For 3 days last week, I was privileged to share my Huntseat knowledge with the youth of Mason County during their annual 4H horse camp. The week long Wild, Wild West themed camp, was expertly directed by sisters, once 4-H’ers themselves, Melissa Seals and Katie Gunter. The camp was designed to offer the kids (ages ranging from 8 to 18) a week full of fun, education and new experiences all while improving their horsemanship and spending some quality time with their equine companions.
On the day of arrival, each camper was evaluated on basic horsemanship and riding skills which allowed us to place them into 5 groups according to their skill and experience levels. 5 classes by discipline (Huntseat, Stockseat, Western Gaming, Showmanship, Craft/Horse Judging) were arranged throughout each day with an individual instructor for each discipline. Each group cycled through the classes once per day. This allowed each instructor to work with every group of kids for one hour each day.
The 5 groups varied from Novice to Advanced. A couple of weeks prior to camp, I was able to discuss expectations and lesson goals with Melissa and Katie and had begun to form a rough lesson plan catering to varying levels of experience. It was mentioned that several of the kids would not have had much, if any, Huntseat experience though I was familiar with a couple of the older riders and knew a few of them possessed prior experience in the Huntseat realm.
As a first time instructor I was sure I was properly “doing my homework” by coming up with specific programs for each skill level. Within the first hour of classes however, it became clear that my predetermined “plans” were not going to suffice! It was immediately evident that the most effective course of action was simply going to be to gauge each rider’s abilities and comprehension then tailor each lesson accordingly . . on the fly. This became a welcome challenge!
Initially I was a little apprehensive about my ability to be an effective teacher for these kids, especially when I realized that regardless of my years of personal riding experience, my success as an instructor would only be as useful as my ability to, literally, translate my craft in a manner that was effective but also fun, enlightening and left them craving more.
In that moment of revelation I felt an overwhelming sense of respect and gratitude for the trainers and instructors everywhere who do this every day. What an awe-inspiring group! As previously mentioned, several kids had little to no experience in Huntseat riding. Some had never had the opportunity, others weren’t especially interested and still others “knew how” but simply didn’t practice often. Many didn’t own English tack of their own and as such, came to class outfitted in the western tack to which they were accustomed. Whatever the case, each and every kid was curious and eager to give it all a go.
The novice kids learned about posting, diagonals and two-point (many doing quite well while negotiating the horn on those western saddles!) while the advanced kids dropped their stirrups through some pattern work and the intermediate kids worked on variations in between. Mother Nature saw fit to torment us regularly with torrential downpours but the kids and their horses took it all in stride, working diligently through the deluge and guiding their sopping but willing ponies through the frequently replenished “water obstacles” throughout the arena.
At the end of the first day, the kids were asked about their favorite class of the day and a thing or two they’d learned. I don’t remember the wonderful plethora of things they each learned but I do remember the joy (and relief!) I felt at the number of kids who mentioned my English class as their favorite of the day! I must have done something right! Mostly I was pleased that they were interested in what I had to offer and excited to learn more.
By day 3, many of the kids who had started day 1 in their western saddles had scrounged up or simply borrowed a hunt saddle from a friend and were eager to try out what they’d learned the last couple of days, this time using a real hunt saddle.
The progression in each rider over just 3 days was clearly evident, much to my delight. Several of the beginners who’d started the week as a “walk-trot only” group were feeling bold and excitedly working on canter departures.
The novice kids had progressed to executing a couple of simple patterns, the intermediate kids some increasingly complex routines and the advanced kids serpentined sans stirrups and beautifully executed some counter-canter figure 8s. I was especially proud of the eagerness demonstrated by the few who’d started out the week unsure of “this Huntseat thing” but by the third day were trotting around excited about the possibility of pursuing it further. As an instructor the most exciting reward is to see students excel. If I can be so proud of these kids after only a few days, I can only imagine what sort of reward comes along for the trainers and instructors who do it daily for a living!
It was truly a privilege to work with each and every one of these kids. I’m honored by Melissa and Katie’s confidence in my ability to teach and encourage them and most especially I’m grateful for the rare opportunity to share my passion and my craft with future generations.
I’d also like to formally recognize both Melissa and Katie who, together, did a tremendous job putting together and running, nearly without a hitch, a fun and educational experience for the youth of Mason County.
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