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How to Learn to Ride


Leo Tolstoy

When I was a little fellow, we used to study every day, and only on Sundays and holidays went out and played with our brothers. Once my father said:

"The children must learn to ride. Send them to the riding-school!"

I was the youngest of the brothers, and I asked:

"May I, too, learn to ride?"

My father said:

"You will fall down."

I began to beg him to let me learn, and almost cried. My father said:

"All right, you may go, too. Only look out! Don't cry when you fall off. He who does not once fall down from a horse will not learn to ride."

When Wednesday came, all three of us were taken to the riding-school. We entered by a large porch, and from the large porch went to a smaller one. Beyond the porch was a very large room: instead of a floor it had sand. And in this room were gentlemen and ladies and just such boys as we. That was the riding-school. The riding-school was not very light, and there was a smell of horses, and you could hear them snap whips and call to the horses, and the horses strike their hoofs against the wooden walls. At first I was frightened and could not see things well. Then our valet called the riding-master, and said:

"Give these boys some horses: they are going to learn how to ride."

The master said:

"All right!"

Then he looked at me, and said:

"He is very small, yet."

But the valet said:

"He promised not to cry when he falls down."

The master laughed and went away.

Then they brought three saddled horses, and we took off our cloaks and walked down a staircase to the riding-school. The master was holding a horse by a cord, and my brothers rode around him. At first they rode at a slow pace, and later at a trot. Then they brought a pony. It was a red horse, and his tail was cut off. He was called Ruddy. The master laughed, and said to me:

"Well, young gentleman, get on your horse!"

I was both happy and afraid, and tried to act in such a manner as not to be noticed by anybody. For a long time I tried to get my foot into the stirrup, but could not do it because I was too small. Then the master raised me up in his hands and put me on the saddle. He said:

"The young master is not heavy,—about two pounds in weight, that is all."

At first he held me by my hand, but I saw that my brothers were not held, and so I begged him to let go of me. He said:

"Are you not afraid?"

I was very much afraid, but I said that I was not. I was so much afraid because Ruddy kept dropping his ears. I thought he was angry at me. The master said:

"Look out, don't fall down!" and let go of me. At first Ruddy went at a slow pace, and I sat up straight. But the saddle was sleek, and I was afraid I would slip off. The master asked me:

"Well, are you fast in the saddle?"

I said:

"Yes, I am."

"If so, go at a slow trot!" and the master clicked his tongue.

Ruddy started at a slow trot, and began to jog me. But I kept silent, and tried not to slip to one side. The master praised me:

"Oh, a fine young gentleman, indeed!"

I was very glad to hear it.

Just then the master's friend went up to him and began to talk with him, and the master stopped looking at me.

Suddenly I felt that I had slipped a little to one side on my saddle. I wanted to straighten myself up, but was unable to do so. I wanted to call out to the master to stop the horse, but I thought it would be a disgrace if I did it, and so kept silence. The master was not looking at me and Ruddy ran at a trot, and I slipped still more to one side. I looked at the master and thought that he would help me, but he was still talking with his friend, and without looking at me kept repeating:

"Well done, young gentleman!"

I was now altogether to one side, and was very much frightened. I thought that I was lost; but I felt ashamed to cry. Ruddy shook me up once more, and I slipped off entirely and fell to the ground. Then Ruddy stopped, and the master looked at the horse and saw that I was not on him. He said:

"I declare, my young gentleman has dropped off!" and walked over to me.

When I told him that I was not hurt, he laughed and said:

"A child's body is soft."

I felt like crying. I asked him to put me again on the horse, and I was lifted on the horse. After that I did not fall down again.

Thus we rode twice a week in the riding-school, and I soon learned to ride well, and was not afraid of anything.

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