A few weekends ago, Shawnte and I were hiking through a canyon after our trout hatchery expedition (more on that soon), and came upon a bunch of bubbling tar in the ground. It prompted me to start singing The Beverly Hillbillies Theme song. Then we moved onto Green Acres and Mr. Ed, later progressing into Family Matters, Perfect Strangers, and a host of other fantastic TV theme tunes. Mr. Ed was a happy coincidence, considering I would soon be riding a horse, and possibly talking to it, for my self-chosen Horse Woman badge.
I grew up riding horses at an all-girls Jewish summer camp (thanks, North Shore gals for ganging up on me and making my gentile summers difficult). I loved these horses so much, and they were such a bright spot in my summers, that I used to give them shout-outs at evening campfires. We’d have an opportunity to get up and say something in front of the fire, and since I had no friends, awkward pre-teen that I was, I’d pour one out for Iggy, Tex, and the rest of the gang, which elicited more than a few eyerolls among the crowds. I didn’t care. I loved riding them, grooming them, and apparently falling off of them, because I got an honest-to-goodness award for it at camp one year. I still have it. I must’ve been made of rubber back then, because every time I fell off, even if it was directly smack onto a trotting post, or the saddle slid sideways so I’d be hanging underneath the horse while he was galloping, I’d get right back on.
A few years ago I wanted to ride a horse again. It had been a decade at least. I chose it as one of my ’30 Things I’ve Never Done Before In NY,’ a self-explanatory project I did for my 30th birthday, and signed up for a trail ride in Prospect Park through Kensington Stables. I was the only one in my group that put ‘Beginner’ instead of ‘Novice,’ and low and behold I got a feisty horse that had it out for the one behind it and kept nipping at it during the whole trip. At one point he did a 360 on the trail and I had a ‘rodeo moment.’ I stayed on, thankfully, but I have to think me falling off horses must be my lot in life.
New year, new coast. I’m trying it again, thanks to Year of the Scout. I decided to start simple and go to Griffith Park Horse Rentals at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Burbank. When we got there, the Winter Dressage event was going on, so that knocked out one of my requirements immediately. 11. Go to a horse show, rodeo, gymkhana, stud farm, famous stables, or track. Dressage competitions are all about control of the horse and its rider, and it’s a really beautiful event to watch, though my video I took of it was not so beautiful.
Onto our mission…13. Take part in one of the following: (a), all-day cross-country ride; (b), breakfast or supper ride; (c), riding drill or demonstration; (d), horse show; (e), gymkhana; (f), a moonlight ride.
Thanks to Griffith Park Horse Rentals, we went on a cross-country ride around Griffith Park and along the LA river. I brought some accomplices.
2. Demonstrate and explain mounting and dismounting; correct position in the saddle at a walk, trot, and canter. Demonstrate ability to dismount quickly and to ride without stirrups.
I did this, though did not film the dismount, and it was cheating a bit with the platform, but I can do it from the ground. Stick your foot in the stirrup, hold onto the horn, and pull yourself up and over the horse. Once you’re situated, keep your heels down for balance. Correct position in the saddle is with back straight, engaging your core with your back and head aligned, and sitting back in the saddle. Never slouch your shoulders, or lean forward into a fetal position. I walked and trotted on this trail, but did not canter, because there was a bit of a horse pile-up. Hopefully on my next run.
3. Demonstrate and explain the use of the aids (hands, weight, and legs) in riding at a walk, trot, and canter; with turns and stops.
For Western riding, you need to keep the reins in your right hand and left hand on the horn of the saddle. To ‘steer’ the horse right, you pull the reins to the right, and vice versa for left. Pull back on the reins (gently) to slow the horse down. Sit low in the saddle (like a sack of potatoes), with straight posture and heels down in the stirrups. This goes for walking, trotting, and ‘loping,’ which is the Western form of the English ‘canter.’ If you were riding English and wanted your horse to canter, you would move your left leg forward and your right leg back and squeeze the horse with your inner thighs, perhaps aided by a clicking noise. Most horses that are well-trained will respond to this.
4. Give specifications for feeding and watering a horse and state how these vary according to conditions. Explain the daily routine care of a horse and know the approximate cost of upkeep.
I asked the nice lady surrounded by cats at Griffith Park Horse Rentals, and she said it’s about $600-800 for board, food, and additional expenses per horse, per month. The vet costs $100 per visit, but they take care of most horse afflictions on their own, since those costs add up. I also chipped in and fed some carrots to these guys. That was pretty fun, I’ll admit.
Our trail leader was a fellow named Red, who was very helpful in answering all of our silly questions. Some of them are below.
7. Know what constitutes good equestrian etiquette. Explain safety regulations when riding in company, in traffic, and on macadam roads.
This is much like being in a car (though maybe not in LA). Wait for traffic to pass, stay to the right if another trail of horses is coming from the left, keep at a steady pace, keep calm. When riding in a company, if a horse is going faster than you, let it pass. If there is a big space between you and the horse in front of you, nudge em a little and get their rear in gear. Pretty simple rules to abide by. If there are cars sharing your horse space as well, stay on the shoulder (and for me as far away from them as possible). Macadam roads are what we consider to be unpaved dirt roads with gravel on them. The same rules apply.
8. Explain how to detect and remove a stone from a horse’s foot; how a horse should be shod and why. Describe the different types of shoes.
If you’re taking proper care of your horse, you should be examining it’s feet/hooves on a constant basis, using a pick to clean them out. If you spot a stone in a horse’s foot, use a hoof pick to dislodge it, and clean the foot with soap and water. Horses aren’t super sensitive under their hooves, so a small stone won’t cause much pain. The center, softer part of the hoof is called the frog, and even then it’s not that sensitive. You’d have to go further up into the hoof to cause any pain in a horse. As for shoes, many horse owners have started not to shoe their horses, which goes against this old 1947 manual saying why it ‘should’ be shod. Shodding (shoe-ing) prevents the foot from growing, and, much like Five Finger shoes, it’s better for a horse to run or walk in its own ‘bare feet.’ They feel the ground better, have more stability, etc. I’ll go into shoes when I get into grooming.
Now that a bunch of horse ads continue to pop up on my computer, I’m in deep, and am awaiting the next chance to ride. I prefer riding English over Western, so I will likely scout out a lesson or two at the Equestrian Center, and get into some deep grooming soon as well. Stay tuned…