After we got back from our Florida trip (with all the Harry Potter and Disney World and Star Wars and oh yeah friends and wedding stuff we could wish for), I googled riding lessons in Eugene and left voicemails with trainers at two local stables. One of them called me back (let’s call her Roxanne), so I told her I’m basically a beginner, that when I was around 12 I spent a couple of weeks at a day camp learning to ride Western, and since then, I’ve gone on maybe half a dozen trail rides spaced every 2-3 years, the last one in 2011 or 2012 (family trip to Georgia). I told her I’ve never ridden English, but I want to learn. She told me she has an adult class of beginners of various stripes, I said great, and she said come out next Sunday for the 12:30 class.
My questions for her:
- What do I need to wear?
- What do I need to bring?
- Where should I park?
- Is there anything else I need to know?
- Jeans and some kind of boot – no special riding clothes needed
- The barn is at the end of the long driveway. I’ll see other cars. Park there.
The class started at 12:30. She told me to arrive at noon, so around 11:45 I turned into the long driveway, right behind another car. And boy, was I lucky there was another car turning in just ahead of me. Turns out there was a gate with a keypad across the top of that driveway. Would have been nice to know the code.
I parked at one end of a really really really big L-shaped barn. There was no one outside, no sign. I poked my head in through a doorway at the end near me and found a couple of guys cleaning stalls. I said I was here for a class, looking for Roxanne. They shrugged and pointed down to the other end of the barn, in the middle where the L takes a turn.
When I got down there, I could see the arena, and it looked like a class was going on in there. Just on this side of the arena, there were 4 or 5 young women milling around an office and the open space in front of the arena, so I kind of asked, generally, if any of them could help me find Roxanne. One of them said she was in the arena, teaching the class. Okay – was I supposed to go in there? Interrupt? So I said again, generally, I’m here for the 12:30 class. Is there something I’m supposed to do? Fill out? Another one of the women handed me a release form and a pen. I filled it out and turned around to hand it back, but she was gone. Does someone in particular need this? Another woman (maybe the first one?) took it from me and put it in the office.
I should mention here that they were all perfectly nice to me, but distant. I was not their responsibility.
So then I asked what I should be doing next, and one of them (the first one, or the third one who might also have been the first one) beckoned to a fourth woman and told me that she (Caroline) would help me. Cool. My new buddy Caroline came over to me, leaned into the arena, and shouted to Roxanne, who was half the length of the barn away, What horse is Susannah riding? Once Roxanne was reminded of who I am, she told us to go get Bijou. So I followed Caroline back up the way I had come, out to where we parked, and over the opposite end of the barn to go get Bijou. On the way, she asked me about me, I told her how little I knew and what I was after, and she seemed pretty nice, super helpful.
I led Bijou back to the first side of the barn, with Caroline, of course, and when Bijou reared at the sight of a dog bed the barn owner was carrying, I handled it pretty well. (It freaked me out a bit, but I kept that inside.) We (and by we, I mean Caroline) got Bijou in the cross-ties, and then Caroline said something about finding her saddle. Well, for one thing, I don’t know where anything is, and for another, I don’t know what to do with it once I find it.
Caroline helped me get everything I need. Then Caroline helped me groom Bijou. Then Caroline helped me saddle Bijou. Then Caroline helped me put polo wraps on Bijou. Then Caroline helped me put Bijou’s bridle on her. All along the way, I thanked her for helping me and apologized for being useless. I don’t think she realized that I knew NOTHING when she volunteered to help me.
By then it was about 12:30, so I led Bijou down to the arena, and then someone (not Caroline) helped me lead Bijou into the arena and over to a mounting block and helped me get on the horse because I have NEVER MOUNTED A HORSE WITH AN ENGLISH SADDLE BEFORE THAT VERY MINUTE.
So, to start with, Caroline was wonderful and friendly and patient. Then I looked over at my fellow students, and hey, there’s Caroline! So no, Caroline doesn’t work at the barn, and no, Caroline doesn’t teach this class, and yes, Caroline helped me out of the goodness of her heart.
I got my first glimpse of Roxanne, the only person I’d seen so far who I was sure actually worked there, after I was on the horse and in the arena. There were three other women in the class, including Caroline, all ahead of me, but not crazy ahead of me (I can say now in hindsight).
