My sister Anne, and I were the only two children in my family. Anne loved dolls, tea parties and frilly dresses with a big bow in her hair. I, on the other hand, was a tom-boy. The thought of a bow stuck on my head made me shudder.
Taking this into consideration, my Daddy left Anne's supervision in the capable hands of my Mama. As for me, I was the child whom he deemed the practical choice, to be taken under his wing. Daddy was a mastermind at creating 'lessons' that he felt would result in my becoming a well- rounded member of society.
He, being an avid horseman, decided that my learning to ride was necessary to help achieve that goal. I was six years old and had not a clue what this involved.
Still, I was all about it!
Promptly, he set out to begin the mission. One day, he proudly appeared pulling a horse trailer in our driveway ... a huge horse inside. Mama expressed some concern, wondering if maybe a pony might be a more reasonable choice. Daddy reasoned that ponies were meant for little children to ride. They were often ill-tempered and tended to nip people. This issue was settled.
According to Daddy's standards, things were never done half-way. In the truck seat there was a full compliment of riding attire ... including high riding boots, beige jodhpurs, white shirt, black tie and hard hat. A crop completed my riding habit.
At this point it might be prudent to give a little background information to help the reader more clearly see the areas where I would be practicing needed skills for this undertaking. We lived in a rural location that had no hard-surface roads. My Grandparents owned a large farm with our two houses being separated by a small pasture. My horse would graze the pasture and be quartered in the farm barn.
Now, I will describe my equine partner in these lessons ... Nellie. She was a white mare that had aged very nearly into the 'Nag' category. Her eyes were a bit milky, teeth worn and hooves pretty raggedy. Daddy had summoned up some measure of common sense! Sweet and gentle, she nudged me, while on tip-toes (my head reached about the level of her stomach), I scratched between her droopy ears. I had fallen in love!
Daddy produced a bridle, with curb bit, blanket and English saddle. He busily began getting her ready for my first ride. Satisfied all around, he lifted me up and sat my jodhpurs-clad bottom firmly on the saddle's seat. He placed the reins in my hands, showing me how to hold them close together at the base of her neck for better control. Each foot was placed in its respective stirrup and heels shoved down to the proper angle. The crop was to be used for a light flick on her a flank in case I needed to coax on a little greater speed.
As Daddy watched closely, up the road we went ... me perched happily atop Nellie. Nellie plodded along willingly but with little enthusiasm.
After covering about a mile or so, I decided to go back and show off my great riding ability. Those wise in the ways of a horse, know that when one is turned homeward, its entire attitude changes. This well-known fact had slipped Daddy's mind. As I turned her around in that direction, the whole world changed! Suddenly her plodding walk became a warp-three speed trot ... ears alert, eye-sight twenty-twenty and nose stretched out in anticipation of the barn and a full box of oats.
An English saddle doesn't offer much in the way of anything for holding to and having dropped the reins, I luckily managed to find one small space between the saddle and her neck. Bouncing around like grease on a hot griddle ... hold on I did!
Arriving at the barn, Nellie came to dead halt. I tumbled in a small heap on the ground. Daddy gently picked me to my feet ... brushing away hay straw and tears.
Holding my little hand in his big one, we walked the road toward home. Coming across my hard hat and crop, he picked them up and casually handed them to me ... it was clear indication that horsemanship had not been accomplished to his satisfaction. The large lump in my throat dropped like a rock to my stomach.
Grinning, he assured me "with a little more practice, Susan, you'll improve."
The lessons continued. I had inherited determination genes from Daddy. We two became a combined force, with which Nellie had to reckon, until I finally completed the mission at hand.
As I grew, Daddy made me the proud owner of a five gaited saddle horse. I spent many hours enjoying riding her ... often with him beside me on his mount.
I eventually began competing in horse shows. More than a few times, I proudly came out of the ring with a coveted tricolor ribbon attached to my horse's bridle.
Thinking back on those first attempts at achieving success in that particular mission (there were many), I realize that I had 'learned' the two most important things that assured my mental and physical well-being at my young age. The first was the realization that my Daddy loved his tom-boy. The second was remembering to always, always quickly jump off Nellie's back when she headed for the barn, and let her take the reins.
POEMS BY SUSAN CLAY BALDWIN