There’s a certain type of person that I like to call the Nervous Non-Rider. In my experience, they tend to be adults, because kids are generally so in awe at being in the presence of an actual living, breathing HORSE, that they are not nervous at all. And more often than not, males of any age have too much ego to be nervous, so it’s that small group of -never been around a horse, but have somehow been talked into getting on one females- that make up the category.
I think it’s a control issue. If you think the horse is going to be like a car and go when you say go and stop when you say stop and do nothing else, then yeah, that’s a problem. Because it’s not like driving a car. In that scenario, there is one brain, and it’s yours. While you’re driving a car, do you know what the car is thinking? It’s thinking “-----------------------------------“. Right. Nothing.
But with a horse, it has its own brain, and so you just have to mostly agree on things like speed and direction. The rest of the time, the horse is thinking things like, “Gee, this saddle is itchy. Ooh, is that new grass? What’s that sound, was that a feed bucket? Ouch, a horsefly bit me. Wonder what that other horse smells like?” It is this independent thought that often causes the problem.
Teaching the nervous non-rider generally goes something like this, with the “Experienced Rider” and “Nervous Non-Rider” having some variation of the following conversation.
ER: “Ok, so let’s get you up in the saddle…No, not that foot, let’s use the other foot. It usually works better if you face the same direction as the horse.”
NNR: “He’s not going to move, is he? Tell him not to move, I don’t like it when they move.”
ER: “Yeah, ok, I’ll tell him. Now, you just want to sit there and relax. Hold the reigns gently like that. Just lean the reigns on the side you want to go to. To stop, just pull back firmly and say whoa. Don’t pull back too hard, that’s telling him to back up. Great, let me go get on, and we’ll go riding!”
Here’s where things can start to go bad on you, even on the most docile horse. It will start when the horse does something like twitch his ear, or heaven forbid, exhales.
NNR: “He moved! He’s going to buck!”
ER: “No, he was just breathing. That’s not a buck.” Meanwhile, thinking that if it was a buck, you wouldn’t be ASKING me, you’d be holding on for dear life or picking yourself up off the ground over there. Then, the horse may do something like stomp a fly.
NNR: “He’s bucking, he’s bucking, make him STOP!”
This is when you’ve got to get control, or you can easily get into the Repeating-Reverse-Reigns-Reflex. That’s where the NNR pulls back on the reigns way too hard and for too long, making the horse think he should take a step backward. This of course scares the NNR even more, so she pulls even harder, and the horse backs up again. Repeat a couple times and you may enter into the Screaming Siren phase. This is truly bad stuff.
NNR (in a high-pitched scream): “WHOA-WHOA-WHOA-STOP-STOP-WHOA-WHY-ISNT-HE-STOPPING-MAKE-HIM-STOP-MAKE-HIM-STOP-HES-RUNNING-AWAY-MAKE-HIM-STOP..” None of which is recognized by the horse as anything remotely like a command, and the only effect it has is to hurt his ears, your ears, and the ears of anything else within a half-mile radius. Meanwhile, the reigns are pulled so tight they look like guitar strings, and the NNR’s knuckles are turning white while the horse backs up in a circle with his head curled up next to his chest.
After finally calming everyone back down, now that the ER is tired, sweaty, and may or may not have been stepped on, bumped into, or head-butted by a newly-irritated horse, it may all be for nothing.
NNR: “Get me off of this thing, he moves too much.”
ER: “Yeah, they tend to do that. Come around back here, I think we have some sawhorses that might be more your speed.”
I usually end up thinking that if you didn’t want the horse to move, it was going to be a pretty boring ride in the first place. Parents, if you want to keep your daughters from growing up to be NNRs, the solution is simple. Put them on a horse for as long and as often as possible, and from an early age. Here are some examples from me and my childhood riding friend J. Note that the saddle, bridle, and/or parental supervision were often optional. Red socks and jeans tucked into your cowboy boots are also optional.