As a birthday present, Michael got me a horseback riding lesson with June. We were both so excited about it, but June was in particular because horses have been her thing lately. She was just in love with horses and the idea of riding horses. Because of this, I was a little anxious that something bad might happen and ruin one of her favorite things! (To put you at ease: nothing bad happened.)
We got ready in our cowboy gear. The matching wasn't intentional, but my only pearl snap shirt was pink and her new cowboy boots were pink, so we were a little pair that day.
June rode a little old horse named Shasta. Shasta is one of those old, happy horses who is happy to just pad around slowly.
We had an instructor named Kaitlyn. Kaitlyn was serious business, especially at the beginning. She was fighting a losing battle trying to get June to focus through some of the early tasks since June was in sensory overload trying to see, hear and smell everything. But I think after a while she realized that I wasn't very concerned about it really being a 'lesson' and that we were happy just to have a horse riding experience. By the end of it, she was taking pictures for us and bending some rules so June could ride my horse back to the ring.
We led our horses to the ring so we could prep them for the ride. This included brushing them and putting the saddles and bridles on.
My horse was Ford, who June and I mistakenly called "Forward" for most of the day. By the time I realized his real name, it was so ingrained in June so she kept calling him Forward the whole time. Ford/Forward was also a great horse, but a little bit more of a leader. It worked out well because June did not need to be riding a stallion on her first try, but she did notice that my horse was usually the leader and hers was the follower. I tried to give her a chance to pass me a couple of times so she could go in front, but Shasta was basically, 'no, I'm cool.'
When we first went out to get Ford/Forward from the field, he was hanging out with 5 of his friends. They looked so pleasant from afar, but as we walked up, it was quite intimidating to have 6 large, curious horses surround you and put their faces in yours. Even I got a little uneasy, so I can't imagine what June was thinking. She tried slinking behind me but another horse or two were already right there. Next to her little body these horse heads looked massive. This was like the first thing we did, so I was worried it would freak her out for the rest of the day. But as soon as we grabbed Ford/Forward, she really wanted to help lead him and didn't seem disturbed in the least.
She was so good, seriously. She looked so proud, and so old to be big enough to do this on her own!
Most of our lesson was spent circling the arena. We worked on turning the horses, starting and stopping, swerving in between cones. We played Red Light, Green Light and Simon Says. We even trotted for a little bit! (June said it was 'bouncy' to trot.)
Then June asked if she could ride Forward for a little bit, and although the saddle wasn't set up for her, Kaitlyn let June ride him. She was really proud to be on the big horse. Kaitlyn even let June ride Ford/Forward back to the ring, and lead him for a little. June looked so small next to him!
Afterward, June bent down to try to dust off her new, beloved boots. Kaitlyn and I told her to leave them as-is because the dust was a badge of honor, proof that she was a true cowgirl. She left them as-is until we got home and her friend was on her way over. Honor and proof are all well and good until she has a friend to show off her boots to.
Then we gave the horses a treat and brushed them down again.
I do think June might have been a little disappointed that she wasn't galloping through wild fields by the end of the lesson. (Her vision also probably included wearing a ballgown at the time, but this was not actually expressed.) I told her that she'd get to go faster as she learned more, and that we just need to keep practicing.
I loved it. I loved experiencing it through June's eyes, and seeing the look on her face when she was doing such grown-up things. Maybe one day June and I will take a trail ride (like I did with my mom!) and we'll be able to look back on this lesson and smile about how little she was.