Anyway, the class itself was okay. Well, no. In comparison to before and after the class, the class was fine. Compared to actual lessons I have had since, it was a total waste of time. During the class, I wasn’t nervous. During the class, Roxanne had to be reminded that no, I’ve never ridden English before, and yes, the last time I was on a horse was four or five years ago, and YES, I’M A BEGINNER. She didn’t need the reminder because I wowed her with my skills – she couldn’t SEE my skills (lack of) because she was staring at her phone the whole time. I spent an hour walking or trotting around the arena, not really learning anything. Towards the end, she noticed I was holding my reins upside down (how is that even a thing?), and she helped me fix it, but she didn’t really explain in such a way that I knew how to get it right or notice when I got it wrong in the future.
Then the class was over. The other students disappeared so quickly, and I was left sitting on the horse, by myself in the arena, with Roxanne still staring at her phone on the wall. The next group of students was coming in, and I’m like, Well, crap. I guess I have to get off this horse and figure out what happens next. I managed to get down without embarrassing myself, got Bijou out of the arena, and stopped. What was I supposed to do next? Someone (another student) took pity on me and handed me a hoof pick. Hey, I remember those! Something to do with standing next to the horse’s leg and picking up each hoof and scraping out the crap that accumulates in there. Well, I was standing facing the wrong way (you face the back of the horse, not the front) because IT’S BEEN OVER 25 YEARS SINCE I LAST DID IT, so whoever handed me the hoof pick turned me around and helped me out with the first hoof. That chore done (probably badly because of the lack of supervision or teaching), I brought Bijou back to the cross-ties so I could unsaddle her.
Thankfully, Caroline appeared again, and I used her shamelessly to get everything back off of Bijou and put away. She asked me if I was comfortable taking Bijou back to her stall (I was) and said she’d meet me right back by the cross-ties so we could clean the tack.
Great. Cool. LOVE Caroline. I was able to get Bijou back in her stall without incident, but when I came back to where I left Caroline, she wasn’t there anymore. I can’t blame her – it wasn’t her responsibility to help me. She had gestured in the direction of the arena when she mentioned cleaning the tack, so I picked up Bijou’s bridle (helpfully, it had her name on it) and headed back that way. There were more people milling around, watching the next class, so I just up and asked someone for help again. A nice woman, older than the rest, showed me what to do (and then showed me when I did it wrong anyway). She was the mother of one of the younger students. Finally, I finished with that and put the bridle…somewhere…and then I leaned on the gate with the mother and a couple of other people to watch the two teenagers practice jumping (which was really really cool). Eventually, though, I needed to get home, and I hadn’t yet paid for my lesson. I asked the people near me if anyone in the general area worked here so I could pay someone. The mother I’d been talking to introduced me to one of the barn’s owners, who asked me if I knew how much I owed. Are you KIDDING ME? The website had said it was $45 for a class, so I said yeah, and she said I could just write a check, made out to the stable, and pin it to the bulletin board.
Okay. Done, I got in the car, drove home, and breathed again. Then I went round and round for days about whether this completely ridiculous experience was one I should return to (because it can only get better, right?) or if I should find another place to ride.
Now that I’m months away from it, I can be comfortably outraged, but right then, in the moment, I was SO out of place, SO uncomfortable, SO unsure if this was something I could do. I didn’t want to throw a fit, and I didn’t want to just decide to find a new place because what if every other place was horrible? What if this is just the world of competitive show-jumping, and there’s no other method for learning to ride English for people who don’t necessarily want to compete?
Now that I’m months away from it, it’s obvious they were terrible (it was obvious then, too, but I was worried about those other things). They weren’t terrible just to me, the beginner student who needed someone to actually teach her, but to themselves, their barn, and their horses. Who the hell was I, to be left alone to take care of their very expensive horses? I could have gotten hurt, I could have hurt the horse, and all of it would have been because they weren’t paying attention. I kept asking for help, and while I did get it, I didn’t get it from the people who were responsible for helping me.
Did I go back? Of course not. Am I riding somewhere else? Stay tuned again, while I continue the LONGEST STORY EVER.