My parents thought I should know how to horseback ride so they put me on the train at age 7 for about 45 minutes. At the other end, this formidable woman, Maudie, picked us up – we got in the back of a big truck – and drove 45 minutes to the horse farm with the international flavor and name; Mon Ami Le Cheval.
I did an internet search re this farm and found this:
“I met Marge (Marjorie Henderson Buell), the cartoonist who created “Little Lulu’s”. Her sister was Dorothy Henderson Pinch, the business partner of Maudie Hunter Warfel. Together they ran Mon Ami le Cheval, an equestrian school near Malvern, Penna. Mrs. Pinch wrote “Happy Horsemanship” around 1966 which is still available today. This book teaches the basics of riding and safety from the horse’s point of view, using cartoon-style illustrations. Maudie introduced to the United States the concept of horsemanship as therapy for disabled children. I both studied horsemanship at Mon Ami and was on staff as the swimming instructor during the summer day-camp. It was a most wonderful experience! The two women were strong, independent, creative … wonderful role models f’or a college-age kid.
At age 7, who knew?
I had no idea about these women.
For a little kid, those horses were huge – I mean wide. So when they said grip with your knees, I couldn’t get my legs around the back of that horse to grip.
These horses weren’t going anywhere. You had to kick them and kick them and kick them to get them to walk, let alone, trot. They warned us about horses kicking and since then I generally give the hind end of horses a wide berth.
We would groom and groom them – as far as I could reach anyway – and they still looked like we hadn’t started – very dusty.
I remember my first time trotting – no one told me how to do it. Maudie just yelled: TROT! I seem to be always just thrown in without any instruction.
My next endeavor into horseback riding was summer camp in Cape Cod. I braided my hair, put on my helmet and riding gear, headed to the barn – someone else in my cabin had it the same period so we walked together.
On the way she told me all about her experience. We were 10 and she sounded ancient and so experienced that she would be riding in the Olympics soon. She did look good – pretty smart gear. She was so much more knowledgeable – she had been to this camp for the prior 2-3 years.
The riding coach looked at me and asked if I could ride.
Me: I’ve ridden a little.
RC: Can you trot? Canter?
Me: I guess.
She gave me the most popular horse. She was a beauty. We groomed the horses, put on the tack – RC helped me – that horse was tall.
When I got on, RC said: Don’t let her roll.
Say what? I had no idea what she was talking about but was too shy to say anything and figured I’d know a “roll” when I saw one. I knew “kick” and “bite”, but not “roll”.
The RC sent a few of us on ahead to the riding ring with Olympic girl leading. As soon as my horse got in the ring, it got down on its knees and before I realized what it was doing but did have the presence of mind to catapult myself off, it……rolled.
The RC had caught up and she had a string of choice words interspersed with: I told you not to let her roll!
(So much for concern about me).
Well, at least now I knew what a roll was.
RC screamed a lot. At everyone. My total experience was all riding instructors were women and all riding instructors screamed.
I think that’s when I started talking to horses even more than nice horsey – probably instinctively horse whispering – saying things like: Okay, please help me out and don’t mess up and I’ll try not to mess up, okay? As I got older, the conversation got a little more sophisticated.
It was considered a special treat if one was picked to go on a breakfast ride. We started very early which has always been a challenge for me. I chalk it up to the fact that I was born sometime between 11am and 1pm, a very civilized time – just in time for lunch.
The first breakfast ride was worth it for sure. We rode over to the bay side and rode on the beach. The water was shallow (less than a foot) forever – about several hundred yards out to sea. We cantered along – it was beautiful and great fun!
Then we found a spot to get off our horses and have our breakfast.
On the way back, we were trotting in the road. As we headed downhill, I was thinking the little white horse I was on was getting a bit fast, she was – she tripped to her knees but to her credit jumped right back up. Of course, RC started yelling, a bit late, but an early example of CYA, not to trot downhill on a road – the horse could get hurt.
We got back to camp a bit exhausted after a 4 hour ride.
Straight to the showers. I liked the independence – not having to be at a new activity every hour every day.
One morning, thinking I was half asleep and perhaps not wrong, the horse tested me again, it knew it had to move a little faster than the first time, and was down on its knees in a flash.
But I was faster. I kicked it and kicked it (hardly hurt, no spurs, but did get its attention). RC started yelling at me to kick it. She was often behind the curve.
The horse hesitated, then jumped up – annoyed that I had caught it before it could roll. But now a little more respectful!
The camp had a Horse Show at the end of the summer. I was entered in several classes of show. RC told you what you were riding in – you didn’t have a choice.
I was also in the jumping class. Now I had been on the horse when it jumped and stayed on. Olympic girl, of course had the right outfit and looked good when jumping. RC never really taught us what to do so I just held on for dear life. Olympic girl fell off a few times but, out of sheer terror – not of the horse or getting hurt – but of getting yelled at by RC, I did not.
My family came up to visit for the Horse Show. One of my brothers took a photo I will never forget. It was perfectly timed of me on the horse jumping over the third jump – on the second half of the “jump” meaning it was mostly over the jump and landing on its front feet.
I came in third for jumping. With that in mind, let me describe how I looked in the photo as I remember it: I had the reins in my hands, that part looked fine – hands were low – I was smiling – that’s good – but that was about it.
