Thank goodness for schoolies! Those horses not quite fancy enough to make it as show horses, not quite young enough to belong to a special someone, not quite sound enough to be competitive but perfectly perfect for people to learn on. School horses are worth their weight in gold, or even something more precious than gold but I don't know what that would be so I'll have to stick with gold I guess.
School horses come in all sizes, shapes, breeds, colors and ages but the one common thread is that they are forgiving.
There seems to be 2 categories of schoolies. There are the angels and the not so much angels.
The angels are the ones that will try to figure out what it is you'd like to do even if you ask for it backwards and awkwardly. They will pretty much stay on the rail when they are supposed to. They trot, canter and whoa on voice command. They stop if you are about to fall off. These horses will perk up and have a little more umph with a more experienced rider but with a beginner or teeny-tiny tot, slow down and careful mince about. These horses will delicately and humbly take a treat from an appreciative rider. They stand for hours on the cross ties to be groomed and tacked up or have their hair done up in ribbons. They will pick up a hoof and have it their waiting as you head toward them with hoofpick in hand. They are saints and should be revered as such.
The other ones... these school horses will give you nothing for free. They are lazy and crafty and mischievous. They will put more effort into not doing what they ought to than they would if they had actually done it in the first place. These are the horses that yank your reins, scrape you against the fence, bite you when you tighten the girth, fidget on cross ties and won't canter more than two steps at a time or will tear around as if on fire. These horses know exactly what they should be doing and what they are doing. If you ride precisely, they will behave as such. These horses are scamps, but are no less valuable as teaching tools. They are not lacking in training and often are more highly trained but that does not mean they are generous. April, for example will pull and yank, often taking children completely over her head, and not go where she is asked until her riders learn to keep their hands down and not hang on the reins. Once that is accomplished, April is compliant and lovely. It is not that April suddenly decided to be good, it's that finally the rider learned to ride.
The first sort of horse is perfect for a beginner, a timid rider or one who has lost her confidence because on horses like these, you can learn how to sit, how to hold your reins and maintain your position. But then, everyone graduates to the scoundrel who really teaches you how to ride. Now, you put all those theories into action. Once you've learned to ride one of these guys, then and only then will you be allowed to ride one of the fancier sorts of horses. You first have to work out all of your kinks on a horse that can't be wrecked by flapping legs, hands like jumping beans and thumping bottoms.
During a lesson, I likened this process to children mastering the art of drinking from a glass. First, they get the sippy cups with which they can make a mistake but everything will still be okay, then they get the tumblers that will spill and tip but can't be broken. From there, one can be trusted with the fine goblet. Ivy, Jolly, Gypsy, Shadow - they were/are all sippy cups. Pooh Bear, April, Gretchen & Rocket are your tumblers (or John Henry, who's owner said he was more like the Flinstone's glass you get at the gas station).
You may gaze longingly at the glorious warmbloods and sport horses that float across the ground or casually ump 4 foot fences, but you may not touch them until you have earned the right. The school horse hazing ground separates riders from passengers. I am grateful to every horse I've ever ridden for letting me learn. Maybe at the time, I didn't notice what I was learning but looking back, now I see.
Take a minute to recognize the worth of the school horses. They are not cast-offs or riff-raff. They are educators in horse clothing and we should be thankful for their forgiveness.