Ashley put the stool on the ground in the middle of the round pen and stepped back.
“Now what?” Caleb felt his chest tighten.
“You get on the horse,” she told him. As if it was just that easy.
“Oh you big baby,” she teased. “Get up on the stool, put your left foot in the stirrup and swing your right leg up over the horse.”
Once he was up in the saddle, she started adjusting his stirrups. He felt kind of silly and like a little kid. Once they were where she wanted them, she had him put his feet in and stand up to test the height.
“Good, now put your pinkies underneath the reins and your thumbs on top. Shorten the reins when you ride. If you hold them too loosely, he’ll think you want to run.”
Caleb definitely didn’t want that, so he pulled them a little too hard and Dude started backing up.
“Not that tight!” Ashley warned softly. “Just so that you’ve taken up the slack.”
She reached up and took hold of Dude’s bridle. It was almost as if she were communicating with the horse and telling him to behave himself with this new rider.
It kind of felt to Caleb like the horse was being defiant on purpose because he was carrying such an obviously inexperienced rider. Dude tried to shake himself free from her grasp, but finally calmed down and lowered his head in defeat.
“Now to get him to move… forward—” She looked back down into Dude’s eye again, then back up at Caleb. “Just tap him lightly on his sides with your heels. Both at the same time.”
He did as she told him, and the horse took a few steps.
“Now just lead him around the wall of the pen,” Ashley called softly.
“How?” He looked back at her, a little panic setting in because he didn’t know how to ‘drive’ a horse.
“Pull the right rein gently when you want him to go to the right. Just follow the curve of the pen. You’ll be fine!” she called to him. “I’m going to go get Shelly, I’ll be right back.”
You’re just going to leave me here? Caleb thought. Alone! He tried to remember her words. Pull the right rein, follow the curve, I can do this.
He watched as she picked up the stool and took it with her back into the barn. She came back out with Shelly, but no stool.
Ashley skillfully reached her left foot up into the stirrup and pulled herself onto that big horse. She seemed too small to have gotten all the way up there by herself. Caleb felt silly for having needed the stool at all. She expertly led Shelly around to walk along beside him.
“Now, you’re going to trot,” Ashley said.
Caleb panicked. He didn’t know much about horses, but he sensed that ‘trot’ was faster than what he was doing right now.
“Uh, uh.” He shook his head. “I’m fine at this speed, thank you very much.”
“Too bad.” She laughed at him. “You have to get him warmed up before we go out on the trail. Now kick him twice softly and he’ll know you want to trot.”
He shook his head, panic filling his heart.
“You can do it, Caleb. You’ll be fine. Now come on!” She kicked Shelly twice and Dude followed along as Shelly sped up.
He felt like he was bouncing along on the saddle like a beach ball. A very painful, human beach ball.
“Stand up in your stirrups, or you’re going to have a very sore rear end!” She called out to him. He did, and it felt a little better.
“Is this far enough?” he asked, feeling like his teeth were going to jump right out of his mouth. He was afraid he was going to bite his tongue. “Can we slow down now?
“No, we need to canter twice around the pen to get warmed up.”
Caleb connected the dots in his head. They weren’t slowing down, and what they were doing right now was trotting, therefore cantering was probably going to be… faster. He didn’t like the thought of that.
“Come on.” Once again, she kicked Shelly gently and took her into a canter and Dude followed her lead.
Suddenly, Caleb felt like he was rocking and flying at the same time. It was very disconcerting, but in an exciting way. It was like the feeling of having no control because you’re riding on a roller coaster, except with less stability. He was ready to stop cantering long before they got all the way around twice.
Finally, they slowed down to a trot and he felt like he never wanted to go that fast again. They slowed down again to the leisurely walking pace where they had started, and he took a deep breath. Okay, this I can handle.
“Can we walk from now on?” he asked.
“For now. Come on. Let’s go for a trail ride.”