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Do You Remember Your First Horseback Riding Lesson?

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In Love With Louie, the Lesson Horse

By: Julie Timperley

In the fall of 2020, we were still in the middle of a pandemic and my 12-year-old daughter, Kate, was doing education online. Kate is a bright student and very dedicated to her lesson plans and homework, but she needed more. She often logged on early in the morning and was done by noon with all her lesson plans. She had always been an active kid in travel soccer, volleyball, and other group style activities, but the pandemic changed all that.

In the past, she had been to various stables to ride trail horses occasionally, and she asked once again if she could start riding, as it was the perfect social distancing activity. So we began with Big Blessings Ranch and Maddie, a young, 20-year-old business entrepreneur who loved horses. Kate was a natural horse girl, much like her mother, and a bit of a daredevil, much like her father. She chose a bay gelding named Taz. Maddie taught Kate “Horse Love 101,” and she learned to brush, pick hooves, and tack up big Taz. Together, they rode the trails a couple of times a week until the Northern Michigan weather grew cold and the snow began to fall.

Kate was in love with riding. She enjoyed riding bareback in the winter and feeling the warmth of the horse below her. She would lope with her arms stretched out with the cool air on her face. I would watch from the warmth of my heated seat in my SUV and think, she’s pretty good, but she must be freezing because it’s January. She would put Taz away and feed the horses treats. With cheeks flushed, she would jump into the SUV and talk all the way home about how wonderful her ride was. She had plans, and that plan was to learn how to jump horses.

Ah, the grandeur of a young girl. But I thought, why not? She was an all A student. She was a good kid. She wasn’t afraid of a little hard work. So mom got busy and started making some calls. What you need to know is that we’re in rural Northern Michigan and indoor riding arenas aren’t a dime a dozen. A popular Equestrian Center had group lessons, but with COVID restrictions was having difficulty opening back up again for their group lesson plans. Another stable had just what we were looking for lesson wise, but had no indoor arena and MI winters don’t end until late spring.

I put my thinking cap on. Being from a small town, I knew a guy from high school who had a step-dad who was a horse trainer… This is how it’s done in a small town… I made the call to Gary Geason Quarter Horses. Gary took my call and I explained who I am and what I wanted for young Kate. He listened patiently to my story and explained that he didn’t really have lesson horses. But, he told me, “Let me see what I can do.” What I didn’t know then, but I certainly do now, is that Gary is more than just a trainer of horses. He’s a maker of dreams. He’s a tough old cowboy with a heart of gold. A week later, I followed up, and he had a horse ready for her to take lessons on.

On a cool, March, Tuesday afternoon, we headed to the barn for the very first time. She was outfitted in her Ariat hand-me down shirt, breeches, and paddock boots. We met Gary and he handed her a lead rope. He told her to get the horse in the third stall on the right. She was excited, nervous, and took a deep breath as she opened the stall door. Inside was the most beautiful, 16.2 hand, flea bitten, gray Quarter Horse gelding. Her heart swelled as she exhaled. Gray has always been her favorite color horse. Gary told her that his name was Louie. KATE IS IN LOVE.

With the biggest smile and all the confidence she can muster, she led him out and put him in the cross ties. Gary gave her instructions on how to remove his sheet and pick his hooves. She struggled with lifting his feet, but didn’t want any help from mom. She was bound and determined to do it all on her own. She gave him a thorough brushing and primping before saddling up time. Gary wanted to assess her abilities in a Western saddle before putting her in a Hunt Seat saddle. She selected a pad and placed it on with confidence. Next was the saddle, and it was much heavier than what she had used in the past. She struggled and finally heaved it up on big Louie. She was excited and she was ready to go.

Her first ride was a little bit of a challenge because she hadn’t ridden a broke horse before. She took instruction from Gary and she began her lesson on how to properly hold the reins, how to sit up in the saddle, and how to use her inside and outside legs. She learned how to walk, trot, and lope. She was leaning forward, her body was tense, and her arms were floating out, but with instruction and motivational words from Gary, she was slowly getting the hang of it.

Even with encouraging words from Gary, Kate was doubting herself and realized that this wasn’t as easy as it looked, and that it’s going to be hard work. Although there was joy, there are also tears. She was happy to be riding Louie and brushing and loving him, but she wasn’t too sure about the work it will take to learn proper form on a broke horse. There are tears on the ride home and she was apprehensive about doing this again. She was doubtful that she has what it takes to achieve her dream of riding in a Hunt Seat saddle. She needed to process and decide if she wanted to put in the time and dedication to learn.

It only took a few days and she was back to wanting it more than ever. Three days later, she’s back in the saddle, a Hunt Seat saddle this time, and she has a smile on her face. She’s back in love with Louie, the lesson horse.

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