I substitute-taught last weekend. One of my fellow instructors at “the ranch” (our few acres of dirt and fenced-in places next to the freeway that we like to glorify) had something to do on a Saturday besides sweat and run around in cowboy boots for four hours, so I took over for her.
My first class was five beginners – little cowgirls who really, really love horses and haven’t figured out that there’s more to riding one than just plunking down on his back and saying “move, horse”. One of the girls is a bit more advanced, actually in a saddle (we start our kids out bareback and work up to a saddle) and using a bridle to steer. She was riding an intermediate-level horse, Duncan, a beautiful copper-colored ex-showhorse with just enough prima donna left in him to keep life interesting for everybody. (For instance, today he will walk over poles like a pro. Tomorrow? THEY WILL EAT ME GET ME OUT OF THIS TORTURE CHAMBER AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. It’s semi-entertaining unless you’re a terrified parent of the child who’s being tossed on the waves of his adrenaline.)
Anyway, this little cowgirl LOVES Duncan. LOVES. The poor horse was looking at me with his saddle and bridle all askew, begging me to save him, while she lavished kisses on him and brushed his mane, oblivious to his tack problems. I fixed him up and we headed for the arena, where he proceeded to stand in the middle.
I’m serious. Usually, we can expect a minor-level freak-out from Duncan, but this time it was much more of a stand-off than a freak-out. He just stood there. She kicked and asked and begged, but he wasn’t really in the mood. He actually looked like he might be going to sleep, despite her intense frustration. I gave her some tips on how to get him moving and walked her through how to firmly insist that he obey her. He started to listen and I turned away, thinking my problem was solved, when a heard a plaintive little, “Miss Dani?”
I turned from my other students and walked back over to Duncan, where my little rider sat on his back with tears in her eyes.
“I don’t *sniff* want to have to make him walk,” she sobbed. “He usually just understaaaaaaands me.”
I hid my smile the best I could and explained that horses, as beautiful as they are, and as good of friends as they can be to us, still need work in order to do well. “I know it’s hard,” I told her. “But without the hard work and sweat, your horse will only obey you when he wants to – he won’t respect you, he won’t be your partner, and he won’t trust you. You have to do the unpleasant things in order to reap the reward of a lovely trot, an beautiful trail ride or even just camaraderie with your horse.”
Despite my wise words when I’m supposed to be the know-it-all instructor, I hate my own advice. I don’t want to do the hard work, I just want people to understaaaaand me. I want to do things when they’re fun and get off the horse when it’s not anymore. I want to do things my way, not the right way, not the hard way.
I guess even friendship, love, art, beauty and truth take work – just like riding a horse takes a bit more than just plunking down in a saddle.