by Milan Berry

It was summer break for me, and I had come to the conclusion that summer camp wasn’t gonna be enough this year. I had made it up in my mind that I really wanted to see what a professional horseman does on a semi-daily basis.

So from April to June, I spent most of my time volunteering for a therapeutic riding program in my area to at least be around horses. I considered riding a privilege, something that was for people with lots of money to spend and pockets as deep as the Grand Canyon. There, I learned to tack up, lead, groom, and handle horses of many breeds, temperaments, and sizes. I loved to see the smiles of kids overcoming adversities by simply riding. It was fascinating to me, but it would often hurt to see kids, usually younger than me, trotting over poles and jumping their first jumps. So, the first week of summer break I searched the internet, looking for a way that I could possibly reach out to someone who, in exchange for work, could provide me lessons at discount or no price. I called at least 30-45 people, almost all saying they weren’t interested. The few exceptions were either too far away to drive, or wanted someone older and more experienced.

I’m only 15, so I’m not allowed to drive yet and my only mode of transportation is being driven by my parents or the local bus. Finally, after looking for practically the entire month of June, I found a private Hunter/Jumper Stable that was willing to take me in and show me the ropes. My mother and I drove to the barn which was about 15 minutes away from my house. I remember us driving up the gravel hill and I saw my soon-to-be boss training a green horse.

We left about 20 minutes later after discussing the terms of my work. I was to come in 3 days a week from 8:30 AM to 5 PM in exchange for a lesson every day. I was to start the next morning. I came in at 8:30 on the dot, working hard for the entire time. Mucking stalls, feeding, watering – everything a working student was expected to do.

Then at around 4 PM, I had my first riding lesson. The horse I rode was a Dutch Warmblood gelding standing at 16.1 hands. His name was Picasso and from the moment I sat down in the saddle, I loved every second of him. In that first lesson alone, I learned to post and do a two point position while trotting. It was all going great until I dismounted – my ankles were numb from keeping my heels down for so long. Absolutely the most memorable dismount I have ever had.

Shortly after returning Picasso to his stall, my mom drove up and we went home. Boy was I sore that night! My thighs and legs were sore from all the walking I did, but alas I got up the next morning and did it all over again. That first week was perfect, and I honestly thought everything would go sky high from there. But then, it kind of hit rock bottom.

After that first lesson, I didn’t see much of my boss after that. During the week she was always out of state showing or tending to other clients. I guess you can say I definitely felt I was put on the back burner. Day after day my mom would ask me if I had ridden and I kept having to tell her no. The agreement was that if I came to work three days, I would get at least one lesson a week. It frustrated me because every day I would come out and work so hard, and never get anything as a result.

For the entire month of July I only got two lessons. On the Wednesday before school started, I rubbed Picasso one more time and told him goodbye. I miss him a lot because he was technically my first lesson horse. I have not seen him since.