When we got to the stables for Clay’s regular Saturday morning horseback ride last week, we had no idea if he would get on the horse.
Lately, it has been about a 50/50 shot.
Horseback riding is one of the few activities that Clay seems to truly engage in, something we learned quickly when he climbed on a horse the first time we visited a stable. He connects with horses, pressing his forehead against them, petting them. He is all smiles at the stables. But, starting a few months back, it has been a struggle to get him up in the saddle.
It began when we added a Tuesday night session to his regular Saturday lessons. These new lessons were at a different stable. The first regular lesson they put Clay on a retired mounted police stallion. Muscular and wide. Cruise ship wide. Clay got on fairly easily, even though they didn’t use a saddle, but he looked like he was straddling an ox. And halfway through, he tried to get off. When he refused to even mount the horse for the next two lessons, we assumed it was just too big for him.
So, in typing class a week or so later, we asked him about it.
“i liked the horse i didnt like the people,” he typed.
“What do you mean?” his teacher asked.
“i like to go by myself.”
Aha. On Tuesday night, it was group lessons. Four kids at once. Four was a crowd. Noisy. Chaotic. We dropped those lessons.
Still, the problem translated to Saturday morning, when he was riding solo. What was the issue there? Turns out a switch to a horse named Buddy was not working for him.
Buddy would whinny like a steam engine, shove his handlers with his face, move just as Clay was climbing the blue steps to get on him and, generally, make it quite clear he preferred to be in the pasture.
“buddy is afraid of me i can hear his thinking he thinks i will fall off him we both do,” Clay typed.
He wanted to go back to Lucky, the first horse he rode there.
“lucky is tame calm.”
Lucky would wait patiently and quietly for Clay to mount.The thing is, he is reluctant now to get on Lucky.
The first 15 minutes this past Saturday, he would approach the blue steps, maybe climb one, then walk away and take off his helmet. We would coax him back, and repeat the same routine. And he would back away. He just wasn’t ready.
Leading Lucky around the corral for a bit, didn’t seem to help. Neither did typing.
Finally, he seemed ready, and our well-oiled team went to work. I maneuvered him in front of the steps and then stayed behind as he climbed to block a retreat. My wife planted herself on his right side covering that escape route. A volunteer blocked the left and put Clay’s left leg in the stirrups as soon as he hit the top step. Then all three of us pushed his butt up and lifted his right leg over. It was all done in about five seconds, pit-crew quick, and he was on the horse and ready to ride.
He rode off, surrounded by his entourage, while my wife and I slumped against the fence, trying to catch our breath and checking for broken limbs or pulled muscles.
Some days it takes a village to get the little guy up in the saddle. Listening to his squeals and watching his arms flail in excitement once he is up there makes it all worth it.
Until next Saturday.