I was one of those lucky barn rat kids–the type many of us elder millennials and Gen-Xers think are disappearing. I grew up in a riding school, taking lessons on school horses from knowledgeable instructors who still mad e learning fun (usually). I rode a lot of really wonderful school horses, and I’m sure I’ll write about more of them in the future, but reading The Saddle Club and Show Strides keeps bringing me back to a very special dude named Bean.
I have no idea what kind of horse Bean was. In my memory, he’s tall and lanky and thoroughbred-y, and maybe he was, but more likely he was some kind of mix and shorter than I remember. What I’m sure of, though, is that he was a chestnut with a kidney bean-shaped star and that he was the most perfect animal who’s ever lived. The school horse in the first Show Strides book, Sweetie, sounds like a fancier version of him.
I started riding Bean in lessons when I was around eight or nine. I was kind of a traumatized kid, and while horses were very important to me, I was sometimes afraid of them. It’s interesting, because now I’m pushing 40 and I’m much braver than I was as a kid or a teenager. “Children bounce” might be true of normal kids, but not this one.
Bean was the answer to my fears. He belonged to a family whose son, Matt, was deaf and had special needs. I liked Matt a lot, and I was grateful that he and his family let the school use Bean in the lesson program sometimes. He was gentle and not reactive. He would never, ever run off or buck or rear or spook. I don’t really remember jumping him, and I suspect he may not have been the soundest horse alive, but he was flawless. I knew I was going to be okay when I was riding Bean, even if we had to canter without stirrups.
It’s not that the other school horses were bad. They weren’t. Some of them were just naughty ponies, and some of them were completely fine, but I wasn’t an assertive rider. I would crumple in on myself at the slightest disobedience, which is funny now considering that Mo is so naughty we call his bad behaviors Mo-Ments, and it doesn’t phase me at all.
The other thing I remember about Bean, this horse I rode nearly 30 years ago, was that you did have to approach him nicely. No one needed to be an extra-amazing special gifted horse whisperer, but if you just kinda marched up to him and expected him to let you put the bridle on, he wasn’t having it. I watched a new barn worker struggle mightily to get a halter on the kindest kids’ horse in the world because he just wasn’t very nice. For a kid like me, who desperately wanted more gentleness in the world, that was a challenge I was up for. I would hug him and pet him and kiss him and sneak him treats all day long.
I wish I had some of his tail hair or something, I would definitely consider cloning him. I can’t imagine a more perfect horse, and I think he’s most of the reason I kept riding when in other lessons I was getting bucked off by one pony or was unable to get another one to jump a cross rail (probably because I didn’t want to jump it).
I can’t imagine a better school horse. While I do recognize that we can learn a lot from naughty horses, perhaps even more than from perfect ones, I only think that’s true if we’re mentally and emotionally prepared for a challenge. If your comfort zone can dance on the head of a pin, and your learning zone is only a hair wider, the entire rest of the world is the danger zone. Now that I’m a confident adult rider, I’m relatively unflappable when horses are being turds or the communication has broken down and I definitely learn more from tough horses and hard rides than smooth sailing. But at various times in all of our lives, I think we need and deserve a Bean of our very own.
Tell us about your favorite school horse! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit us up on Facebook or Instagram @thesaddleclubrevisited. And don’t forget to check out the first in the Show Strides series, School Horses and Show Ponies.