My daughter went on her first real trail ride yesterday with me and her dad. I was a little surprised her dad went because he has pretty much no interest in horses but he does love to hike and trail rides are like an easy way to go hiking. Plus, it was out at White Tank Mountain in Arizona (close to Phoenix) and it's pretty neat up there. Very stereotypical desert with the big cacti and dry, rocky ground.
They put her on a little quarterhorse mare named Tinker and she rode right behind the guide, Bryce. I was trying not to play the part of an anxious mom, but when we were all on our horses and the leader said, "Now is there any particular order folks want to be in? Speak up now so we can get you in order?" and I said - in a far more anxious tone than I meant - I said I wanted to be right behind the little girl on Tinker. Bryce-the-cowboy asked my daughter if it was her first time on a horse and she proudly said, "No, I ride at home a lot. I ride Tasha in my lesson every week!" We ended up having a very interesting talk about dressage and Western riding and horses and what they feed their horses at that stable. I would've been happy to spend the whole afternoon sitting in the shade talking to the cowboys who led the trail rides all about my type of riding vs. their type of riding and hearing all about bull riding - which is the other thing the cowboy trail leaders do. I was pleasantly surprised that before I got off my horse, our leader Bryce said, "Hold on, she's going to show me some tricks," so a couple other employees came over to see how I hold the reins and how I ride a horse. I showed them how I held he reins and what a slight subtle movement it is to direct the horse to go the direction you want - and I didn't expect the horse I was on to listen because they said she only knows how to neck rein, but she responded just like that to it - which the cowboys thought was very cool. I told them how the volunteer who was showing me how to neck rein (which I'd never done before) did something that Trainer K. calls "combing the reins" to teach the horse how to stretch their neck, and I started doing it with Moose - the horse I was on - and she just immediately responded by taking up the bit and stretching her head way down. That was pretty fun.
On the way out my husband said (more matter-of-factly than jealously or sadly) "You should've married a cowboy instead." Granted, it is awfully fun to hang out with the cowboys, I would rather be married to my husband! There is no doubt in my mind about that!
Meanwhile, my daughter did great on her first hour long trail ride. And it wasn't the easiest of trail rides because the horses went up and down some small but steep little inclines a couple times. I could hear the guide in back of us - Travis-the-cowboy - telling the people who didn't ride how to brace themselves with their stirrups and by leaning forward or leaning back. The horses are all so sure-footed and bomb-proof and have walked those trails a million times I'm sure, but watching my baby sit on a horse who's walking down a short but steep and crumbly little path made me stop breathing for a moment.
When we were getting on the horses the volunteer who came by for me asked if I'd ever been on a horse and I said I knew how to ride pretty well but I had no idea how to neck rein. So, she ran through that with me, then adjusted my stirrups for me and asked if they were comfortable. I said they were ok but last time I'd ridden in a Western saddle I'd dropped my stirrups after awhile because of my bad knees and was it against the rules if I wanted to drop my stirrups? She said there was no rule on it but the path was bumpy with lots of ups and downs and I needed my stirrups to brace myself in the saddle. I started to say, "Well, actually ..." then stopped. The volunteer said, "What?" and I said, "Never mind, it's obnoxious. I didn't realize until too late how obnoxious it was," and she said, "What was it? Come on?" and I said, "In my riding lessons we're working really hard on my seat and on using my posture and balance to keep me on the horse, not the stirrups. And in fact I'm having to learn not to use the stirrups for balance or bracing myself because that's improper riding. But that is super obnoxious to say and it doesn't really matter and my knees are really bad so I'm probably just going to drop my stirrups anyway." Yikes! Which I did because having my knees bent even a tiny bit for even a half hour causes them to lock up and really hurt. With dressage I at least change what my knees are doing by posting when we trot. But after half the ride, once I dropped my stirrups and let me legs hang it was much more comfortable.
My daughter loved it so much that today when I asked what she wanted to do other than go swimming she shrugged and said she didn't know. When I asked was there anything she could think of and she said the only thing she wanted to do beside swim was go back and ride Tinker some more.