Nicky Stevens

My name in Nicky Stevens and I found out about western riding at the tender age of  55 through a work colleague of mine at the time.  I have always loved animals but particularly horses.  I have two older sisters and a younger brother, yet I am the only member of the family with this love, so where it came from, I don’t know.

After talking to my colleague about my fear of falling off, she told me that I should come up to where she kept her horse (Dry), in Bodiam, and have a word with Susie Anderson.  I duly arranged to meet up with her one Saturday and met Susie who said exactly what I wanted to hear – “if all you want to do is sit on a horse that’s fine”, “ if you’ve had enough after 10 minutes that’s fine”.  What I was concerned about was the thought that I had to stay mounted for a particular length of time.

Up to that time I had ridden very little (about 3 or 4 times, where each time we had gone out, the horse for one reason or another bolted and I came off).  My last fall did it for me and I wouldn’t even get back on, I just walked the horse back to the stables on foot.  I thought that that was it, I just wasn’t meant to ride, I had lost my nerve completely.   My ambition was – and still is – to go out on a hack and actually lope (or at that time canter), as I didn’t know there was such a thing as western riding which I much prefer) I imagine it must be such a feeling of freedom just being as one with your horse in open countryside.

After speaking with Susie I booked up for a ½ hour lesson the following Saturday.  Saturday came, you can imagine how keen I am to reach my ambition as it took  1hr and 10 mins to get up to Bodiam!  I had to give myself one more chance at achieving my dream and Susie was certain that she would be able to help.  Oh how right she was! Susie must have realised how nervous I was and she was really positive. My friend who had come up with me, told me afterwards that she couldn’t help thinking that she might have done the wrong thing by trying to get me back on a horse as she could see me shaking from where she was standing – and that was some distance away.

First of all Susie took me all round the horse  pointing out various parts of the tack and what things were called.  She then gave me a mounting block and I thought, I really don’t want to do this, but if I don’t I’m really going to look stupid, so up I got – of course I was extremely nervous getting up onto Ritzy a beautiful horse, she was extremely quiet and seemed to understand that I was really nervous.  I seem to recall that I was just walking around on a lunge line, but after about 20 mins or so I told Susie that I had had enough.  She had no problem with this and the lesson ended.

Having been given such an encouraging initiation and knowing that I could end the ride at any time no matter how short, I plucked up the courage to book again.  The Quarter horse to my mind is the most fantastic breed to learn on with their wonderful temperament and easy going nature, maybe I’m just very lucky with the horses I have been allowed to ride.  I seemed to be going from strength to strength getting more and more confident each time, knowing that if I was at all concerned, all I had to do was say “woah”!

My first little bit of excitement (or rather fear) came when I thought the horse I was riding, a beautiful horse called Rose did something to make me think she was about to rear up!  If anything untoward happens, I tend to scream, involuntarily, it just happens!  At that time I was having a lesson with Jess March (Susie’s niece) – there again a great person to teach constantly building up my confidence and very positive.  She asked me why I had screamed as I think all Rose had been doing had been coughing – but it felt to me as though she was about to rear!  Jess said to me quite calmly “we don’t scream, we say woah”.  How right that is, I am not caught out very often now but when I am I say to her “we don’t scream, we say woah”.  I could ramble on forever of things that have happened over the years but I suspect you may become a little bored!

I have been trying to get at least one ½ hour lesson in each week, sometimes it works out sometimes it doesn’t.  There was a long layoff for a few months whilst Susie was moving from Bodiam to Mayfield and there weren’t the horses available for me.  Boy did I miss it.  I used to badger Susie on the phone at various times asking her not to forget me, I wanted desperately to get back to riding.  These amazing horses and people had done wonders for my confidence, and still do.

I eventually got the go ahead from Susie to come back and I had quite a few lessons on Dry. There again with Dry she treated me very well and I was able to do quite a few things on her (after a fashion), backing up, side-passing, that sort of thing.  I still hadn’t loped and I am now 59 years old.  So you can see that it takes me a bit of time to pluck up the courage!

The day came, literally only about a month ago now when I thought, I have got to attempt the lope.  I was riding Hickory (Susie’s horse – and the horse of my dreams).  If ever there comes a time when I am lucky enough to have my own horse (fat chance of that happening without a win on the lottery), she is the horse I would like, if not her, then a clone!

Back when we were up at Bodiam I went out on a few hacks, on Rose, as she was the one I rode the most.  The very first time I went out it was with Susie, when she said she thought I was ready and wanted me to get used to the feel of the horse on uneven ground.  Susie went by foot with me on a leading rein.  I felt perfectly happy.

