So as you know, I got Rebecca horseback riding lessons for her birthday. As a teen, she did ranch camp a couple summers and has loved horses ever since, and there's a riding academy just a 5 minute bus ride from here, so why not?
Well, I'm a little scared of horses. Our friend who took classes at this same academy got sidelined for 1 year with a little accident which involved a horse knocking her over, and those animals are just huge. But then again, a roller coaster isn't fun unless it's scary, right? What good is life if we shy away from everything fun? And, I reassured myself, this is just an intro class, sure to be led by an experienced, trained, professional.
Since it was the first class for Rebecca, and with the language barrier and all, we decided it would be a good idea if I came along. We weren't sure what to expect... but predicted something exceedingly boring involving basic skills (i.e. this is a horse, this is the saddle, this is the reins) and maybe, at the end, a chance to actually mount and do some endless walking around and around in a circle. Of course, even this level of equestrian skill would likely result in mass confusion because of all the new French words. We walked into the front door a bit late due to a delayed bus and they instantly recognized the arrival of the American family from our last visit... They informed Rebecca she would be riding Garauffe. She whispered to me: "Why couldn't I have gotten Joel? I won't even be able to pronounce the horse's name right!" I started browsing around at the signs and saw one that said something like: "since 1367 it has been standard practice for all horseback riders to wear helmets". Not all that reassuring. Then the instructor, dressed in ratty jeans and a sweatshirt, appeared. He promptly asked Rebecca if she knew how to brush the horse, and she responded "no" because she had no idea what he had asked her. I helpfully jumped in to inform him the answer was actually "yes" and tried to explain about the language barrier, but, before I could tell him a bit about her situation, he was off, leading her to Garouffe's stall (or as the kids called it, cage). I noticed the instructor was walking with a rather severe limp and really questioned (again) whether this was a good idea. Hmm.... surely Gimpy will be extra cautious with his students. Once bitten, twice shy, right?
Then a few stable hands helped Rebecca saddle and bridle her (gigantic) horse. His shoulder was about a foot over her head. Hmmm... Rebecca is not experienced with English style saddles and reins. This is not going to be easy.
The riding is all inside an enclosed barn. The kids and I went upstairs to a cafeteria where we could watch everything that was happening . In recognition of Valentine's Day (which is basically a non-event here, only celebrated by some with a romantic date), Rebecca has made each of us a picnic dinner, lovingly labelling each brown paper bag with our names in puffy stickers, and adding a valentine's note at the bottom of our meal. She gave us egg salad and fresh-baked sugar cookies....mmm! But for the kids, this was barely noticed. They were completely absorbed in watching mommie (especially Zander). They were so excited to see her on the horse, circling around the perimeter of the barn, then trotting, they were barely eating. Wait a minute, you may be thinking, how did she get on the horse so fast? Well, Gimpy walked the four students and their mounts into the ring and had them up in the saddle in about 2 minutes. Well, he seems to know what he is doing, all the horses are circling peacefully enough and Rebecca seems fine. She is even handling posting rather well and the language barrier doesn't seem insurmountable. But then, when I was lulled into a sense of safety and security, when I began to think maybe this would all be OK, Gimpy, turned on me. I think he must be bitter, having such an injury, this intro class might be his only chance to have another victim join him in his limping misery. As he began to speak, nay shout, commands such as: "Trot, with no reins" "Trot, with your arms folded" and "Trot, with your hands on your head!" I realized that he was no mild mannered Gimpy - he was The Maimer.... More commands followed, each more difficult than the last: "Everyone, walk around these traffic cones, except you Rebecca, YOU will be cantering around the perimeter" (and use that crazy upright English posture, too). This is a first, introductory lesson? Oh no, The Maimer wasn't finished yet. I saw him speaking briefly with Rebecca (she told me later she was explaining it was difficult for her to adjust from Western to English) and then, the worst happened. "Everyone, pull up those stirrups and drape them over the top of the saddle!" No hands? No feet? This can't be right... He started them out innocently enough.... he wouldn't be able to continue if his tactics were too obvious "Oh, just walk along and relax your feet, my darling students..." But then, as I watched in horror, The Maimer started them trotting along and then lined them up and had them canter around the ring. With NO stirrups. And who went first, Rebecca, of course. I heard one of the other students scream in fear at one turn around a corner... Then I asked the kids, do you think Mommy likes it? Zander said, oh yes--just look at her smile.
I asked afterwards to confirm this is the intro course... yup, debuttante. Do you think the owners have ever watched The Maimer at work? How does he keep all the French students from complaining? I would've fallen off the horse 6 times and never come back!
Well, she obviously survived, and even wants to return. I don't think I'll be watching the next time.