Windermere Ranch, Santa Barbara, February 2014
During the last IIWP picnic, at Windermere, Ana Sophia McComb was experiencing sitting on top of a horse. Ana Sophia said that she would like to learn how to ride a horse. Where Ana Sophia goes, her twin brother Ethan is sure to follow. So Lynn and I set up a time for the twins to have their first horseback riding lesson. The calendar said winter, but the sun said delightful on a bright Saturday afternoon at Windermere.
Learning how to be comfortable and relaxed while riding is one of the main components of becoming a horseback rider. Deciding how to set up the conditions to allow the 4 year old twins the opportunity to have that experience was what was foremost on my mind. Prince was definitely a key ingredient in my plans for the kids to have a fun day for their first lesson. Prince was such a good, patient teacher to help the twins learn to become comfortable while sitting atop of a horse that is multiple times larger than they are.
Lynn and I discussed what saddle would make the best fit for the kids and Prince, walking through the Windermere tack room mixing and matching a couple of saddles and a collection of girths to fit the saddles to Prince. Prince is a bit like me in that he has a full size profile, so we needed the largest size girth to make it around Prince’s middle. Then we had to go through the selection of riding helmets to find ones small enough to fit the young riders.
Standing on their tippy toes, Ana Sophia and Ethan barely reach up to Prince’s belly, thus we had to enlist the aid of a mounting block so that the twins could assist in the pre-ride grooming of Prince. Ana Sophia volunteered to be the first one in the saddle, which for a 4 year old city girl is a brave step. For those of you who are not familiar with riding a horse, to take their first step forward, a horse has to lift up their back and move their hind leg forward. What this means to the rider is that your body tends to go up and then backwards. So our tendency is to grab a hold of something in order to keep our upper body steady. Knowing this, I had Ana Sophia hold onto the saddle horn for the first few steps, as I led Prince around so Ana Sophia could just feel what it is like to sit on top of a moving horse. After Ana Sophia became more comfortable with Prince’s movement, I asked her to place her hands on her thighs as I asked Prince to start walking. This sounds like such a small change, but to the young rider it is a big step. You have to learn how to lean into the horse’s movement, so that your upper body doesn’t lean back. After Ana Sophia became comfortable with her hands on her thighs, I asked her to place her hands on her stomach as Prince took his first step. This takes even more control of the upper body and being able to blend your body’s movement with the movement of the horse.
Something I learned several years ago when working with horses — always stop on success. I figured that the same principle applies to 4 year olds, so when Ana Sophia was comfortable riding Prince with her hands on her belly, we ended the lesson. Even though they are twins, Ana Sophia and Ethan approach things from a little different direction. So the lesson for me was to pay attention to Ethan’s body language as he went through the experience of his first riding lesson. Ethan needed a bit more time to feel comfortable as Prince would make that first step, but once he got it, Ethan progressed along like Ana Sophia. Ethan’s smile, as he became more at ease while riding, was really cute.
As an aid in learning how to move their upper body differently from their lower body, I asked both Ana Sophia and Ethan to practice using a hula hoop for their homework before their next riding lesson. To add a wonderful final touch to their day at Windermere, Vallentino the llama came over to the kids to eat some pellets from out of their hands. Vallentino would have gained a pound or two before Ana Sophia and Ethan would have gotten tired of having him eat out of their hands.
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