Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Girl and her Horse: The First Gymkhana

My sweet Oldest One can best be described as "cautious". She thinks through things before she does them, considers every possible thing that could go wrong, and then decides whether it's really worth the risk. Most of the time, it's not. While I appreciate her wisdom, there are times I'm afraid she's missing out on fun things because she has a tendency to be a bit overly cautious - like not playing on the jungle gym at McDonald's because she might fall, or not going on some of the rides at Disneyland.

But this life out here in the country has done wonders for her. She's still cautious, and careful, but she's coming into her own and she's gaining huge amounts of confidence and independence. It's thrilling to see her growing this way.

And Bandit has a whole lot to do with it.

This little girl, for the past number of years, has been Horse Crazy. She has spent so much time reading horse stories, drawing horse pictures, learning everything she can about horses, and dreaming about some day having a horse. She took horse lessons, and then joined a horse club, and now she's got a horse to ride whenever she wants to... and it's taken a lot to get her comfortable actually riding him! I don't think she was expecting all that riding really is. Horses are big animals, and while this one is well trained, he still has a mind of his own and occasionally tries to get away with some things. Riding can be hard work, and there is a very real possibility that she could fall off, and she knows it. Since we brought him home, she's just been a little timid about riding him.


Yesterday was her first gymkhana. Gymkhana is "games on horses" - different events set up for kids (and adults) to ride through, and try to score the best time. Cora did the last one, but Chloe missed out on it, so this was her first time.

I was nervous for her. I mean, I was wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night nervous. What if he didn't do what she told him to? What if she hated it? What if she forgot the pattern mid-run, or heaven forbid fell off her horse? It could go two ways - it could be a wonderful experience, or it could be an epic disaster.

I worry too much. I know where she gets it.

So we got Bandit down to the rodeo grounds, got her signed up for all the events. The special race of the day was the Egg and Spoon race - hold an egg on a spoon without touching it, take your horse around a barrel and back to the gate without dropping it. She didn't want to do it. She might drop the egg, she said. I assured her everyone might drop the egg, and signed her up for that one too.

Then it was warm up time.

She was still nervous, but around she went, with Daddy next to her the whole time. Bandit was happy as a clam, but a very calm and relaxed version of happy. He knew he wasn't there to win any races today. His job was to walk around like the best-behaved horse in the whole world, and that's exactly what he did. I think being in that arena with a hundred other people on their horses calmed her. And she felt like she was really a part of something.

Next came a lot of waiting, and watching, and finally it was her turn with the egg. Her very first event. Off they went, at a slow walk, down around the barrel and back...

with the egg still intact at the line!

 This likely has something to do that Bandit has the smoothest gait of any horse I've ever ridden. He's amazing.

After that, the events came more quickly. She did pole bending...

And then flags.
There was nothing fast about this. She walked him all the way through, and whether he wanted to run or not, you couldn't tell. And she learned the patterns, and she built up some confidence.

After much more waiting and several "I'm boreds", she was finally up on barrels. By this time, her confidence was soaring. Which for The Oldest, means she felt like she could trot. And she did. Daddy, Grammy and I stood at the gate calling to her which way to go - I think she forgot the whole pattern once she got in there. But she got it right. And on the way back from the third barrel, she kicked him again and he took off at the sweetest, gentlest lope you've ever seen.

She loped! The only other time she loped, it ended in very scared tears... but this time there was a huge smile on her face! When she was ready to, she slowed him right back down. She had finished all four races, she hadn't fallen off, and was smiling at the end.

Yes, I was jumping up and down and yelling like a crazy person. Or, well, like an excited mama watching her little girl at her first gymkhana. And yes, the other horse parents were laughing at me. But they don't know how huge that was. Oh man, the smile on her face meant the world to me. Such a huge breakthrough for her, such a huge boost to her confidence. No, she didn't win any races. But that's not why she was there. She had so much fun, and she learned so much, and she was a part of something. It ended in great success.

She's come such a long way from when she first started riding, feeling afraid to even get up on the back of a horse even after all that time spent dreaming about it. I'm thrilled for her.


And yes, Littlest One rode too, this time with Daddy lead-lining her through each event. I was glad not to have to do the running this time, and just get to watch.

She kept her egg on the spoon too (which is quite a feat, most of them got dropped!)

She did the flags

And Daddy trotted her through barrels and she didn't fall off this time!

Two Little Girls had such a grand time. I'm glad we're able to let them do this, to have these experiences and create these wonderful memories. And I'm glad we've found a sport that everyone can be involved in, keeping us together as a family and sharing in one another's success.

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