My family’s journey with Equine Sport Centre (ESC) started in 2018, when I contacted them about some party entertainment for my son’s 11th birthday. Cherokee (the horse) was the champion who provided pony rides to all the young party guests, and the party treats were boxes of carrots and apples to feed to the horses.
In 2019, my sons and I followed up with horse riding lessons with instructor Chantell Aylward. Whilst my sons did very well with each week’s different, I just could not find my seat on the horse. I envied the natural balance and trust that the boys developed with the horses in such a short time. My inability in this regard, was rooted in my unfounded, and somewhat irrational, fear of these magnificent beasts.
As a little girl, I was captivated by the story of Black Beauty (Anna Sewell), which showed both man’s cruelty and kindness to horses. My interaction with horses, however, was non-existent, for various reasons, until I discovered ESC quite late in my life (50+), and this is where my dream was turned into a reality.
In November of 2020, I resumed riding lessons with Chantell. We started with grooming 101 i.e. just spending time in the tack-up bay, close to the horse. Safety around horses was, and still is, a very important issue. Both Chantell and Uzel Mouton (owner) made an effort to show me in a very practical and effective way to handle and interact with horses. Whilst I only worked with Command (a horse), they would use every opportunity to introduce me to the quirks and traits of the other horses at the yard.
Observing their mastery, knowledge, and ease around horses, reassured me that I was safe. As I learnt more about horses in the broader context, my fears abated, and my excitement grew with each milestone I reached.
Soon I was able to fetch and groom Command on my own and I began to enjoy this one on one time with him, building trust and understanding. I am sure that I spent more time with Command in the bay than any other riding student did, but it was and is my way of expressing my gratitude to Command, for being such a good school horse. In the ring, we focused on balance, posture and the non-verbal prompts to transition between different actions. Here Command’s unique personality came into play. I had to learn the balance between applying pressures to coerce him into doing as I directed, and understanding his idiosyncrasies.
Lessons centred on arena work, jumping, dressage, introduction to English mounted games, and some spectacular outrides in the farm. As the weeks passed we transitioned from walking to trotting and finally, the canter. Interestingly enough it was never my fear of falling off the horse that was my limitation, but rather their dominance by size, their swiftness and agility as well as their unpredictability. Learning how to control and be in charge of such fantastic beasts, was and continues to be, an awesome experience.
Chantelll is an excellent equestrian and horsewoman. Her knowledge of horses and people allows her to connect with her riding students in a very personal way, creating a relationship of trust and therefore facilitating unimaginable progress. I will always watch the training videos, posted on the yard’s WhatsApp group, of our instructors working with horses, and analyse their body language and the horses’ responses. During lessons, Chantell would often record short videos of my own progress and share with me. By studying these videos, I could now visualise the training points and therefore improve many aspects of my riding.
During my time with ESC, I have learnt the merits of a well-executed walk as opposed to plodding along. I have experienced the beauty of posting a sitting trot in perfect harmony with the gait of the horse. I have tasted the exhilaration of the canter directed by own mastery and control. However all these beautiful moments, I believe, are rooted in the respectful relationship between man and beast.
Horses have a unique way of teaching us about our own strengths and weaknesses and as we embrace these lessons, we unleash the power within man and beast.
Author: Priscilla Baker. ESC rider