Chances are, somewhere back in your training history, there was a horse or many different horses that helped to make you the rider you are today. There was the kindly soul who raised his head to pop you back into the saddle when you came loose, the cranky old goat who taught you to canter (while slamming your legs into the wall), and the fiery green training project who became your first big challenge—and your first big victory.
Whether these horses were tall or short, old or young, gentle or a real S.O.B., they gave us more than we could ever give them. Here, our ode to the eight types of big-hearted lesson horses you’ve probably met before.
1. The Gentle Giant
Small kid, small pony is generally a good rule of thumb. But some barns are blessed with one of these: a truly wonderful behemoth with whom they can entrust even the tiniest of pony campers. He was the first horse you sat on for lunge line lessons and lead line class, and he never spooked, became offended, or went too fast. In fact, if today you could pay him to order pizza and supervise your own kids at home while you’re out, you’d happily trust him with that job too.
2. The Pony BFF
On the other end of the spectrum, this little guy is equally fond of the kiddos, but requires less adult supervision. Way back when, the barn’s most elfin lesson pony became your closest friend, and the two of you were inseparable from day one (though in retrospect, he may have liked to see just a little bit less of you). You spent hours grooming him, shoving carrots into his mouth, and soaking up the sun together out in the field. He taught you to sit up straight and steer, and although trot diagonals were a bit of a stopping block, it never dampened your love for him, not even when you grew too big for his back.
3. The Canter Lead Codger
Left lead, right lead, wrong lead, right lead. It’s not Dr. Seuss, but it is the experience of most riders learning to canter for the first time. Thankfully, it fell to the barn’s resident Walk-Trot-Canter lesson horse to teach you the ropes, which he did with gusto and a glint in his eye. Ask for the canter at the wrong time, with the wrong aids, or rudely, and he’d slam you both into the arena fence. Look down at your lead (and not where you’re going) and he’d go faster—usually toward the out-gate of the ring. He took his job as an educator seriously, and while he may have put up a cranky front, deep down you know he enjoyed it.
4. The X-Rails King
The jumps were low, the courses (twice around the outside) weren’t complicated; but somehow, when it came time for your first cross-rails class, you might as well have been galloping up to a puissance wall. If it wasn’t for the barn’s X-rail King, disaster might have ensued. But this trusty partner knew the courses, counted the strides himself, and never made too big of an effort at the jumps. If the distance was long and you came unseated, he’d pick his head up and canter slower until you got it back together. He’s just that good.
5. The Disciplinarian
Every kid wants to ride the winner, but every kid should ride the Disciplinarian. Your trainer may have reminded you every day to put your heels down, leave your hands forward, and keep your eyes up at the jumps, but you were only half-listening—until you rode her. Subtlety attuned to the finer points of rider position, she understands your trainer’s commands and when you fail to heed them. And whether it’s bucking you off or stopping short at a jump, she’ll make you pay for it every time. When you saw her name under yours on the lesson board, your heart would usually sink. But years later, you’re thankful for her early training, because you know you never really rode until you rode her.
6. The Showboat
These horses might as well be unicorns, but if you’re lucky enough to grow up in a barn where they exist, well, then, you’re lucky enough. The Showboat has seen and done it all, and is more famous on the circuit than you’ll ever be. Every trainer wants to own him, and every kid wants to ride him. He’s been a star at the higher levels (maybe the Big Eqs or the A/O hunters), he loves being under the bright lights, and he knows not just how the Game of Blues is played, but won. If you get to ride him in a show or two, thank your lucky stars, because you’ll not only be champion, you’ll instantly make a name for yourself as well. That’s just what unicorns do.
7. The Fellow Student
For some trainers, the best way to test the progress of their green horses in training is to put them through intermediate-lesson-rider-boot-camp. Sometimes this goes well. Sometimes it goes poorly. But it’s an adventure for all involved, and the Fellow Student has the ability to teach you, the rider, one invaluable lesson: how to be a leader. Learning to instill confidence in a horse that’s young or who doesn’t yet have any of his own is an advanced riding skill, and being coached on a greenie is one way to develop this ability. If all goes well, you and he will prove your mettle together, and it will be one heck of an accomplishment for both of you.
8. The Keeper
Every once and a while, when the hard work has been done and the stars align, a special lesson horse comes along to remind you of the most important lesson there is: that riding is supposed to be fun. The Keeper is that rare mount who has boatloads to show you, a patient soul, and who is as ready to grow with you as you are with her. Whether you’re in the market to buy or lease her, or just to ride her consistently a few times a week, you’re moving on to the next stage of your riding career the best way of all—with a really great teacher by your side.