Tristan enjoys a game of “horse” with me. My dad–and oldest sister–used to play this with me when I was young.
I was thinking about child development the other day, because I was lecturing about language in class, and it occurred to me that I have six grandchildren and two more on the way—and only a few have entered their “biographic memory” phase of life.
At ages 4 and 3, Nikalya and Elizabeth are having some experiences that they will later look back and reflect on. It’s hard to tell with Tristan—but he’s old enough that he might, for example, later in life recall riding with me on my bicycle.
As for Amelia, Juliet and our youngest grandson? None has reached the age of 2, yet, and while it’s possible some dim impression of their lives now might persist, for the most part their internal lifelong biography hasn’t even entered the introduction area, let alone chapter 1.
Not that they don’t remember. They just don’t remember in that narrative way which will let them later reflect on events. They clearly know those around them. The three know many words. Amelia, last time she had a sleepover at our house, woke up at 3 a.m. and demonstrated, over and over, to the chagrin of Audrey, that she knows substantial snatches of the “ABC” song.
Anyway, one of my early preschool memories, which must have been from when I was around 3, was of a simple game my dad used to play with us, and that I played with my kids and now play with my grandchildren. Amelia calls it “tree, try, tree,” and will crawl into my lap, fix me with her Queen Amelia gaze, and command, in her cute little girl voice, “tree, try, tree!”
She has a cousin who is about her age. Although the tree-try-tree game, which I’ll call “horse” from now on, is properly done with two knees, the cousins are small enough that each fit comfortably on one knee, so they discovered today that they could have a two-person version of horse from grandpa, which they loved. Maybe it didn’t help that Tristan was sitting on my shoulders at the time, but, to be honest, the grandpa horse got a bit worn.
Anyway, this particular activity requires a small child (or two)—big enough to sit up comfortably on your knees facing you. Have said toddler or child face you, tell them to hang on, and take his or her hands with yours.
Then, you bounce your heels up and down in unison, and repeat this rhyme:
“This is the way the lady rides, tree, try, tree. Tree, try, tree, try, tree-try-tree.” Naturally, you’re bouncing in rhythm to the syllables.
Next, exaggerated the bounce a little, slow the pace, and make your knees go up and down in opposition rather that unison. Hang on tight to little hands as the child sways back and forth. While doing this, chant:
“This is the way the farmer rides, hobeldy hoy, hobeldy hoy, hobeldy, hobeldy, hobelty hoy.”
Finally, bounce your knees up and down vigorously and increase the frequency so that the child feels like he or she is racing. And state, in a slightly increased volume at a quicker pace in time to the quicker bounces:
“This is the way the young man rides, clippety clop, clippety clop, clippety, clippety, clippety clop.”
Of course, you want to be careful. You don’t want to jar the child too much with your gallop, and you want to pay attention should they start to “head bob” because you want to avoid an accidental chin punch. But, with six kids and numerous grandchildren, I don’t recollect any injuries associated with this game of “horse.” Of course, it’s both slightly sexist and disparaging to farmers, which makes it interesting that it came to me from my dad, who fathered six girls (and one boy) and whose family history included some farming. Anyway, the fact that it’s a very old game, at least in my experience, is part of the charm.
The two-toddler versions only requires that you swing your knees back and forth and use your hands to sway the kids side to side for the farmer ride. Other than making sure each kids has a tight grip with two hands on one of your hands, the lady and young man can ride as usual. The middle ride is not exactly the official farmer hobbeldy hoy, but both Amelia and her cousin were satisfied.
Tristan, at age 3, only rode solo—but he enjoyed the ride, too.
Jan 20 update: On Facebook, my sisters pointed out that my father’s final verse was: “This is the way the gentleman rides, gallop-a-trot, gallop-a-trot, gallop-a, gallop-a, gallop-a-trot.” I stand, or sit, corrected.
Jan. 24 update: I tried to use the “gallop-a-trot” line when giving a grandson a “horse” ride the other day. The result was a near riot. To my spouse and children, what I was doing was “wrong.” Clearly, in my family, the “young man” will always ride “clippety-clop.” Somehow, there is a case study here in how a folk game and a folk rhyme evolve. Too bad, gentlemen, in the new century you don’t to gallop or ride at all. At least the ladies are still around.