I've ridden a few times in the past, including one Western-style stroll through the woods with my older sister and a friend from work. Most of it has been nose-to-tail trail rides, though. While I guess I was technically controlling the horse, those rides are a whole lot like riding the Zilker Zephyr. Without all the scary moms.
I wasn't sure what to expect from my first lesson, but I figured at some point I'd be responsible for being more than just a passenger. I get a little stressed when trying out new things, so I started getting wound up a day or two in advance. What if I asked something dumb? What if I fell off? What if the beastie took a bite out of me, or kicked me in the guts? I managed to stay pretty cool, but I'm sure Jessica noticed my anxiety once we showed up at the barn.
I met Sydney, my instructor for the day, and she immediately handed me a halter and lead rope. (I hope I get all the terms right...) My trusty steed wasn't just parked and waiting for me. I got to retrieve him from the pasture. We hiked out there with another student who was there for the day. I'm not normally intimidated by 12-year-olds, but it was pretty obvious that this girl had way more riding experience than I did. Once we found Sterling (my trusty steed), my instructor put the halter on him and handed me the rope. The 12-year-old and I headed back to the barn while Sydney went off to track down another horse.
Jessica would have found my walk back to the barn hilarious. I was never been much of a dog person in the past, and my first attempts at walking Levi (r.i.p.) were full of me getting wrapped up in the leash as I tried to move out of the way of the dog walking behind me. Finally Jessica stopped us both and gave me a stern lesson about being the alpha dog. This was pretty much the same situation, except the dog weighed 1000 pounds or so and kept hitting me between the shoulder blades with his nose. I'm sure he just wanted me to get the hell out of his way. Eventually I figured out how to walk, and ol' Sterling and I got along much better.
Once we got to the barn, I asked the 12-year-old where I was supposed to take Sterling. She said, "Oh, just over there to the <blahblahmumbledequestrianterm>," with a nonchalant wave of her hand.
I figured the trees with leash-looking things hanging off was a likely place.
I'm not very good about cleaning my motorcycle before hopping on it, but I guess it's bad form to do the same to your horse. He's probably been out rolling around in the pasture, and before you plop a saddle on his back, you need to make sure he doesn't have anything stuck that'll irritate him. I was totally on board with this. A non-irritated horse is just what I needed. So, I got a quick lesson in grooming. I also needed a helmet. After Sydney came back with two helmets that were too small, I went over to the tack room with her and tried some on. She said I could try her daughter's helmet, but that she has the largest head in the world. It was a perfect fit. Go figure.
Anyway, back to grooming. The whole time, Sterling was very patient. But every once in a while, he would stomp his front right hoof. It was kind of a lazy stomp, but I could feel it vibrate the ground with a hefty thump. I imagined my foot under there, and backed up a bit. I also gave him loooots of room when walking behind him. I'm sure I looked pretty hilarious.
After the grooming, it was time to saddle him up and lead him over to the arena. I learned that people don't just hop up on their horses from the ground. There was a little set of stairs that I used to get up into the saddle. One less chance to fall on my butt? Sign me up.
I'll spare you the details of the lesson itself, since Jessica covered it pretty well. Suffice it to say that it was easier than I expected (technique-wise) but also a lot harder than I expected (muscles-wise). I thought my legs were in pretty good shape, but I was BURNING after about 30 minutes in the saddle.
Once we were done (thank god), Hollis and I got led on a trail ride, which was awesome. Then I learned how to bathe my horse to cool him off. All in all, it was a really fascinating look into the world of horses.
Will I keep it up? Probably so. It doesn't have nearly the same visceral appeal to me as motorcycles, but it is fun and it has one aspect that I didn't fully appreciate before I went. It makes Jessica absolutely ecstatic. I mean, she was beside herself with happiness! I don't think anything I've ever done for recreation has made her nearly as happy as this did. For that reason alone, it's worth keeping up with. We'll never be a family of motorcycle racers, but maybe the family who neighs together stays together, eh?