Riding Lessons

Readers: Here’s a lovely piece about …well, not exactly about any Free-Range issue in particular. But it sure resonates. — Lenore

By Julie Ann Kodmur  

Who knew how much you could learn from a bunch of horses?! Certainly not me – until my then-3 year old daughter started taking lessons at a humble barn in the small town in the Napa Valley where we live.

Watching the children practice emergency dismounts early on got my attention: little bodies flying over the big bodies to land smartly on the ground with big smiles, nice and tidy, nice and safe, nice and prepared.

Lesson: Always be ready, don’t dread any mishaps, just do it!

How cute, I thought, when the local paper did an article on the stable and there was my daughter zooming through the air in her purple sweatshirt, glowing with the pride of being in control. And yes, a few moms raised their eyebrows at me, some whispering, “How could you? Don’t you know what happened to Christopher Reeve?”

Today we’re at the stable five or six days a week. We trade some of my daughter’s lessons for chores, which include, yes, shoveling the deep stuff. Still today, after five years of this routine, my husband shakes his head in wonderment that when we wake our daughter up very early in the morning to go shovel manure and she bounds up out of bed with a smile. Or, if you let her sleep in a bit, with a scowl because you didn’t wake her up sooner.

Lesson: Enthusiasm trumps the ‘dirtiest’ of chores.

We also feed the herd of horses. The horses are all types, from a persnickety Shetland to a majestic, elderly Iceland pony who’s going blind, to a couple of handsome mustangs, to some affectionate broken-down thoroughbreds who have been rescued. Who knew how complicated feeding some animals could be? My daughter can discourse at great length: The geldings are fed first, before the mares; there’s an exact amount of water that goes into the grain, be careful because the horses’ personalities change when food is in the air, and more.

Lesson: Empathy. Everyone’s hungry.

Strawberry roan? Leopard appaloosa? Fallabella? Welsh pony? Colors, names, breeds. How much can a child’s brain retain?

Lesson: Unbelievably lots. When a kid is motivated, that ‘little’ brain can hold a universe.

The law of the herd. The spirit of the herd. One of my longest-standing curiosities about the barn is when and if the horses lie down. Sometimes the kids ride at odd hours or late at night (recently, memorably, very late in the moonlight, practicing formations for riding in the local July 4 parade). Even then, rarely do you see more than one or two of the horses lying down. Turns out there is always one watching out for the others, literally on his or her feet, ready to whinny out the news of a visitor, whether human, coyote, goose or dog.

Lesson: Someone is always watching out for you.

 To read for more of Julie Ann, see www.julieannkodmur.com.

To find out more about the stable, please see www.sunrisehorserescue.org. The site is down temporarily, but should be up this evening  (Aug. 5, 09).