First lessons in horse riding & confidence building

From the age of two she showed an interest in horses. Whenever an opportunity to ride a pony arose she would plead for a go. She happily waited for an hour at some summer fairs for just a 10 minute walk on a pony.

At the age of three, Sophie had a few favourite horse and pony books. She knew the names of various breeds, from Appaloosa and Mustang to Lipizzaner and Thoroughbred. Holidays and weekends away often had ‘pony riding’ featured as one of the ‘must do’ activities for Sophie. Our most memorable experience was at the beautiful Stonehurst Farm in Nelson, where Sophie rode with a smile for half an hour through the most natural setting. She was in her element.

Sophie, age 3, riding in Nelson

Once every month or so we’d visit a local stables so she could have a gentle walk, but it wasn’t long before she was asking, ‘Trot please, Trot!’.

For her fourth Birthday Party we celebrated at the stables with her friends and had a ‘Pony Party’.

Her love of horses isn’t something she’s inherited directly from Dan or I, though my sister rode for many years. The closest Dan and I have come to riding is a few wild treks on horse-back in the Australian outback and on holidays in New Zealand, but we never learned how to ride properly (hence lots of bumps and bruises after some of those treks!).

After leading Sophie around on a horse for a few years, we decided she was finally old enough to have a few proper lessons. She now has a one-on-one lesson once or twice a month. The first two lessons were incredible. She quickly learned rising-trot and showed amazing balance on a huge horse – taking her hands off the saddle and putting them above her head, or out to the side, whilst using her legs to grip the saddle.

Prior to her third lesson a few nerves surfaced and she said she didn’t feel up to going. Sophie didn’t want to say she was scared, she just said she wasn’t feeling well. It took a lot of talking to get her to go. We persuaded her by saying she could just stoke and feed the horse this time; as learning to look after and groom a horse was just as important as riding one. Whenever we mentioned that it was okay to feel nervous and that we would feel the same, she kept saying, ‘No, I’m not nervous.’ We commended her on how brave she’d been in previous lessons and so confident, but that it was perfectly normal to feel a little unsure too and that her riding instructor would be able to help.

Thankfully, the little pep talk and a silly, fun story acted out with her toy riding stables, convinced her to go.

She came home beaming. She ended up getting up on the saddle and doing a rising trot again.

She’s beginning to understand that the funny feeling she gets in her tummy from time to time is due to anxiety. I remember it well when I performed on stage as a young girl. I’d always go to the bathroom before a performance, but as I stood in the wings, waiting my turn, my legs suddenly clenched and I felt like I was going to wet myself! It took me a while to teach my body that the feeling was in my head and something my parents called ‘butterflies’. I thought it was a strange term for such an unpleasant feeling – and yet something as beautiful as a butterfly shouldn’t make me feel so anxious. It helped me to picture a butterfly dancing in my tummy, sweeping in circles and swirling beautifully. I eventually learned to accept the nerves as excited anticipation. Those butterflies always made a hasty exit as soon as my feet danced through the wings and onto the stage.

Sophie has her fourth riding lesson this Saturday and we’re hopeful that the butterflies leave her to ride with a calm stomach and happy feet in the stirrups this time.

Here’s a short video of her riding and me making up an impromptu story with her toy stables prior to her third lesson (excuse my wardrobe – still in p-jays!):