Hold onto your horses – this is a LONG blog post.

I’ve really been super down in the dumps lately. Work sucks. Living here sucks. I’m far away from my family and I’m so homesick I’m gagging on it. The only place I’ve found any peace lately is at the barn.

Imagine my reaction, then, when I hear The Bitches talking badly about an eleven-year-old little girl behind her back. Yes, The Bitches.

Every barn has them. Hell, every sport or profession or hobby has them. Those men/women/kids who think they’re perfect, who run the place, and who judge the FUCK out of everyone. Does that make me judgmental too? Maybe. But I dealt with The Bitches when I was a kid, too, and I’m super-sensitive about them now. At our barn currently, The Bitches actually work as assistant trainers. And, sadly, they’re adults. One old enough to be my mother (and, coincidentally, the mother of the other one. Guess it runs in the family).

When I was little, The Bitches were other kids who called me stupid. They told me if my parents loved me they’d buy me my own horse and my own saddle and I wouldn’t have to use other peoples’. They organized things for the barn kids to do but only if you have your own horse. Which left out exactly one kid. Yup.

Now, I wasn’t a stupid kid. I knew they were just being jerks. That didn’t stop it from hurting like hell, though, and it shaped a lot of the adult I am now. Do I have my own horse? Hell yes. My own saddle? Two of them, thank you. I’m stupidly materialistic at the barn and I try not to let it show, but there’s always that inner mini-me saying, that one’s mine, I’m worth something.

Right. So onto The Bitches, adult version. We’re gonna call this little girl Jessie. Her grandma brings her to lessons, and because she has to get there from school they’re usually late. So, grandma and Jessie always arrive late and stressed out, and grandma helps Jessie get her pony tacked up because grandma (who also has a horse at our barn) rides too, and can do it a bit faster.

The Bitches have been riding Jessie’s ass about tacking up her own pony. They tell her she should do it on her own, and not depend on grandma. Hey, wait. Grandma’s only helping because they’re LATE and she’s trying to get Jessie to her lesson so she can RIDE with the other kids. WTF, Bitches? This has been going on for a few weeks. The Bitches have hand-picked the kids in this group and they don’t think Jessie is good enough anymore.

Couple nights ago, I overheard a conversation between The Bitches and someone else about how Jessie is a spoiled little brat and is dragging everyone else down and she should be busted down to a beginner class. This bothers me. Talking about children behind their backs bothers me. Calling them names, even if they aren’t intended to hear those names, bothers me. It doesn’t make it okay just because the child isn’t present. NOTHING about adults calling a child names is okay. Ever. For any reason.

Tonight, I really needed to go riding. I’ve been so down and depressed, missing home, feeling stuck, pretty much hating the world, but I can always ride and feel better. So I got to the barn and saddled up babyhorse, who was actually a doll tonight. But, as her name suggests, babyhorse is exactly that, and I keep her training sessions short and sweet because I don’t want her sour on learning. Baby horses are much like young humans – you get about 25 good minutes of solid attention span before ANYTHING ELSE looks AWESOME in comparison.

After putting babyhorse away, I wasn’t nearly done riding so I grabbed Jazzy, the horse of a friend of mine, probably the best horse at the barn and the one I ride in shows for said friend. He’s a fantastic horse. I haven’t ridden him a ton because, well, babyhorse plus short winter days. So I brushed Jazzy and in come grandma and Jessie. It was a blessing that The Bitches weren’t there for the day. Like a breath of fresh, un-Bitchy air.

Jessie gets Pokey, the pony, and grandma gets Bella, her horse. I listen to them as they brush and tack their horses, and NOTHING about Jessie’s behavior says ‘spoiled’ or ‘brat.’ In fact, she declines grandma’s help when it is offered, saying simply, “No, I think I can do it.” Is that what brats say? I dunno. Anyhow, they join me in the ring and we ride, and it’s quickly clear to me that Jessie is having trouble figuring out how to find the correct diagonal at a posting trot. For those of you who don’t know horses, this blog post is already stupid long without me trying to explain the posting (or rising, depending on where you learned) trot. Google it. Long story short, there’s a right way and a wrong way. As you become more experienced you will be able to feel the motion of the horse and know when to ‘rise’ or ‘post’ out of the saddle, but most beginners learn by looking at the motion of the horse’s outside shoulder, standing when it moves forward and sitting when it moves back.

