Ode to Alpine (and lesson horses everywhere)

We often talk about the difficulty of learning to ride being that horses are not machines. They are not bikes, or cars, or any other vehicle we are accustomed to.

Lesson horses and show ponies are sold as “push button,” but we all know this is an exaggeration. For every “push button” round in a show ring, there are dozens, even hundreds, of trainer hours.

We have developed countless unmounted exercises, and riding simulators seek to perfect riders (they aren’t new either! mechanical horses were all the rage in the 19th century). Cross training is excellent, but nothing can replace the horse.

A good lesson horse is better than a machine. More precise. More effective. More correct. Not only because the horse is our goal, but because a good lesson horse will do the wrong thing in the right way. A great lesson horse will tell you why.

A great lesson horse– you know the kind I’m talking about. There’s a horse or two that anchor any lesson program, the ones that take teaching riders from a job to calling. They inevitably get brought out for new riders, for rehabing riders, and for riders that have gotten stuck on an exercise or just need a confidence boost. They take on more students than any other horse, and thrive for it. They earn their weight in carrots. A great lesson horse not only treads the fine line between their rider’s cues and the instructors, they add their own critical judgement. They teach the teachers.

Alpine is a great lesson horse. I often call him St. Alpine, but that is a disservice to him. He is not merely tolerant of the wide range of riders we teach. He is my colleague. He can tell me years of a rider’s history by how he walks off in the first minute of a lesson. He tells me when it’s time to push a student, and when it’s time to back off. He might not be able to chat about pedagogical theory, but he understands it bone deep. He walks the walk (and trot, and canter). I’ll teach with him any day.

Here’s to Alpine, and all the lesson horses out there.

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