly riding lessons with Granddad paying. Her favourite horse to ride was named Rocus. The barn was off the highway to the airport and the ferry so it was always very busy. My daughter wasn’t thrilled with my big loop around the back roads to keep us from having to make a left turn off the highway. When we’d get to the barn, she’d go and get Rocus and put him in the crossties. If we were a bit late, she’d get worried that she wouldn’t be able to tack up in time for her lesson. Sometimes she asked me to come into the stall and help brush the horse. I didn’t want to be that close to such a large animal. I was a little scared of horses then, and all the horses looked the same to me. One brown horse is much the same as another brown horse. Except the equestrians like to call them “bay”. The saddles had name tags but selecting the right length girth was a crapshoot. All the kids kicked wildly at their horses to get them to move. The backstage mothers all yelled “Keep your heels down!” I didn’t know anything so I kept my mouth shut, and let the coach do her job. One time my daughter had to ride a horse that was in a paddock with another one. The gelding kept getting into the way at the gate. So I was supposed to distract him with an apple while she retrieved the mare. I offered the apple and both the horse and I got zapped by the electric fence. He reared back away from it and my daughter got her horse out.

My previous experience with horses was very limited.

I hadn’t had much exposure to horses before then. When I was sixteen my parents took me to Scotland to visit my mother’s sister and husband. I got to ride a big white pony named Rose. A friend of my uncles had her and a bunch of grumpy Shetland ponies. We still have a black and white photo from that experience.

When I was in university residence, one of my friends always headed to Bermuda at Christmas. I was always off to snowy New Brunswick. When I was a child I used to like to look at the weekend travel section of the Toronto Star. I really loved the photos of Bermuda. Finally when I was older and between jobs, I flew there. I signed up for horseback riding. When I got there I saw that horses were very large. I got put on a docile horse. The horse behind kept nipping at mine and eventually caused mine to rear up. I made up my mind that it would be far better for me to stay on than fall off so I clung on successfully. The person leading us along the trail took me an alternative way than going the beach. The horses liked to gallop on the beach, and I wasn’t ready for that. It was a positive adventure.

The next time that I rode a horse was when my son’s Cubs group took them trail riding. I went with him. It was pouring rain, and my horse purposely banged my knee into every tree along the path. I figured out how to steer better after awhile, and it was an uneventful ride. Which is the way you want rides to be.

Then came the crazy little barn.

This should really be a story for another day. In essence while my daughter continued to take lessons at the “money barn”, she had discovered a horse rescue barn. Volunteers were allowed to ride one of the ten horses in exchange for doing chores. We ended up feeding every Thursday after school, and in the process learned about soaking beet pulp, and mixing up the grain, supplements, and vitamins. My daughter did a poster for school detailing the maze of hoses that ran around the property for watering. With a couple of other girls that volunteered there, she joined the 4-H Club. The two women running the barn let her free lease a white pony named Caleb. The one gave her jumping lessons and the price was very reasonable.

Eventually we dropped the lessons at the money barn, and my daughter started doing eventing with the little barn. I started riding a little bit too although when I first started trotting I had to ask my daughter how to stop. We got taken by trailer to a small lake, and went swimming with the horses. When we were heading back to the trailer mine got excited and started to trot. I was riding bareback, lost my balance, and fell off for the first time. Another time we went to an ocean beach. My daughter got to jump some skim boards. So some enjoyable times were had. We lasted with them for about a year.

A great deal of drama later, and we decided to get our own horse. We knew much more about how to take care of them than we ever had at the money barn. There all the horse care was hidden from the students. At the small barn we learned a lot. The 4-H club was excellent for knowledge acquisition as well. But at the end there was a need to call the SPCA versus needing the 4-H project horse. The SPCA couldn’t do anything because we were looking after the horses. The 4-H project got finished. We took our horse blankets and tack and left.

I phoned a horse trainer that I had called and warned not to sell horses to the crazy barn. I told the coach that they weren’t taking care of the herd that they already had. I arranged for my daughter and I to drive to the interior on Thanksgiving weekend. We had no idea that the horses were off training two weeks previously. We looked at a couple of horses but then the trainer went with us to look at another horse in a nearby city. Bella had been bred by a vet for eventing. When we were looking at horses we told the trainer that I wanted to learn to ride too. She hopped on the new horse, and flung her weight around like a novice rider. Bella was fine. We fell in love with her and made arrangements to have her shipped home. Then we braved a blizzard on the highway going home, seeing vehicles in the ditch.

Then Bella (Black Ice) became part of our family.

I had thought that horses were expensive to get into previously but now those costs had skyrocketed. We had to pay for board and feed, vet, insurance and farrier bills. When Bella had trouble cantering on one side we had to get a chiropractor in to work on her. She said that she always went slow with new horses because she didn’t know what had been done with them already. She pressed down on Bella, and Bella stood completely straight. She had fixed the problem of Bella’s hips not being aligned. Bella was able to canter on both sides again.

I started to take some riding lessons but it wasn’t until my daughter moved out of town for a few years that I really started to take them twice a week. I’ve continued working on my riding. I’m still a bit nervous when I first get on but I’m working my way up to being a confident strong rider. I conquered my fear of horses and enriched my life with a good source of exercise, and strengthening. What have you been afraid of us and overcome.