The Riding School: The Christmas aftermath

Santa might be well-intentioned, but he isn’t always well-informed. Here’s how our ever-tactful columnist The Riding Instructor handles this annual week-after-Christmas dilemma.

From The Riding Instructor:

So your friendly neighborhood riding instructor always has a few things to deal with after Christmas, after well-meaning parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents have done their very best to support Junior’s horse habit.  I still have a picture of myself taken the day after Christmas wearing my new white ratcatcher, my new white (impractical much?) breeches, and new boots and gloves at Christmas vacation camp.  Little did I know that an hour later I’d be face down in a mud puddle, courtesy of one of the schoolies… those pants were never the same…

Here’s my list of the good, the bad, and the annoying of the swag that Santa brings good little horsey children each year.

The Good:

  1.  Number one with a bullet: new helmets, boots, and half-chaps.  These wear out, get grown out of and, even if the child has been lucky enough not to fall off, the best of helmets still need replacing on a regular basis.  And a good pair of half-chaps can significantly improve a child’s riding (more grip, less pain!).  Not sure how keen I am on the pink half-chaps or the My Little Pony helmets, but as long as it’s functional and ASTM approved, I can get behind it.
  2. Grooming tools: Nothing makes a child more inclined to spend some quality time brushing old Lightning than a nice matching set of brushes.  It seems to me that acquiring your own brushes, as opposed to riding clothes, is the first step towards becoming a horseman, not just a rider.  So I love seeing the kids come in after Christmas with their new toys – everything, that is, except the sarvis “curry comb.”  I have been riding for close to 40 years and I still have no idea what anyone thinks that’s good for…it doesn’t actually curry, it breaks manes and tails….
  3. Books: particularly Pony Club manuals and instructional texts.  As an English teacher in my other life, I’m happy to see them with horsey fiction; as a riding instructor, I’m not totally down with the fantasy world that The Saddle Club or The Black Stallion promotes.  I don’t want them thinking that they can ride Dragonbreath because “she loves me!”  I prefer the more realistic world view of books like The Perfect Distance or my favorite classic, The Monday Horses.
  4. Well-fitting tack: Having tack that fits the rider and will work on the school horses can really help a rider improve.  I have one tough-to-fit student (very tall for her age) who has been helped no end by the appropriate saddle her parents (after much consultation with me) bought her for Christmas.

The Bad:

  1.  A pony:  If the parents haven’t done all due diligence – looking at lots of mounts WITH the child, vetting, a trial – the very last thing that I want to hear is “I got a pony for Christmas!”  This never turns out well.
  2. Glittery grooming products:  That stuff gets into everything and IT DOESN’T COME OFF.  Next kid who shows up with Twinkle Toes is going to personally be wearing it home!
  3. The “saddle package” or “the saddle granny had in the garage:”  The $300 saddle package might seem like a good idea, but those are so uncomfortable for everyone, horse and rider, that I think they make riding worse.  And there’s nothing better than granny’s old saddle – especially when it’s a cut-back saddle seat type (and we’re a hunt seat barn) or has an 18” seat for a 60-pound child.

The Annoying:

  1.  Polo wraps:  None of our horses actually need them, they require constant monitoring in their application, and they are super inconvenient when Child A has applied them and needs to take them home, but Child B is riding the same horse in the next lesson.
  2. Saddle pads, especially in bright colors or dramatic patterns:  Along the lines of the above  –  just when you thought things would be easy as Child B hops on the horse warmed up by Child A, Child A needs to take home his or her personal saddle pad.  The patterns and colors just add insult to injury for my George Morris-inspired self.
  3. Granny’s old helmet:  Just because someone wore it riding 20 years ago doesn’t mean it’s still good today.  I know it’s worth my time to deliver a little lecture on helmet technology and safety (“Helmets today protect your head from concussion; helmets from 20 years ago actually made them worse.”), and it is generally easier to explain helmets than saddles, but I wish I didn’t have to!

So I approach lessons a little warily this week, hoping Santa has been kind to the children – and to the riding instructor as well!

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