Jessie ain’t gettin’ it. She obviously understands the theory behind it, and she can tell by looking at us if we are on the correct or incorrect diagonal, but she cannot see it herself. One of the barn helpers tries to give her advice. Our instructor, even though he’s running around doing chores, comes out and tries to help her ‘see’ the shoulder motion by applying a piece of tape to Pokey’s shoulder. Nothing’s working, and Jessie is visibly upset, frustrated with her lack of success.

Let me digress here. My mom is a retired high school math teacher. She was that teacher EVERYONE could talk to about their troubles. She was super-popular. She was funny, she was fair, she cared about her kids and you could always tell. She’s taught me many important things throughout my life, but on the subject of teaching itself she has always said, It isn’t the same for everyone. If your student isn’t understanding, it is up to you to find a way to explain it that makes sense to them. It is not up to them to find a better way to understand you. That isn’t teaching.

I wanted to help this kid, more than anything. Because I like her. Because I don’t think she’s spoiled or a brat, and because damn it, I don’t want The Bitches to dictate everything that happens to everyone at our barn. So I asked grandma if I could help and she said sure. Jessie said ok too.

First off – tell Jessie it’s okay. We ALL have trouble learning some things. I still get yelled at about my hands, and I’ve been riding since I was six.

Second – figure out what she doesn’t understand. She says she can’t see the way the horse is moving at a trot. She can see it when he walks. She’s riding a tiny, shaggy little pony. I’d be amazed if she could figure out where his muscles are under all that fluff.

Thirdly – Jessie doesn’t understand what the ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ of a circle are. Seems pretty normal for an eleven-year-old. I probably didn’t know that either, but it’s critical for the posting trot.

We start riding in circles. I point out to her the inside of the circle (the hole in the donut), and the outside of the circle (the donut itself). We make LOTS of circles, until Jessie can tell me every time where the inside and outside are. Now she gets it, but she still can’t see the shoulders. I tell her not to worry. Just look how the pony moves. Feel it. Because really, looking at it is a beginner’s tool. What you really want to do is FEEL which leg the horse is moving and when, and then you’ll never have to guess again because you KNOW where it is.

She tries the pony. She tries it on Bella. Marginal success. She just cannot see the leg moving that everyone is telling her to see. It’s not her fault. People see things differently. It’s like trying to explain the color purple to someone who’s been blind from birth. Whatever she’s seeing is not what we’re trying to make her see. Not her fault.

Finally I think, well, let her ride Jazzy. He’s HUGE compared to Pokey, and he’s very smooth. His owner won’t mind; he’s not the sort of guy to go, ‘Oh no you can’t ride my horse.’ I toss her up in the saddle and she starts trotting around in a circle and BLAM, gets the correct diagonal. She stops, starts again, and BLAM, hits it right off the bat. Stops again, starts, gets it wrong, and fixes it IMMEDIATELY. There’s something about this that is completely clicking with her. When I ask her what, she says she can feel him moving and she knows when it’s wrong. Bigger horse, bigger movement. Easier to feel.

She proceeds to prove this in both directions. Maybe she can’t see his shoulder going back and forth but she can damn sure feel it because she gets it 8 times out of ten and, most importantly, CORRECTS HERSELF when she’s wrong without being told.

So there, I want to tell The Bitches. There’s nothing spoiled about this poor kid. She’s frustrated and she’s a bit of a perfectionist. And she sure doesn’t deserve to be ‘knocked down’ into another group just because you think she’s not worthy of you. She doesn’t need you.

Okay, maybe I’m telegraphing my own experiences onto her, but I’ll be damned if I see some kid get treated the way I was, by adults who should know better.

When we finished I asked her if she would like me to get permission from my friend to ride Jazzy a little more. She said, ‘Yes please,’ and gave me a high 5.

Spoiled brat, my ass.

I’m not an instructor at my barn, though I’ve been at other places in the past. If Jessie wants, I’ll teach her myself. I don’t see anything in her but a good kid who’s a little shy and trying to learn. I can dig that.

Most of all, the whole time we were doing this (it had to be at least an hour), I had no time to drown in self-pity. I wasn’t thinking about my shitty job, or my family a thousand miles away, or even what the hell I was going to have for dinner. My focus was totally on her, and I loved it. I’d do this all the time if I could.

Maybe I was trying to help her out, but she probably helped me a lot more than I helped her tonight. Maybe I’ll tell her that working with her was fun for me, and I really needed some fun tonight. I’m not really good at feelings, and emotions, and blah blah blah. But The Bitches definitely lit a fire under my ass when I heard them talking about this little girl.

Not sure that’s exactly the right ‘holiday spirit,’ but hey, it’s something. Happy holidays, whatever that means to you.