Heck of a weekend...
Saturday evening I asked my youngest (almost 9 years old) if she wanted to ride her bike or ride horses. She replied, "both!". So she jumped on her bike and rode to the stables while I walked, and we proceeded to tack up Woody and Lola. I asked her if she wanted me to pony her; I'd ride Lola and pony Woody. She said no. She expressed concern that Lola had been known to kick geldings that got too close to her behind, and she didn't want to be on Woody when that happened. I told her that meant she'd be on her own with the reins. She said she understood the risks.
I put the biggest bit I have on Woody. It has 12 inch shanks and barbed wire in the mouth, with the curb chain set so tight a twitch would inflict terrible pain, a bit used previously to control wild bull elephants. No...just kidding, but when it's your daughter going solo, you do consider these things. I used a reasonable bit and spent some time going over the "choke and regrip" technique of using a loop rein. See, the kids know that I get all over them if they do what I call the "tyrannosaurus rex". You know, when they are yelling woah while they are pulling on a loop rein with their hands pulled up to their chins in a feeble arm position that means they're pulling like crazy on a loose rein that has only begun to engage the bit. So once she had the "choke and re-grip" into her muscle memory, we were off.
We walked without event to the front pasture, where we worked on rein control and turning. She was doing great, and following directions very well. The sun was setting and the evening a perfect temperature of around 75 degrees. I already considered the evening a complete success, when my daughter informed me she would like to trot.
It was all I could do to stay mounted. "You want to what?", I asked. "Trot", she replied emphatically. She further stated she wanted to go faster and was not satisfied with Woody's walking pace. I took a deep breath, reminding myself the cinch was on securely, she was helmeted, she HAD been reining well with her hands in front of the pommel, and Woody seemed to be in a good place. "OK", was my response, but I was certain my voice lacked a timbre of confidence.
She used her legs and a kiss to speed him up, gradually through a faster walk until they were doing the slowest trot Woody could muster. He's a good horse, and I'm sure he wanted to make sure his rider was capable of handling the speed before he gave it to her readily. My daughter complained that he wasn't maintaining proper pace, and she continued to use her cues to keep him at a slow trot. Before long, she was asking for a faster trot. I instructed her to circle him if he got too quick in his pace, rather than haul back on the reins. She picked this up very well, and was all smiles when she realized turning Woody was a better way of controlling his speed than asking him to "woah". I also reminded her to not get him going too fast while pointed at the gate that led out of the pasture, lest he take off. Again, she used the circle technique to check his momentum if she felt like it. She had complete control of this horse. So with her fear at a super low level, she proceeded to trot all over the front pasture, giggling and smiling as she bounced along. "This is like a ride at Fiesta Texas daddy", she exclaimed.
Mind you, I had started doing all this trotting at her side while I rode Lola, but I pulled back because I didn't want Lola and Woody to think this was some sort of race. No reason to re-visit that disaster. If you're interested, it's in a previous post.
We finished our adventure when it started to get too dark to see well, and safely maneuvered back to the barn, mounted the entire time. She kept Woodrow under control and didn't let him to do any more than slow walk back to the barn. I was the proudest papa helping my little girl off the 15.2 HH Woody, with her all smiles at her accomplishment.
After we had put away the horses, and we were headed back to the house, with her zooming in front of me on her bike, she informed me "I want to ride Lola next time and feel her trot". I was stunned. Not only had she had a good time, she had apparently mastered Woody and felt he held no further challenge, and was thus ready to move on to Lola.
We topped off the incredible evening with my version of the hero sandwich: ham sandwich with honey instead of mustard or mayo. My daughter readily accepted my version of the sandwich and made it her own. Quite a Saturday night.