Dec 122011


TENDERFOOT TALES by John Roy – the first in a twelve part series first published in the WES magazine.


Every rider, whether Western or not, will have a different tale of the route he or she took to learning to ride.  In my case it happened almost by “accident”. I came to the equestrian scene in my middle years just a little short of the magic 50 year marker.  Before this, my interest had not extended beyond watching the odd horse race and “Westerns” on TV.  I would add that one TV Western series had always stuck in my mind, not the actual screen play but the closing film clip which ran only as long as credits rolled up the screen.  Please forgive me if I have trouble in remembering the series title as my memory seems to be fading as fast as my seat develops; probably as that’s where, according to my long suffering lady friend, I keep my brains.  I think the series was entitled “Cimarron Strip”. No matter what it was called, the clip showed a rider at a fast lope or gallop over scrubby semi-desert.  The image which always stuck in my mind was that the rider and horse appeared to be one entity.  There seemed to be no join between either of them.  The rider’s head and torso were erect and appeared motionless whereas, from the waist down, he was in perfect motion with the horse.  It looked right!  It looked as it should be!  And the teenage “tenderfoot” thought, “that looks real neat”, but did nothing about it.  Certainly, he was not thinking of riding “English” and appearing like a monkey on a greyhound’s back! Several decades late he found himself accompanying his lady on one of her clothes buying expeditions. (As all you fellows will agree this is where the average male’s mind attempts to find another planet to explore whilst leaving the body on auto pilot.) The expedition was to find her a “Musto” jacket and the local saddler shop had been listed as the main stockist.  Thus our hero found himself, on a Saturday afternoon, scanning with bored eyes racks of assorted jackets, jodhpurs, tins and jars of unbelievable goo and more chains and leather straps than you could shake a bondage freak at. The entire shop seemed to be filled by small earnest Thelwellian female customers supported and served by a lesser number of older and larger Thelwellian females.  As for other males – there were none. “What do you think of this shade?”  Her ladyship’s question received the standard male reply.  “It’s quite nice.”  However, before she could counter this with a request to compare different shades of garment, Tenderfoot spotted a distraction amongst the saddles.  There, in a corner, as out of place as he was himself, was a Western saddle.  His mind came back from its refuge and recalled the old image of the Western rider. Now, those of you who ride Western will be aware of the reaction of those who follow other riding styles.  But, to Tenderfoot, it came as a surprise. His enquiries re the saddle brought the response, “It’s in for repair”.  Undaunted, he enquired if there was anywhere where one could ride Western.  This brought the dismissive reply, “I think there’s a card on the board”.  Board?  What Board?  Where?  Gimmie!  Gimmie!  By now, her ladyship had become the proud owner of a new jacket and I had the name of a Western trainer. Having found her companion scribbling down a name and phone number, the interrogation started, all of which resulted in two middle aged individuals descending on one Trisha Wren. It can’t be easy trying to teach someone almost as old as your Dad the first thing about a horse but I hope it’s fun!  (More on this “Dad” bit in a later tale.)  Certainly all the trainers I have come across in this horse riding game appear to enjoy shouting.  Oh!  Those happy hours of hearing “heels down”, “look where you’re going”, “think pelvic thrusts”, to name but a few.  One of the first things I discovered when starting out was that your Public Library is unlikely to have many books on Western riding.  Your average tenderfoot needs some pretty basic stuff.  You know, poll, frog, withers, cantle, latigo, etc., etc.  This is a new world with new words and a whole lot of fun. From a beginner’s point of view, I can only emphasise that, if you don’t know, don’t be shy to say so. The instructor cannot guess and mine was only too happy to repeat and/or expand on any point. (Still does – has eyes in the back of her Stetson!) Personally, I doubt that you can be half-hearted in this riding game.  For me, it was love at first sit.  I read somewhere that the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man and I’ll agree with that.  That first walk around the school on Justin convinced me that I wanted to learn more.  Thus the first lesson started.

Speak to you next time, 
 John Roy