Jennifer

Today I did something I never thought I’d be able to do: I shared my horse with my nephew. The reality of this so far exceeded my expectations that I have to shout it from the door of the hay loft. I have to blab about it to the anonymous internet. I have to get a tattoo to commemorate, and declare August 6 “Share Your Horse With Your Nephew Day” in perpetuity. Yes, it was THAT fun.

Chris and I arrived at the barn early enough to help Nate wrap up the morning chores before my lesson with Ranger. Ranger and I had a blast, but that is neither here nor there. After I turned Ranger back out, Chris and I brought Briana into the arena. We gave her a chance to roll but she passed, being already ready for anything we had in mind. She stood at liberty for a quick brushing and tacking up. We just put a bareback pad and bitless bridle on her so she didn’t have to stand long, but she found time to cock her back foot and yawn even so.

Once tacked and ready, I hopped up on her to check her general willingness to partner for a ride. As with tacking up, she appeared relaxed, curious and ready to take on any ideas we might have. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

A little more about Chris first. Chris has been on a horse before, but it was for a guided trail ride – beautiful country, leisurely walk nose to tail. He enjoyed it but it didn’t make him want to become a cowboy. He spent most of Sunday helping Alison and me with the barn and the horses. He’s 20 years old and a college athlete, so we had him do all the heavy lifting. But he also lead horses out to their pastures, he hand grazed Mija, and he brought her into the arena for a run and roll. It was then that he discovered that if he walked out into the arena, Mija would come up to him for a scratch and if he walked away from her, she was likely to go with him, which is exactly what she chose to do. He was pretty charmed by the fact that, even though he had no halter and no lead rope, and she could go anywhere she wanted in the arena, she chose to hang out with him, walk around with him, look at the things he was looking at, and generally indicate that she preferred his company to being on her own.

You now have the complete back story on Chris’ horse experience. One trail ride, one day working in the barn, one half hour hand grazing one of the sweetest mares you’ll ever meet and some quality putting around time with a friendly horse in the arena. This is the sum total of his interaction with horses to date. He really liked hanging out with the herd yesterday, so this morning it didn’t take much coaxing to get him to come back to the barn with me, only this time I suggested that we add a ride to the list of his horse interactions. Which brings us up to my previous stopping point in the narrative:  Briana, Chris and me, all tacked, helmeted, and ready to ride.

I offered Chris a few pointers on balance and steering, showed him how to use the mounting block with no stirrups, gave him a quick lesson in “stop”, adjusted his helmet, checked his cinch and then took a seat on the deck. He carefully tipped her head away from him at the mounting block, bringing her hind a little closer to him, stepped carefully over her withers and lowered himself gently onto her strong back. She didn’t budge (what a good horse!). So he checked his posture, took a deep breath, and tapped her ever so slightly on the sides. She stepped forward like a school master and the two of them proceeded to take the arena by storm. They covered every inch of the space, sometimes at a leisurely walk, sometimes at a ground chewing trail walk. They navigated right turns, left turns, full turns, stops, and restarts. Chris is a calm and self-assured person and Briana relaxed into the easy task of taking care of her new rider. I sat on the deck in rapt attention. I was completely enchanted by the scene before me. He had loose low arms and she had soft eyes and forward ears. He sat comfortably back on his pockets and she moved out with confidence. He just wanted to do right by her, and she just wanted to do right by him. It was really beautiful.

So after about half an hour, I suggested he try her trot. If you don’t know what to expect going from the four-beat walk to the two-beat trot, and you are bareback so you have no stirrups to help you balance, you might think twice about trying the trot. Not Chris! He took up a little slack in the reins, sat down deep, and tickled Briana’s sides with the heals of his I-90 job site work boots. The first time he suggested the trot to her, she seemed to hesitate. Maybe she wasn’t sure he was really ready for that. So he coaxed her a second time and she gave it the ol’ “If you say so…” look and picked up her stead, even trot. He grinned. You know, like you would if you asked your riding partner to trot and she did it. Just like that.

Having navigated the arena and sat her comfy trot, Chris was ready for his next steps. I suggested we leave the arena, take a walk around the property, and go to the play field. Everybody who has ridden outside the arena box knows that it is a very different experience when you have no walls to give you that artificial sense of security. I wanted him to feel what that is like. And of course, he and Briana were up for it. I opened the back gate, and they strolled on out into the big world. As they set off to see what there is to see, I hung back a moment and said, to no one in particular: “I AM SO HAPPY!” I said this out loud because really, the feeling was too big to keep inside.

I walked behind the two of them as they checked out all manner of things new to Chris but mostly familiar to Briana. They wandered into the play field, trotted around in there a bit, walked over ground poles and low jumps, investigated the small forested area in the depths of the play field, and generally did what a horse and her boy might do on any beautiful Sunday in August. Chris maintained a serious and responsible air throughout this endeavor, but I caught him smiling a few times. And he caught me smiling every time he looked at me. I don’t know exactly why this brought me such uncontainable joy, but I think it is as simple as getting to share something I love so much with someone I love so much, and having him love it as much as I do. Not just the riding, I mean all of it, the barn, the chores, the property, the horses, the people, and yes, the riding too. I mean really, how often in our lives do we get to live these moments? However often or rare they may be, they are worth savoring as they occur, storing for the future, and shouting about from the hay loft.

I’ve said it before, but it bares repeating: my cup runneth over.