Working with the public can be a truely rewarding way to live. Running my own business in an area where tourists, by the hundreds of thousands, come to vacation during the summer months is a great place to meet interesting folk. I'm talking not just the United States, but countless other countries also. Because I teach riding, which is a blessing, as many of the people who want an opportunity to ride while visiting the coast of Maine are not always proficient equestrians. I do believe that a group from New York City had never seen a horse. Oh, perhaps they had the visual of a Policeman or Policewoman on horse back. But I don't think the image translated into anything they understood.
I had recieved a call and reservation for three women from NYC. I believe that I probably told them not to wear shorts and make sure to have some sort of tread on their foot wear as well as to make sure their toes were covered incase they were stepped on by a horse. Those hooves are extremely hard, especially if they are wearing steel shoes, and most horses weigh in the vicinity of one thousand pounds plus or minus.
The other important thing about my technique, is that, though I introduce an experience; sort of a lesson/adventure; these horses are not followers. The horses will do only what the rider asks them to do, so if the communication is shoddy, the ride will be a bit precarious. We never follow the same sequence of trails, fields or to the ocean twice. My horses are trained and/or retrained to be sensitive to touch and to the rider, thus creating an open door to communication and bonding. This can be likened to a taxi driver who shuts the plexi glass between him and the passengers, shutting off conversation. 'Just the money, Bub.' Many horses in many of the generic trail riding stops, are like that. In order to survive the clumsiness of the rider, the painful pulling and kicking and other obnoxious behavior, they have learned to shut the world out and just do the job. Follow the horse in front. This breaks my heart to see, to meet these animals. So many broken spirits just doing time.
I pride myself in providing the opportunity for people to gain confidence with a horse who is actually getting a kick (most times not literally) out of the summer newbies. I love creating the opportunity for change and growth. Especially I embrace the new appreciation and connection between animal and human brought about by an unforgettable adventure, whether through a new experience for beginners, or a new skill level for more seasoned equestrians. Thus, the plan is, that customers leave with a sense of accomplishment and the wonderful after glow of a few good adrenline rushes. With this in mind, lets go back to the three women from NYC.
The phone call did not prepare me. On the phone, they were sane. And I will give them credit. They got the directions right in a rural area with out city blocks or man made structures to guide them by. When they made their appearance, and that was really how it appeared, an appearance, I could hear my K, my working student, snort, to catch a open laugh. These women were high fashion to the Max. Tall skinny boots, with four inch heels; long denim skirts, I suppose their version of country, that reached just above the anke and were straight. Just shy of being pencil skirts. Long painted nails, lovely coifed hair, stunning make up jobs and belts that would have paid my rent over and over again. They sauntered, between sinking heel near accidents, to the arena where the fun begins. I was so happy that we had gotten the horses ready first. Usually I require that the riders tack up the horse themsleves to get to know them, and season riders have no excuse not to groom and saddle their own mount. But sometimes under time constaints we will get the ride ready.
I am the instructor. I am the owner of the stable. I have learned over the years to smile in the face of someone who wants my life extinguished. I have created such a genuine, pleasant, smiling poker face that I only know one woman, also a business owner who can out do me, with grace, in times of stress. So I smiled. Perhaps a bit wider than usual, which initiated a grin just as wide from the city fashionistas.
"OK," I say, bringing the attention to the present situation. "Did you bring your jeans? Perhaps running shoes or maybe hiking boots." I figured the hiking boots were a stretch, but it didn't hurt to ask. They had already surprised me beyond the usual ill prepared.
"Jeans? Sneakers? Sonya?" One turned to one of the others.
Sonya looked at me with large luminous eyes and I couldn't help but like her. "You said no shorts or sandals. Um, we dressed for a day outside." She looked around at her friends, "Right girls?"
"Yeah. Oh yeah. We took all the morning going through our stuff just for this."
Then one of the women walked up to the horse I was on, who thankfully behaved herself while I was riding her. Otherwise, she was known to bit and a few other nasty tricks. "Ohhh. You are soo pretty." With that, Josie, my horse, snorted green clumps of grass into her cleavage. "OH! My!" But instead of getting upset or offended this woman laughed hysterically and showed her friends what had happened, while still wearing the green yuck on her lovely chest. The other two women laughed too. How could I not find this fun.
"You cannot ride in those skirts." I pointed especially at one of the women who's name I learned later to be Suzanne. Her skirt was the longest and the tightest. She looked up at me with honest surprise and a questioning raise to her perfectly arched brows. "How are you going to put your legs around the horse."
The women looked at each other, then at us, then at each other, comparing I suspect, how they were dressed, how we were dressed and why the incredible difference. Then it hit them. They were going to ride a horse! They knew this; they'd reserved a spot for this; they paid serious money for this; they simply hadn't totally comprehended this. After they got the whole picture they looked back at me and my intern with their 'now what' expressions.
"Did you bring any long pants with you." No. "Other shoes or sneakers?" No. One of them, who I later learned to call Deborah, looked as if she were about to cry. "Ok. Let's not panic. You all look to be about my size, give or take a bit. I'll have to set you up with some of my jeans, and we'll look through some of the shoes left by summer riders, and some I had in the house and barn, and some K had. The women looked horrified. They were literally going to have to wear 'manual labor' type clothes. But once I came out of the house with an arm load of jeans and began sizing them up to the closest fit, these women were troopers. "You are in luck Sonya! DKNY wide legs!" I threw them at her and she made a great catch. "Deborah, you get Diesel Dirt Khaki's" She honestly giggled. "And Suzanne, you get the real thing! Carharts. Farmer jeans." She looked confused at first but after they all trooped into the barn to a back stall, changed their clothes, including trying on different sneakers, riding boots, double socks, they cat walked out of the barn in style.
"Suzanne darlin'," I grinned wide. "You could take Carharts to the Red Carpet!"
All three women raised their arms, and turned circles, oooing and awwing. Deborah had to wear double socks as we could not find a pair of shoes to fit her. The other two had on questionably, hopefully, spider free sneakers found in the barn. After fitting them with helmets and going through the basics of communication with their horse, we had an incredible time. I don't remember when I had enjoyed new riders so much or when I had laughed so hard. What fun! What a gift! And the biggest gift I had, was that I had learned through the years to use that pleasant, welcoming expression no matter how my mind wanted to categorize people. Because I never knew what was inside of a person by how they represented themselves on the outside. And my Intern K who was only sixteen years of age was recieving the best lesson of all. Stay open, be polite and sometimes wonderful surprises come in strange packages.