Monday, June 25, 2012

More Whoa Than Go

That would be Dusty, my first lesson horse at Touchstone Farm. And come to think of it, that would be me: a middle-aged, not so fit beginner rider.

To some people, “lesson horse” suggests a broken-down old nag with a lot of bad habits and big doses of stubborn and cranky. Horses like that are surely out there, but they aren’t at Touchstone Farm.

Touchstone Farm horses are
the curious, outgoing type,
like Kiddo here.
Making the grade as a Touchstone Farm lesson horse requires liking the company of humans and having a “go with the flow” temperament. Boo says she looks for horses who come to the door of their stall when you walk in the barn, “not turning around and showing you their big butts.”

Training is a key component of maintaining happy lesson horses. It takes a special horse to put up with being ridden by a multitude of inept riders (me! me!) and still retain a firm grasp of the appropriate responses to aids.

At Touchstone Farm, lesson horses who seem to need a refresher will work with an experienced rider – usually an instructor or a Horse Power Instructor Training Candidate – to get back in shape for lessons.

Staff also keep an eye out for horses who show signs that they are ready to retire from the teaching profession. Boo says she has seen horses who have been willing lesson partners for years up and decide, “I just don’t like going around this ring anymore.” It’s in everyone’s best interest to thank such horses for their service and retire them from the lesson rotation.

During his stint as my lesson horse, Dusty kindly and patiently saw me through the rock-bottom basics of learning to ride:
  • Entering a horse’s stall to put a halter on him and lead him out (“Really? Are you sure he won’t mind?”)
  • Grooming and tacking up (sorry about the mess I made of getting your bridle on, Dusty!)
  • Developing the balance to sit atop a horse in motion (where there’s nothing to hold onto that isn’t also moving)
  • Learning to use hand and leg aids (and remembering that “inside” and “outside” are not the same as “left” and “right”)
Dusty, who simply stopped in the absence of any obvious cue from me, made me feel safe. He waited for my instructions instead of executing a plan of his own. He didn’t object to my confusing requests and clumsy handling of the reins. And he didn’t mind doing the same things over and over. (Quick shout-out here to my first instructor, Lisa Manoogian, who was also kind and patient and didn’t mind doing the same things over and over.)

Dusty gave me the opportunity to learn without fear and to experience the thrill of communicating with a big and powerful animal. Through him I realized that I could figure out inside/outside rein and leg, and all the rest of it, too. Dusty gave me the confidence to know I would figure it out, and I would love the process.

Dusty & Nell get centered
with Mitzi Summers.
Dusty is now retired from Touchstone Farm. He was a long-term loan to the farm, and his owner asked for him back to ride herself. I saw Dusty last fall when he and his owner, Nell, attended a Centered Riding clinic at the farm, taught by Mitzi Summers. Dusty was a little chubbier and prone to dozing off when not actually in motion. But he seemed content to help Nell become a centered rider.

After the clinic, a stretch limo for horses pulled up at the farm. Dusty was carefully wrapped and blanketed and installed in his limo/trailer. He set off in comfort and style for his winter home in South Carolina.

For my money, Dusty has earned every moment of his cushy retirement.

See you around the farm,

Kathy McDonald
Rider and Volunteer at Touchstone Farm


  1. Big butts, broken down old nags and smart, patient Dusty! Loved every bit of this!

  2. Thanks, folks! Dusty is a sweetheart for sure. I should have mentioned that he's also about 24 yrs old, which is getting up there for a horse.


  3. Big butts and broken down old nags. Are you sure you aren't talking about us?!?!??

  4. Dusty was by far my favorite horse on the farm! I was an ITC, there and we had a connection, me and Dust-Buster! At first he was pokey, for me. Then, the day came, when we worked as one! We cantered together (he had an amazing, rocking horse canter) and I took my riding portion of my test on him. I did "joining-up" with Dusty, and just hung out with him. He was just an amazing horse to be in the presence of!

    1. Thanks for telling us your Dusty story! He really is a farm legend. His generous spirit and big heart have made a permanent impression on a lot of us.