IT'S THE PITTS -- RIDING LESSONS

by: Lee Pitts

People who have seen me ride aren't going to believe this but I've never had an equitation lesson in my life. I just climbed aboard one day and let my feet dangle over the side.

One of the greatest pleasures of my life has been polishing my pants on a saddle attached to a horse. It was those horses who taught me to ride, not some riding academy teacher or professor at an exclusive private school for rich city kids back east. I'll admit, I've always felt inferior around the horsey set who ride flat saddles and jump fences. They look impressive posting up and down like an oil well, but I've never managed to get on the right beat without bruising my backside. Besides, I look stupid in jodhpurs, crash helmet and tall boots. I mean, even more stupid than usual.     

I started riding before I was one year old and I have a photo of me as a baby sitting astride my Grandpa's horse at a rodeo he produced that I'd share with you if not for the fact that it looks like I'm wearing what appears to be a dress. My first teacher was a saddle sitting on a sawhorse in a room my Grandpa called his “bunkhouse.” It was that bunkhouse saddle that taught me to keep my heels down and my back erect and I'm proud to say that I was never bucked off by that saw horse, even though there were some close calls when someone would open the door and a wind gust would test my mettle. By burying my spurs in the cinch I managed to stay on top.

I'm not saying I can ride anything that wears hair, wool or feathers, but my Grandpa always said that I should ride like I was a part of the horse and I must say, with all humility, that I must have been successful at it because I've been accused of being part of a horse's anatomy many times by folks who've read my column.

In high school I worked part-time on a ranch and the first day the manager assigned me a horse and said that even though I didn't own him, he was mine and no one else could ride him. At the time I didn't know that he meant that literally. Since I'd never ridden before I guess he thought he should give me a horse that had never been ridden before either. I should have quit when he said the horse's name was Buck.

Buck was a horse who didn't like the sensation of anything on his back and the first thing he taught me was to never, ever, climb aboard a horse named Buck, Maneater or Grave Digger. It was Buck who taught me tricks folks back home are still talking about, such as riding under the horse, hanging on to his tail and riding backwards with both knees in the saddle. All at full speed. Although I've never been able to recreate these tricks on other horses, I have come close.

The other thing Buck taught me was how to “grab the horn, hunt for leather, reach for the apple, sound the horn, squeeze the biscuit and shake hands with grandma.” All euphemisms for using the saddle horn for what it was intended for. No, not roping, but for hanging on for dear life.

The last thing Buck taught me was that the secret to not being thrown off was to not get on in the first place.

Another teacher of mine was my horse Gentleman. Now, old timers will tell you to never buy a horse that is smarter than you, but I disagree for it was important for at least one of us to know what we were doing. Usually it was Gentleman who decided where we went. Although Gentleman was generally well behaved, he kept me honest and I never did forget how to get bucked off properly. After a day spent riding Gentleman my back ached from carrying him around on my spurs all day.

Although he was only slightly more effective than being afoot, and it took him two weeks to “spin” 360 degrees, I did teach some nieces, nephews and neighbors how to ride on Gentleman. Which reminds me of the story of the five year old little darling who, when asked why she was holding on so tightly to her father in front of her on the saddle she said, “So he won't fall off.”

Sometimes I need someone like that.

www.LeePittsbooks.com







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