Pint-size McKenzie Randall held the reins of a tall horse, her tiny frame inspiring incredulousness.
Next to her stood a girl 10 years older — making it easy to assume the elder girl was the experienced rider helping a greenhorn. You know what they say about assumptions.
When this reporter asked Randall, 6, if she had ever ridden before, she began talking about her pony in Pine.
“He’s really nice, he gives me hugs and I like it.” She added, “When I kick him he trots and canters.”
It turns out the older girl was the beginner.
Randall was one of several more experienced riders at Shari Patterson-Blaylock’s ranch who helped beginning students during the first-ever spring break horse camp.
Patterson-Blaylock reserved one week for intermediate riders, and another for beginners. The experienced horsewoman grew up around horses, and later attended Colorado State University to study equine science and a pre-veterinary curriculum. She now spends her days training horses and riders.
“This is what I wanted to do,” she said.
Patterson-Blaylock and assistant Kari Wegenke have earned spots among the best 50 riding teachers as gauged by the American Riding Association. They teach both English and Western styles, including jumping and dressage. Young riders are in good hands.
Apparently, the horses are too.
One pony named Rosi is 35 years old. “That’s ancient,” Patterson-Blaylock said. Ponies usually live into their 20s. Rosi continues to plod around the ring, getting her exercise, leading many youngsters into the great world of horses.
Ironically, Patterson-Blaylock was talking about the importance of safety when a little girl riding her chestnut Welsh pony with a friendly blaze and crimped blondish mane fell off.
Her horse tripped then spooked, and the girl tumbled off. The pony trotted off with the reins under his leg as one of the student helpers walked over to catch him and unbuckle the leather straps.
Patterson-Blaylock ran to the girl, assuring her that falling off is every rider’s rite of passage.
“I bet you’re going to keep your heels down now,” Patterson-Blaylock teased the girl.
The girl sat and sniffled for a while, eventually popping back on the pony, walking peacefully along with her teacher and another helper on foot.
Meanwhile, Wegenke directed the students as they turned around barrels and weaved through slender poles in the ground.
The horses plodded along, but Wegenke said the intelligent creatures can gauge their riders’ expertise. Some of the horses magically gain spunk when under a more experienced rider. But with beginners, they require harder kicks to get going.
“They know whether to be nice and slow,” said Wegenke.
Originally from Wisconsin, Wegenke has taught at Patterson’s ranch since 2003. “I love to ride,” she said — “the connection you can have with your horse.”
This particular class corralled students from 6 to 16. The week costs $200 if riders use a lesson horse, and $175 if they have their own horse.
Some of the younger students had riding experience, but enrolled in the beginner class nonetheless.
“Part of it is the ages,” said Wegenke. Intermediate riders rode for two-hour stretches — a long time for little girls.
This creates a challenge for trainers who must cater to different experience levels and ages in the same class. Ultimately, students progress at an individualized pace. Some end the day by cantering, trotting alone, or with a helper.
In the beginner class, students also share horses. One group rides for the first segment, and the other students hang out in the center of the ring and watch. Then they switch.
Wegenke said students learn by watching. Also, “they meet each other and make new friends.”
Camp also involves afternoon activities. That day, students would watch a farrier shoe horses. Students also create a scrapbook of pictures taken during camp.
For intermediate classes, riders must be able to walk and trot without assistance.
Wegenke and Patterson-Blaylock always finish camps with a game day — turning around barrels, egg and spoon races and musical stalls.
This summer, the pair will continue to teach horse summer camp.
And another set of beginners will likely develop a lifelong addiction to horses.