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First time for Everything: Riding through the drive-through
It was just my luck that my parents already had horses by the time I came to be. As a kid you feel invincible, at least I did, and so anywhere I went no matter how rough the terrain or far the distance I was on horseback.
The trails that seemed normal to me were in fact hardly trails at all and I would be reminded of that if I ever convinced an adult, such as my mom, to come along on a ride with me. It was a feeling of freedom and limitless options growing up with a four-legged friend that could carry you.
On a horse you’re not stopped by “no non-motorized” vehicle signs, you’re not limited to trails like on a bike, steep hills were no problem, streams were no problem. I guess my point is there were and are very few places you can’t reach on horseback if you want to.
I grew up riding a handful of different horses and ponies my family had and I learned from them all. I not only learned to ride, but working with horses taught be me so much more and each time I ride I find I’m still learning.
The thing about horses is they’re big. If they don’t want to do something, there’s a pretty good chance they’re not going to do it unless you and the horse can establish some form of communication. To maintain a relationship with a horse requires flexibility, understanding and patience … a lot of patience. Of course, there are different ways to make a 1,000 plus pound animal do what you want it to do. You can frighten them, drug them, bribe them, but the most rewarding and in my opinion only truly successful way to work with a horse is through patience and clear, simple communication and trust between human and horse.
I eventually talked my parents into letting my raise and train my own horse when I was 11 years old. Despite having 10 others horses and ponies, I wanted the experience of training my own horse. There used to be a free magazine called “Dream Horse” (which is still around, but only online) and it was stocked in all the farm and garden stores. Every time I went on errands with my mom I would snag a copy and thumb through it looking for a horse.
I finally found one! She was a 6-month-old filly. She was half quarter horse and half Arabian. Looking back on the picture now (yes, I still have it) she didn’t have the straightest legs and was a little scruffy, but when you’re 11 years old and you find the horse of your dreams it doesn’t matter. I don’t know why I was drawn to her but within a couple weeks she was mine and I named her Dancer.
Long story short, Dancer and I grew up together. Dancer’s now 13 years old and I am 24. We continue to go on long adventurous rides together and each and every time I climb onto her back it is like falling into bed or an old familiar lounge chair that you’ve had forever.
I hardly ever ride with a saddle and never really did. Of course, for lessons and showing I rode in one, but otherwise I prefer riding bareback. It’s less equipment to mess with and when it is cold outside your legs stay warm draped around the horse’s sides.
I can feel every muscle beneath me working when Dancer moves and she can feel the slightest shift in my weight. It is how we communicate. I can sit a little back and tighten my thighs and she’ll respond by slowing down or I can perch forward and slightly squeeze her sides with my calves and she’ll speed up. The sedulity of communication often goes unnoticed by any casual onlooker. With every stride the horse and rider are in a dialog.
Any old ride is always fun and you never know what to expect when you’re atop a living, breathing, thinking thing, but setting new goals and challenges for you and your horse keeps things interesting.
Just passing through
The latest ride Dancer and I embarked on was a trek from North Barr Road into Sequim to go through the drive-through at Starbucks. This was the first time I have ever ordered a coffee at Starbucks on horseback. In total there were five riders going.
The reactions from people once we reached Sequim were mixed. Most people smiled, waved, pointed and even took pictures of us girls sipping Starbucks on our horses. However some people looked annoyed or put off by the fact that we were riding in town. Not all people like horses and that is both OK with me and understandable.
All the horses on the ride were great. Any rider with an awareness of safety for others and themselves wouldn’t subject their horse to town where there are cars, loud noises and movement all around unless the horse is well-trained and is conditioned to that type of environment. In preparation for the unexpected, yet unavoidable circumstance of the occurrence of horse manure, we kept on the roads and in the grass to eliminate any mess on the sidewalk.
Although ordering coffee at the drive-through window was fun, the best part and most invigorating part of the ride for me was crossing the Dungeness River. I’ve crossed many streams on horses, but this was the first time I had ever crossed the Dungeness River on horseback.
At the deepest section the river was just below Dancer’s belly. I had to pull my feet up just slightly to keep from getting wet. Given the warm weather lately, the river was flowing pretty good and the current caused Dancer to angle a bit, but overall the horses were able to forge through and pick their way blindly among the slippery rocks below. I could feel Dancer scrambling beneath me to keep us both upright despite the fast current and slick footing.
Once all five horses and riders were across the river safely we all cheered and the horses stomped their feet with agitation from the drips of water running down their legs, and for a moment something as simple and small as crossing a river felt like such a great accomplishment. We crossed right beneath the bridge at Railroad Bridge Park. Above us, people, dogs and bikers crossed the river via the bridge with no trouble and most looked even relaxed, but for us on horseback, the couple minutes it took to cross the river was an adventurous goal and a great first river crossing for Dancer and me.
Reach Alana Linderoth at email@example.com.