Ride Like a Girl

ridelikeagirl1My daughter is horse crazy. As in, she often neighs like a horse in response to a question, can name most horses by their breed, and knows how to clarify with the librarians in the Children’s Room at the Iowa City Library that she wants books about horses, not horse stories.  After watching her interest grow for nearly a year, I researched horse stables that offered riding lessons near Iowa City. I talked to a few girlfriends whose daughters took lessons, consulted with a friend who owns horses in the area, and landed on Wyndtree Farms near Swisher. Wyndtree offers English Hunter Seat riding lessons and Cindy came highly recommended as having an affinity for little riders. And so it came to be that on a June afternoon we were driving out in the country, my daughter’s face beaming in the rearview mirror. From the moment we drove through the stable gates, my little rider was hooked. There were rows of stalls with various breeds of horses opening up to a paddock where they were turned out after riding for the day. And, just beyond the stables there was a big red arena for lessons and show preparation. We walked into the stable and she was dazzled by the ‘real live horses!’ ridelikeagirl3We joined the activity right away as a teen-aged girl led us to the tack room where we gathered up a little English riding saddle and a bucket of grooming tools. My daughter’s teeth were chattering with excitement as she followed our helper to Willie, an older thoroughbred that would be her horse for the lesson. My daughter—the same girl who was afraid to put her head under water at swim lessons—walked right up to the chestnut-colored beast and reached out to stroke his mane. For my little girl, in that moment, her dream was coming to life. I was equal parts terrified and excited. She looked so tiny next to the big horse (no pony rides here!). Any trepidation I had about my little one being around such a big animal disappeared the moment I met her instructor Cindy. She is one of those rare people who can relate to children and adults with equal regard. She introduced herself to Aissa, helped her adjust her helmet, and set about building a rapport as she handed her the reins and they walked to the arena. I was directed to a small corner of the arena designated as the “parent pen”—close enough to watch, but too far to hover. I’m excited that my daughter has found something that she appears to love. And while my daughter’s love for riding grows, I am struck by something else: The place is full of girls. Girls of all ages spend their time brushing manes, mucking out stalls, cleaning hooves, pushing wheel barrows full of feed, and fitting bridles.  It is a place abuzz with quiet activity as every girl has a job and a horse that depends on her. Here, the girls are disciplined, focused, and free of the distractions that compete for their attention in the world outside the stables. There are no cell phones, selfies, or cliques. As Aissa learns how to post, steer, and trot, she is also learning lessons about being a strong, confident girl. Here’s some of what I’ve overheard from my spot in the parent pen: ridelikeagirl21. Always look in the direction you want to go. You are in control. Get distracted, turn your head ever so slightly, and the horse will veer off course. 2. It’s never the horse’s fault. If you make a mistake, own it and correct it. In the arena there is no room for “But, the horse just doesn’t like me!” Excuses are not productive and learning happens when you critically reflect on what you can do different, better, again. 3. It’s not a matter of if you will fall, but when. If you ride a horse, you’re going to fall. Knowing it’s a when, rather than being paralyzed by the fear of if, liberates you to be brave. 4. Joy takes preparation. Riding a horse, like anything truly worth your time, takes effort. You have to show up early, care for your horse, and stay after to clean up before holding a carrot in the palm of your outstretched hand. 5. You are in control. Girls who ride horses learn how to assert themselves, give clear directions, and lead with confidence. My daughter is learning to ride like a girl.

Sherri is a transplant from Oregon who came to be a Hawkeye in 2006 and stayed for the sweet corn...and for the Iowa boy she met along the way! She and her husband (Kyle) have a 9 year-old daughter, Aissa. Sherri earned her Ph.D. in Higher Education and Student Affairs at The University of Iowa and works for Ruffalo Noel Levitz as an Enrollment Marketing Consultant for colleges and universities. When she's not working, you can find her with her family, enjoying Iowa City and cheering on the Hawkeyes.


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