My soon-to-be 13-year old niece spent the weekend with me. I always love spending time with her. She is the only girl in a set of triplets. I was my sister's birth partner for the triplets; her husband had to stay home with the other two girls! My Niece and I had a connection from day one. We just clicked. She is the quietest in the family and my sister admits that sometimes My Niece gets "forgotten" in amongst the ruckus that the other kids make. My Niece said to me one time that she just liked being with me.... and for that I am grateful. :-) We get together every few months for a nice weekend visit.
Of course, part of being with me includes being at the stables. When I first started lessons a couple of years ago, My Niece would patiently sit and watch, sometimes in freezing weather. She didn't complain then and she doesn't now. Her "reward" was to help me groom my school horse (strangely, GM did not try to take a chunk out of her) and on one occasion, she actually got to sit on GM. She was over the moon. On the way home from lesson, she would tell me how I did and how I looked better from the last time. :-)
So, when Gem came into my life she was very excited. We went out and bought her proper paddock boots and a helmet. I enrolled her in a couple of riding camps, which she loved. She knows how to groom (except for feet-that will come), she can clean tack and sweep up. To keep her busy while I ride, she videos my performance, or lack thereof. :-) When I have completed my routine, My Niece "cools" Gem down for me. ;-) Up she gets on Gem, as if it's nothing to get on a 16.0hh horse, and I walk her around, holding the bridle. Gem likes young people and is especially kind and patient when he has one on is back. This was our usual routine up until this past August.
Last August was a turning point with Gem, My Niece and for me. I hadn't spent a weekend with her for a few months and we were both anxious to get out to the stables. After I completed my ride, My Niece donned her helmet and got up on Gem. She looked different this time. I couldn't quite put my finger on it.....then she asked me to lengthen the stirrups for her. Good grief. That's what it was. She's taller...she's more mature looking....she's....growing up!!! I did as she asked and started walking her around. It hit me hard that the person on my horse was no longer a little girl. After a few steps, I asked her if it would be OK if I didn't hold the bridle. She was fine with that. :-) I continued walking beside her and Gem and gave her a refresher on keeping her heels down, how to whoa, and how to use her legs. We walked around for about 5 minutes. Then, I stepped away from her and asked her to walk to the fence, turn Gem around and come back.....and, she did. Gem was pretty good with interpreting her requests. I walked further and further away from her and each time she communicated to Gem what I asked her to do. Then.....she asked if she could trot.....gulp.
Of course, I said "sure!" My heart was pounding as I walked away from her to the other end of the paddock. She fell off of one of the school horses during summer camp, so she knew what it felt like and yet still asked to trot Gem. I admired her fearlessness. As I stood at the far end of the paddock and reminded her what she needed to do, I gave her my biggest smile and encouraged her on. You know what? She did it! Not once, not twice, but three times, up and down the paddock. Gem was fantastic.
So yesterday, after I finished my ride, My Niece got on Gem to cool him down. Again, we went through a bit of a refresher. She is pretty balanced, in spite of having to be reminded to keep her heels down (I think I was reminded a ba-zillion times!!) and she needs to improve her tension on the reins, but she got Gem up to a sitting trot a couple of times and was satisfied with her ride. It was a good afternoon.
So, My Niece is no longer "little" and is starting to show her independence and her confidence. In fact, she told me that she could have ridden Gem over the past year without me holding on the the bridle, but she thought that it made me feel better to hang on to it. :-) When she rides; she is in the moment and I admire that. The first few times I rode Gem, I was terrified. I love how Gem is so patient with her and I am glad that he is a good teacher. Seeing him with My Niece makes my heart swell and I really appreciate seeing this side of his personality. Perhaps Gem and My Niece will have an ongoing relationship through her (and his) teen years. I can only hope.
I have discovered, through instructing My Niece, that I have actually retained what I have been taught in my lessons! Isn't that great?! Now.... if I could just execute what I have been taught....easier said then done!!! :-)
What was I thinking....?