A couple of months ago I started volunteering at the stables where I have my riding lessons. The idea to do this came initially from the thought that I don’t know anything about horse-care and it seemed weird that I was learning to ride horses but not how to be around them on the ground (incidentally it’s safer to ride them than be on the ground looking after them – most accidents happen when you’re not mounted). So I wondered how you learnt how to look after horses and I came up with the idea to ask if I could work there as a volunteer at weekends.
No sooner had I formed the idea than I realised how this was a sign of how much I’ve changed in recent years – to have the energy to consider volunteering as well as working a full-time job was a new concept for me and to approach a new working environment by choice is something I would never have done in the past. You might assume that having been riding there for nearly a year I would be fairly at ease in the yard and with the staff, but that would be incorrect – I always used to feel awkward standing in the yard before my lessons because I didn’t know how the yard worked, what I was allowed to do or whether I was in the way. But I was ready for a challenge. I was ready to test my new self and find out how I would cope with working in an environment where I was more ignorant than the 5 year old Pony Club members.
With many warnings that there was no discount on my lessons and no tangible reward for doing the work, the yard manager agreed to permit me to volunteer for 5 hours every Sunday morning. She warned that I would be in at the deep end, that if I couldn’t keep up I’d have to go and that I’d get shown how to do things once and then left to do it.
So since then I’ve learned loads about horse care but also confirmed how far I’ve pushed the boundaries of my comfort zones. I’m having great times in close proximity to horses and ponies and I’ve learned how to handle them confidently but I’ve also been handling humans confidently. Sometimes literally handling them – last week a little girl was the recipient of my first time giving a leg-up onto a pony. (Unfortunately, as she was as inexperienced at receiving a leg-up as I was at providing one, we didn’t manage to get her in the saddle first time and so she was also the recipient of my second attempt, at which point we succeeded in getting her on board. Hurray!) Of course there are not-so-great moments mixed in, such as when I was removing the horse poo from a field and a horse making trouble overturned my wheelbarrow of poo tipping it back onto the field again, but, irritating moments like that excepted, I’m having a really positive experience. And when riding instructor no. 2 left suddenly I wasn’t shaken by it because I’d got to know the other instructors through working on the yard.
So here’s a few things I’ve learned so far:
- Bad weather makes horses and people grumpy, so assume that everything you do in bad weather will be wrong.
- The day you don’t wear steel-toe-caps is the day you’ll get a hoof on your toes.
- Little girls can be acceptable company if you manage to separate one from the herd, but shrill squealing packs of Pony Club kids are best dealt with by hiding behind the largest horse you can find until they’ve gone away.
- Darker coloured horses are more practical because they don’t show ‘the mud’ (i.e. poo stains) like greys do.
- Horses have extensive wardrobes, but hot-pink rugs are not flattering to any pony.