Watching my son start horsebackriding lessons is bringing back all kinds of memories for me, some of the best and most poignant memories of my life. I was one of those seriously horse-crazy girls. (Still am.) I kept a journal as a teenager, but is it full of teen angst and drama about boyfriends, girlfriends, etc.? Well–there’s some of that. But mostly it’s full of horses.
I ignored most of what was going on around me at school and filled 10 notebooks with my thoughts on individual horses. (I knew a lot of them–I’ve ridden at least a hundred different horses.) I remember more horses by name than students by name from my high school.
Want to see the horse who taught me how to ride? He’s the white horse carrying Willie Nelson in the first 30 seconds of this video:
The horse’s name is Aardvark. He is half Arabian, half quarter horse, and I think he was about 14 years old when this video was shot. Willie Nelson does not own him–he borrowed him from the stable where I rode in order to shoot this video.
Although Aardvark looks white, he is actually a paint. You can tell when you give him a bath. Then you can see his markings–the black skin and the pink skin underneath his white coat. But the part of his coat that used to be dark has faded to make him uniformly white.
Aardvark was the stable’s best lesson horse. All beginning riders rode him first, because he was trustworthy and had good gaits. He could be a challenge, though. Aardvark was a dominant horse in the equine pecking order, and for some reason this stable liked to keep several horses loose in the riding arena. If a rider didn’t keep a good hold on Aardvark, he would go after those horses–lunge at them and bite them.
This was not truly dangerous for the rider, but it was frightening, especially the very first time I was on him. I was a complete newbie, and my horse was out of control! Every time Aardvark lunged at a horse, the teacher would scold me and tell me I needed to take a firmer grip on him, that it was my responsibility to keep him under control. In a way, they really tossed us into the deep end at that stable. But I learned quickly to take responsibility for my horse and to make sure he knew I was boss. It was a lesson that served me well for all my years of riding.
Aardvark was an excellent show horse who knew more about showing than most of his riders. Beginners could just sit on his back and come out of the ring with a ribbon. He was so smart you didn’t even have to cue him. He would hear the announcer call for a trot or canter and break into the correct gait himself. AMAZING horse, truly one of a kind.
I tear up watching that video. Aardvark is dead now. He foundered at around age 20 and was retired to pasture. His condition ultimately became so painful he had to be put down. I will never forget him. He was also my mother’s favorite horse. She is dead now too. So my Aardvark memories are bittersweet.
Finding a good riding stable is tough. I’ve found one I think I like, but we’ll have to see how things work out. The problem with a lot of them is they use cheap, crappy horses to teach beginners. The reason that doesn’t work well is that cheap horses have poor gaits and are actually harder to ride than good horses. They have poor mouths and don’t respond to rider cues. Their trots and canters are so bouncy that neophytes struggle to learn to sit them. How can someone learn when the horse is hard to ride and won’t respond to signals?
Aardvark was a valuable show horse. Most stables won’t put beginners on a horse of that quality, but the stable I rode at did, because they knew that was the best way for new riders to learn, on a quality horse with good paces, a good mouth, and extensive training. Aardvark taught me to ride in just a few lessons, and I never looked back.