My legs were a bit out front, not sure if my heels were down, but the stirrup was up my leg about to my calf (pretty darn dangerous actually). And I was the classic poster girl of how not to go over a jump. I can only imagine what the ones who didn’t place looked like.
I went to that camp approximately 4 years. They were sticklers for how to hold the feet, hands, etc. interspersed with some fun. One time, RC grabbed my foot and showed me how it should look. She never told me why. My body doesn’t contort like that but I tried. It wasn’t for 20 years that I found out why one puts one heels down, toes in, etc. And the purpose was to help you stay in the saddle. But if I’m not able to bend that way, so for me, it was unsafe. I figured out how to tell those who would yell, put your heels down that this was my “heels down”.
One of my next horse memories was riding one in the Camargue in France. I was on a barge trip through France with 29 other kids. Our counselors had arranged for us all to go riding in the Carmargue. Brave. I don’t think all the kids really knew how to ride.
What I remember most was I was on a beautiful tall white horse happily riding along. As we headed a different direction, my horse bolted. It was a fast one. No one could catch up – no one was a great horse rider anyway. I stayed on for a few miles but that big gate looming ahead had my attention. Yiiiiiiiiiiiiikkkkkkkkkkesssss. But more, I was curious as to what was next in my life, if life.
We got within 15 yards and the horse came to a stop….with me still on. These rides would be more enjoyable as well as thrilling if I knew the outcome would be okay.
My next riding memory was at university. The Steeplechase in Virginia was a big social event. I went once to watch and was bored to tears. I’d rather be riding. Polo games were another big social event. A lot of drinking and eating. The eating was okay but not much of a drinker. Again, a bit boring. I’d rather be riding.
So my 4th (or senior) year, I went to train with the polo club. Well. I think Prince Charles and the royal family have it right. I’m told they start on a tricycle at age 3 with a baby mallet. At 21 with a big mallet, trying to ride at break neck speed. I got the break neck speed down but…swinging a mallet with accuracy…well….
After the first day, we took off the saddle, etc. They put me bareback on one pony to take them to the pasture. I had never ridden bareback. As we started someone threw me the reins of another horse they wanted me to take also. Like a ninny, I caught them and the horse took off. Like a bigger ninny I didn’t let go, nor did I have a good enough grip on the horse I was on. I did a flip off my horse. The only thing I forgot to do was jump to my feet and do a great finish with arms raised up in a “V” shape. Ta da! Wow that hurt. But luckily, I was not badly hurt.
But I took some time off from riding.
In England, I was visiting a friend who was pregnant and wanted her horse ridden so it stayed in shape for the race she intended to run after the baby was born.
It was the best horse ever. She helped me saddle it and watched me for a long while as I rode off. We got up to the ridge which had a dirt road which was flat. That powerful horse and I took off. It just sat down its hind quarters and ran with the wind. It was the smoothest ride I have ever had.
And then the looming gate. Why does one always feature on my great rides? I wondered if we would be able to stop, wondered if the horse could jump it, and decided I better get myself ready if the horse decides to jump it.
Just then the road twisted to the left before the gate and then right and my horse and I… did too…together. Wow. Wheeeeee!
I hadn’t sorted out how long she wanted me to run the horse but after about an hour, I thought I better head back (it would be another hour or more back). So we walked, trotted, and ran a little back toward the farm. About 15 minutes before I was going to turn off the ridge, there came my friend with her husband in their truck looking for me. She said we just wanted to make sure I was okay – more so because she knew I hadn’t ridden in a while so couldn’t believe I wasn’t hurting and needing someone to relieve me and ride the horse back.
I thought about it but didn’t know when I might get a chance to ride such a magnificent horse again. I also thought well I rode him out, I should bring him back safely. (Her husband’s look also spoke volumes that he really didn’t want to ride
One of the funniest escapades was in Central Park in NYC. We had rented horses and were riding around the reservoir where we were supposed to.
We were cantering and having a good time. A policeman told us not to gallop. Yes, Sir. We weren’t so we thought all was well.
Well, the next time around, we were going at a very slow, controlled lope. A kid about 200 yards away broke away from his mother and ran across the horse path (no pedestrians allowed). I checked my horse and it thanked me, let me know he saw the kid and would react faster than I could command him (the horse).
But then the kid stopped smack dab in the middle of the horse path like a deer caught in headlights. We prepared to go around him. But then he started one way, then the other. So we head the opposite way, then switched to the other opposite way. The horse slowed to a slow jog, (we were always in control) and before we had gotten too close, the mother woke up, ran across, grabbed her son, and got him off the track.
We continued on our ride, now safe to lope again.
Sirens. The policeman turned on his siren and caught up with us. In his best New Yawk accent, he barked: “I t’ought I told you not to gallop!”
My friend: “Sir, we weren’t galloping, we were loping.”
Policeman, not sure she wasn’t being obnoxious (she wasn’t, she was just literal trying to explain we riding safely): Whatever yaw’re doing, stop it! Do you want me to give yous a ticket for speeding?
My friend: Yes, sir. I mean, No sir!
Would that have been the first speeding ticket on a horse?
When did they start handing out speeding tickets anyway?