The Riding School: A column about the people who teach us how to ride
The Easter Egg Incident; Or, Why I Love and Hate Mounted Games.
From “The Instructor”:
So, let me tell you about my worst day as a riding instructor.
Actually, it wasn’t my worst day. It was my worst 45 seconds. A memorable 45 seconds. Seconds forever stored in my memory bank, each, in that paradoxical way of memory, lasting hours.
It was at least 10 years ago, although it feels like yesterday. I was teaching in the community riding program of a college. I had several nice groups of kids 7-10 years old who could steer and trot and canter, but weren’t quite ready for more. So my thoughts turned to games to build their skills while keeping them engaged and interested.
It was the day before Easter, so I decided that we should have a mounted Easter Egg hunt. I swung by the market on my way to the barn and picked up a bunch of those little plastic eggs, candy and some brightly colored plastic buckets that could easily be hung over a small person’s arm. Perfect, I thought! This will leave them with one hand free for the reins and one for the gathering of eggs. I was very pleased with my ingenuity as I drove to the farm, planning all the fun places I could stash eggs around the indoor ring–on top of jumps, on the kickboards, tucked behind the mirrors… The possibilities were endless.
My students, I have to say, were delighted at the idea. They merrily mounted their ponies, slung their buckets over their arms, and commenced the search for candy-filled eggs.
I really should have known how this was going to go. But the ponies were solid citizens, the kids were fairly competent and we were in the tiny little indoor. What could go wrong?
When the first eggs hit the buckets, Gem’s head went up and the ears went back. He’s an Arab cross and can be a little spooky, so I started walking towards him. In those next seconds, my world completely unraveled. Simultaneously, the second eggs dropped in and clicked against the first. And every one of those four solid citizen ponies bolted.
Now, here’s where I’d like to remind you that the buckets WERE OVER THE KIDS’ ARMS… much as they would have loved to drop the horse-eating tormentors that were driving the poor ponies to distraction, they couldn’t, not without letting go of the reins. The ring resembled nothing so much as a NASCAR event, with rattles, rather than roars.
When the dust finally settled, three of the four riders were sitting in the dirt. Gem’s rider–rather impressively–was the only one to successfully pull up her pony AND maintain her hold on the terror-inducing bucket. (Did the chocolate inside taste sweeter because of it? I digress…). No one was hurt, but everyone was scared and I had to do some serious rebuilding of confidence in the weeks that followed.
Needless to say, it was a long time before games became part of my repertoire again.
I’ve got a group of riders right now who are in the same position and I do go to games for them, but with a lot more thought than that distant day in April.
- I prefer games that don’t involve carrying anything. I set up crazy mazes with cones and poles, and use Red Light/Green Light, Simon Says, and Tag
- When I do use props, I make sure they are small enough for little hands, easy to drop, and noiseless. Small stuffed animals are great for relay races (and act as team mascots); my current favorite props for “pick up and drop” type games are a set of brightly colored rubber fish, which were intended to be bath toys for babies. They are cute, bounce (but not too much), and the kids love them. One of my groups has been known to start up chants of “Fishies! Fishies! Fishies!”
- Fun as the games are, I always make my actually learning objectives clear to the kids. “We’re going to play the Fishie game in order to practice our steering, our control of the speed of the horse, and our mounting skills.” (In case you were wondering, the Fishie game involves dismounting, picking up a fish mounted on a cone, remounting, walking or trotting to the other end of the ring, dropping the fish in a bucket and trotting back.)
What games do you love?
Illustration by Sophie, age 6.
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