Last week I wrote about my anticipation of the first ride on my mustang, Cricket. It consumed my thoughts much of the time. Then June came with its typical warm sun and cool breeze and I was ready to ride her.
With Cricket still being young, I knew I had to take it easy but it was time to begin her training under saddle. A friend of mine knew a kid who needed some summer work and I knew it would be easier for me to have an extra set of hands and eyes around, at least the first few times I climbed up onto Cricket.
The young man was all of 20, maybe, and seemed to know his way around a horse well enough. He was tall and lanky and a sweet guy. He even offered to ride her for me.
“No way,” I insisted, “I will be the first person to ride this horse! You just keep at the end of that rope and hold onto her in case she goes nuts. Deal?”
In her corral where there was not much room for her to run or buck, I saddled her and placed my foot into the stirrup. I lifted myself and waited, standing in the saddle, but did not swing my leg over her back. She let out a deep breath under my weight and I stepped down.
“Was that it?” I wondered.
I placed my foot in the stirrup again, stood and swung my other foot over her back slowly. As I sat in the saddle, she looked back at me and just stood there. I felt like I was going to explode. I was so thrilled with her reaction. I was still afraid, but I smiled and squeezed my legs together and she took a few steps forward. She paused slightly as if to ask if she was doing the right thing and I petted her neck then she began moving forward again.
“Oh my gosh. Look at this! She is awesome! I am riding her,” I nearly shouted.
Cricket walked around with me on her back. I sure wish I’d thought to get pictures, but honestly I was only thinking about not getting hurt, so it never crossed my mind. We walked around the corral for a very short while and then I slowly dismounted, petted her with a "Thank you" and loving praise and removed her saddle and other tack.
Once out of the corral I began to dance and shout and jump around like a little kid.
“I rode her! I rode her! Oh my gosh! Did you see that? Oh my gosh.”
My heart was pounding and I was elated. Things could not have gone better that day. I rode my little Mustang and she accepted me riding her just as she had accepted everything from the day I'd met her. Trail riding was still a way off, but we couldn’t have had a better start.
Riding Cricket was so much fun. She never offered to buck, which made my confidence grow rapidly. I know it sounds silly now — the amount of fear I let seep into my brain — after all, I’d had horses for a very long time. But Cricket was the first horse I’d ever had that had no knowledge of people. Maybe my concern was really that I’d mess her up and not be able to ride her at all. I really can’t say.
We spent the first two weeks riding in her corral then moved to the round pen. The 60-foot circle felt like it was 100 miles wide the first few times we were together in it. Even with the young man at the end of the now-30-foot longe line, I almost felt like the Grand Canyon was between us. It’s easy to laugh about it now, but then it wasn’t funny. Thankfully the elation and joy overrode the fear and I continued to ride and train Cricket.
In August we had graduated to riding around my entire property, but only at a walk. I wasn’t certain I really had the control of her that I needed to in order to add speed in an open area. I had ridden her at a walk and a trot in the round pen. I had considered a few times asking her for a lope but I was chicken.
Then on one particular day I was riding her in the round pen and feeling great and very confident. She had never, not once, given me any reason to believe she would do anything I couldn't handle, so I let go of the fear — finally.
I was all smiles and told my young assistant that I was going to try a lope and asked that if she began to buck, be prepared to take her head. No longer on the longe line for our daily ride, I had him attach it to her bridle before I began to attempt a lope.
As she started moving her feet, I relaxed and encouraged her to move forward faster. She trotted the 60-foot circle smoothly and effortlessly, so I asked her for more speed. She broke into a lope with ease and I released the reins, threw my arms in the air and shouted, “This is the greatest day ever!” as Cricket loped the circles with me in the saddle, feeling as if I were flying.
She was balanced and the smoothest ride I had ever had. No bumping or bouncing around in the saddle and no two-point or posting was required. I had never ridden a horse that was so easy to ride. I didn’t know what she’d feel like under me before this and I was practically in denial that she was really even moving at all since she was so balanced. All of the previous horses in my life must have been very unbalanced. Jane felt like a huge rocking horse to ride and was never smooth at any gait; it was a challenge to stay in the saddle and a good workout for my legs and back to ride Jane.
The young man at the other end of the rope let me enjoy my moment in the sun, then he said, “You know I love being here, but honestly you don’t need me. You never really have. That is one terrific horse you have there so I think this will be my last day. I don’t want to keep taking your money for nothing. Really, you and she are perfect together.”
Just like that, I never saw that tall, lanky kid again.
Thinking about how wonderful Cricket was, I really began to dream about the day we'd be out on the trails exploring and relaxing together.
It came sooner than I thought.