At the SEP, we rode in lesson groups of up to 24. The horses probably knew that the instructor couldn’t see all of them all of the time and were adept at making life interesting! They weren’t mean but they probably were bored and found ways to liven life up.
Horses were divided into four categories. Those for beginners mostly walked with a little bit of trotting about six hours a day. Once you learned how to get such a horse to keep going more or less where you wanted it to go, you graduated to horses for novices; they worked fewer hours because they introduced you to cantering. Once in a rare while, a novice would get to ride a more advanced intermediate-level horse, one with issues other than that you were on its back boring it. The high-school horses, which worked an intense hour or so a day, were off limits except to instructors and a few advanced students.
The tack was basic: jointed snaffles for beginners and novices, and double bridles for intermediates and the advanced. The saddles were the old-fashioned anything-but-deep-seat hunt-seat ones put directly on the horse’s back. If you couldn’t control your mount with a snaffle, you needed more lessons, not more aggressive tack. No saddle pads, no numnahs, no legs wraps, no side reins, no martingales, no dropped nosebands, nothing complex.
The stable grooms tacked up, then you led your assigned mount to the assigned riding area and waited inside the track with a safe distance between each and heads facing in. This is when you made sure the leathers were the right length to mount from the ground. You mounted when the instructor, standing in the middle of the arena, looked at you. He wouldn’t move his gaze until you were safely up. Remember, up to 24 horses in a group! You had to be quick. Once up, you moved out onto the track at a walk if a novice or higher. Beginners went out onto the track when all were mounted.
There was no place and no time to walk a horse cool after exercise, so the horses had to be kept cool. The more time spent trotting or cantering, the more time at the end was devoted to walking. You might spend the first ten minutes at a walk or slow trot, twenty minutes at a canter and half an hour at a walk. Or ten minutes at a walk, half an hour at a sitting trot and twenty minutes walking. You were in deep, deep doo-doo if any part of your mount was even damp at the end of the lesson!
Calisthenics on horseback were done almost all the time. You might be asked to click your heels above the horse’s neck or lie flat back with head to dock or do torso rotations with your legs sticking straight out to the sides while keeping your mount on course at the correct gait and at a safe distance from the horse in front. During the odd break from calisthenics, the instructor would ask questions about points of conformation, footfalls in each gait, the major anatomical bones and muscles. All this information was readily available for purchase in any bookstore.
I lived for that precious hour from three to four PM on Wednesdays!