How do you teach someone who has never been on a horse how to ride?
First, you take away the stirrups.
“They freak out,” said Kevin Tai ’17, who is in his second summer of teaching rough riding to mostly novice Culver Upper Schools students. “They want to use the stirrups to hang on for dear life.”
But clamping the legs down on the horse also throws off a rider’s balance, he explained. When the stirrups are removed, the rider learns to use his or her natural sense of balance to stay on the horse. Finding that balance does take a little time and, yes, students will fall off the horses. But that is expected.
“Falling is part of the curriculum,” Tai said. In some cases, falling off the horse is also part of the routine – such as “Trooper Down,” where a fallen rider is picked up by another horseman riding by. And, with 10 of the 13 rough riding students having never been on a horse until this summer, Tai and fellow instructor Jacob Martinez H’17 have witnessed their share of spills. But they finished the full six weeks without an injury.
Rough riding is a long-standing Culver tradition that was revived by Courtlandt Smith ’49 and has continued in both the summer and boarding school horsemanship programs since. It is open to both boys and girls.
Like the majority of his students, Tai said he had never been on a horse until he came to Culver his fourth-class year. He was told the fastest way to become a better rider was to join the rough riding program.
“It really helped a lot,” he explained. He stayed with the rough riders all four years, serving as the team captain his first-class year. He is now in his second summer of teaching the class under the supervision of Summer Horsemanship Director Frank Stubblefield H’74. Martinez was part of the summer rough riding program.
The students spent the first two class periods each day – approximately 90 minutes – learning and practicing their routines. They performed at Woodcraft Camp earlier and they finished the last day of class Wednesday with a “three-ring circus,” showcasing their new skills in spinning 360 degrees in the saddle, riding backwards, standing while riding, and doing handstands, layouts, and flips off the horses.
The grand finale was a pyramid built using three horses and three riders, who then saluted Tai and Martinez before dismounting in a series of flips off their horses.