I had for some reason always been drawn to Hickory, I don’t know why, as I had never ridden her. however I did ride her a few times and she was and still is a wonderful animal, she really gave me confidence and I thought if ever there was a horse I would want to attempt my first lope on Hickory was the one.  When I went up to Bodiam one weekend I had a choice of either Rose or Hickory to ride on a hack.  It was difficult but I chose Rose as she was the only one I had hacked out on. Although I really would have loved to ride Hickory, I just didn’t have the guts as she was very responsive and willing and I was concerned that she may get a bit excited out in the open.  Anyway a few weeks later (Hickory was pregnant at the time), we went on another hack. I had no choice this time, I would be riding Hickory.  I was a bit apprehensive and asked to take a lead rein with so that if I took fright she could attach it.  Anyway, Hickory gave me my best hack ever, I just loved every minute of it.  She seemed to enjoy it also with ears pricked and taking everything in.  I was very relaxed on her.  Susie and Jess had always told me to be as relaxed and calm as possible round horses as they can pick up on things.

When we returned to the stables I had made up my mind that the following Saturday I would attempt a lope.  The following Saturday came and low and behold Hickory had gone, in preparation for the birth of her colt.   I had missed my opportunity!

At Mayfield literally about a month ago now I thought, there’s always got to be a first time, I just have to pluck up the courage to lope, I couldn’t afford to miss my opportunity with Hickory this time as I knew she wasn’t there for the long term.   Jess was teaching me that day and I asked her to put a lunge line on.  I was shaking like a leaf but I thought I’ve got to do it, I had told everybody at work that I was going to try and they were all rooting for me.  How could I go back and tell them I’d lost my nerve!  We started off at a walk, then a jog, and then the transition was made into the lope at which point as you can probably imagine, I screamed!  Hickory bless her immediately stopped so I really didn’t have the chance to totally lose my nerve again.  It was just the change in gait, it seemed such a lurch.  Jess keeping as calm as ever said to me “it wasn’t that bad was it?” to which of course I replied, no it wasn’t I just hadn’t known what to expect.  I had another go straight away.  I still find it very difficult with balance but I just love everything about it, the breed of horse, learning  to communicate with body language and voice what is required, the horses are teaching me so much as well (with great patience).  I even love the saddle!

My first lope on Hickory, I asked for the lunge to be attached so that I was going to the left which direction I felt more confident in, why that is I can’t say, who knows, so for the following lesson I was attached to the left.  Then a couple of lessons Iater Susie took me.  I asked as before to be attached to the left side.  She asked why this was, and I said that I just felt happier going that way, I knew I would eventually have to go in the direction but not just yet – OR SO I THOUGHT!!! – she attached the lunge to the right side.  AARRGGHH I thought, but Susie knew what she was doing, and of course she was right once again.  I am actually better going to the right than going to the left!  If she hadn’t built up that initial confidence in me right from the word go I wouldn’t be where I am now.

Two weeks ago now I turned up for my lesson to find out that once again Hickory had left, which I had been expecting but dreading.  Susie was taking my lesson as Jess was in Germany.  I would be riding Jess’s horse Carter (Good Catch Carter), quite the biggest horse I had ridden.  I was a little apprehensive but if Susie thought it was OK then it obviously was.  She told me in the early days that I should think of it as nervous excitement as opposed to just nerves, she is always so positive, saying “it’s not a question of I haven’t done it”, “I can’t do it”, it’s more a question of “I haven’t done it yet”.

We started off on the lunge being my first time on Carter, and I just walked and jogged round.  Very nice and I wasn’t nervous at all, albeit I was on a lunge.  After a while Susie said that she wanted me to get him to walk for a bit, stop, walk and then ask him to lope – I thought she had made a mistake and said lope instead of jog, but oh no, she meant lope!  Here again I trusted her judgement, if she thought it was OK then it was OK.  I asked Carter to make the transition and it was so smooth I couldn’t believe it – wonderful.  I haven’t managed to keep him going as long as I did that first time, but I shall keep trying

In closing I would just like to say a big thank you to my colleague for introducing me to western riding.

The biggest thank you goes to both Susie and Jess for not only doing wonders for my confidence, but for their endless patience, constant encouragement and positivity, and the opportunity to ride Hickory and Carter.   I still haven’t reached my ultimate dream but I have the enthusiasm, and come what may I shall give it my best shot, for as both Susie and Jess say – you’re never too old.