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Learning to Ride

By Rod Campbell

Illustration By Rod Campbell



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We learned to ride on quiet horses that had been ridden all day, every day, for many years. Some had spent almost all their lives in harness or packing big loads over the hills. Some were as quiet and gentle as it was possible to be—totally different from horses that were only ridden for a few hours a week.

The situation was much different than it is today. As babies we were often carried on the front or back of someone on a horse. That is why I say we almost learnt to ride and walk at the same time.

Getting on a horse at a gate Many children just loved their horses and could find all sorts of ways to get on a horses back when there was nobody there to lift them on. The method used most often was to get the horse near a fence or gate then climb on from the gate. But many horses would let you spend hours climbing up onto a gate then just move away enough so you couldn't get on their back.

When there were two children, it was much easier. You could get the horse behind the gate and open it wide and have the horse between the gate and the fence. That way, he couldn't move sideways until you were on his back.

Where there is a will, there is a way - and children always found some way of catching their horse to be ridden. One child I knew used to take the bridle out into the paddock and spread it out in front of the horse where it was eating grass. Then he would just wait until the horse moved forwards and put its foot into the bridle. Leading a horse by the leg He would then gather up the bridle over his shoulder and lead the horse, by its front leg home to his mother. She would then put the bridle on and lift him onto the horse's back. He would stay there for many hours just being with the horse while it fed its way around the paddock.

Some other children used to take a few pieces of carrot down to where the horse was feeding and put them down in front of the horse. While he had his head down, one child would climb onto his neck. Then, when he lifted his head, they would crawl along his neck onto his back. Climbing a horse's neck Then they would put down more pieces of carrot and the next boy would get onto the horses neck, crawling onto its back in the same way. Many times they would slip off again while trying to turn around on his back to face the right way!

Sometimes they would put a bridle on while his head was down so they could try to steer him the way they wanted to go. Other times they were content to just sit on his back while the horse fed around the paddock.

There was one thing we learnt - it was a long way down to the ground from some of those big horses! Especially if they walked too fast downhill and you slipped off and landed with another child or two on top of you!

Most of these were old horses, almost retired from hard work, but they seemed to get as much pleasure out of the love and close contact with the children as the children got from them. They really had learnt love and respect for each other.

After riding bare back for many years—wherever they wanted to go—by the time these children had grown up they had learnt perfect balance. Horse and rider would move as one.

The children who learnt to ride in this way would now be the parents or grandparents of the top New Zealand horsemen of today.

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