|I'm learning to ride Dakota at Galloway Stables with owner/instructor Dawn Helm.|
My seven-year-old self who played “horsies” with her friends in a grassy corner of the school yard at her elementary school in Cobourg, Ontario, would be shocked to see me standing in a barn brushing a horse.
I grew up knowing I could never learn to ride because of my mother’s severe allergies. But last year, I met two women who have been riding for longer than I’ve been alive, one of whom wrote a book about her life with horses, and that’s when I decided Mother’s allergies be damned, I’m learning to ride.
Do I wish I’d started when I was seven years old! There is so much more to riding than sitting in a saddle and walking around.
“You’re learning the fundamentals of riding,” my instructor, Dawn Helm of Galloway Stables in Linden, told me. “You’re learning basic English. The only difference between English and Western at the fundamentals level is contact on the reigns, and the saddle. Everything else should be close to the same thing.”
It turns out a lesson begins a half hour before I’m even on the back of Dakota, Galloway’s lesson horse. First, I have to fetch him from the outdoor corral, bring him into the barn to clean his hooves, brush him, and tack him up. All while maintaining control over a 1100-pound horse who, I learned quickly, will test me.
“Riding is an expensive sport but there’s no sport that teaches you both compassion and confidence,” Dawn told me while I brushed Dakota before a lesson. “This is not a basketball that you throw in the closet. You have to make this animal listen to you. Girls, especially, that are meek and quiet have be more confident to get the horse to do what they want it to do.”
I definitely would have benefited from this as a young girl.
Growing up in Fort Lawrence, Dawn started riding when she was five years old.
“My sisters had horses and our neighbours had horses and we just terrorized the neighbourhood on our horses,” she laughed.
After earning a degree in animal science and agricultural business in 1984, Dawn spent the next fourteen years working, raising her son and competing with a horse club. Once she’d earned her instructor’s certificate and her son left for university, Dawn decided she wanted her own facility.
Galloway Stables opened in 1999 as a ten-stall barn with an indoor arena and an outdoor ring. Since then, the stable has grown to a nineteen-stall barn with bathroom facilities, two outdoor rings, the indoor arena, and heated water. Five of the horses stabled there are Dawn’s, including 26-year-old Dino, her first competition horse after university.
Now a certified Competition Coach Specialist with Dressage Designation, Dawn teaches riding lessons to all ages.
“I like teaching because you see someone understand something then they feel it and they get all excited,” Dawn said. “When you can help the rider make the horse more comfortable, and they feel the difference, it’s a great feeling to know the horse is now going to have a better riding experience.”
To my seven-year-old self, I’d like to say: this is a much better way to play “horsies”.
|Dawn keeps Dakota on the lunge line as she teaches me to canter.|