One of the Phys. Ed. programs at Windham College in Putney, VT was horseback riding. I’d always wanted to learn and I would be able to wear my western boots. My roommate was also very interested in riding. From 1-2pm every Tuesday and Thursday we headed for the stables in the hills above Putney. The main training horse was named Teddy Roosevelt, a large wide withered Morgan horse mix who was very gentle with beginners. Our instructor favored Western saddles.
The first step was to get acquainted with the horse and to learn the basics; how to mount, to use your heels, reins, etc., all of which seemed quite easy. The hard part was trying to understand a horse’s temperament and the way you sat your saddle and whether you were relaxed or tense. Before we were allowed to trail ride we worked on the basics in the corral until the trainer felt we were ready. At the end of the class I felt pretty confident about my riding skills and wondered when I’d ever use them again. I dreamed of riding off into the sunset with the maiden I’d just rescued.
The answer came about ten months later on a warm March afternoon in Montana. A friend of my cousins who had stopped by the ranch for coffee asked me if I’d like to go riding the next day. I’ve always wondered if this invite was something my cousin had already planned to see if could ride at all. I accepted and that night began to worry about how well I’d do. I was well aware of the scenes in movies and books where the Easterner was given a horse that needed to be broken and wondered what was in store for me.
The next morning I was picked up and taken to a nearby ranch. Yes, I had ridden before on Morgan horse and had even done some bareback riding on a particularly skittish horse, which didn’t seem to impress the others. I wondered if I had got off on the wrong foot and what would happen. The horse I was to ride had already been chosen for me. Not at all like Teddy Roosevelt, he was a nice looking brown horse that was well trained and not afraid of first timers. Sensing I was someone new he stood very still as I stepped toward him and mounted from the left side as I’d been taught. I gingerly picked up the reins. I sat for a minute trying to relax.
The plan was to ride for about two hours through fields to an overlook, then head back. They kept a steady pace and throughout the ride they asked me what the east was like. The local school band was scheduled for a trip to New York City and I told them what I knew about it. After that the pace picked up considerably and I was still in the saddle, bouncing more than I wanted, but loving the feel of being in the saddle. One of the others turned back and told me that if the horse began to get frisky (this was his first real ride of the year) to run him through a plowed field to show him who was boss. I hoped I wouldn’t have to do that. I had never seen such distances before. The horse seemed to have taken to me and I had no trouble riding him.
In front of us of the Snowys rose against the sky. They had heard about the hunting I’d done in the Snowys and had a few words about the out of staters who came to hunt and would shoot at anything that moved. The soft air smelled of spring. We stopped on a bluff and looked down into a small canyon full of pine. I felt incredibly at peace and wished we could stay there all day. We turned and headed back at a faster pace than we had started out with. I stayed with them and didn’t get thrown.
The ride over, I climbed off the horse not the least bit sore and feeling quite relaxed. I led him back to the barn where I was congratulated on my first Western horseback ride and joined the three for coffee. When I got back to my cousin’s ranch he shook my hand and told me to get ready, there were still some chores to finish up.