In Sing Down the Moon, why were the girls inexperienced at riding?
In the Navaho culture of the mid-1800s, there is little reason for women to do much riding. Gender roles are strictly delineated, and it is the men who generally ride horses to go on hunting parties and raids. Women are in charge of domestic issues, cooking, and planting and tending the garden. Although it is true that it is the women who own the sheep and are responsible for their care, all of this is done in the general area of home, and can be accomplished on foot. As young Navaho girls, Bright Morning and Running Bird would have had little opportunity to develop horseback-riding skills.
This is not to say that the girls are incapable of riding horses by any means. When the Spanish slavetraders kidnap Bright Morning and Running Bird, they force the girls to ride horses for the long journey to the city. Being hardy and agile, the girls learn quickly to handle their mounts, which helps them a short time later when they make their escape. With the help of Nehana, another slave girl who has been carefully plotting for some time to get away from her owners and return to her people, they steal some horses and head back home. Using the knowledge they gained from their ride to the city, and following Nehana's example, they manage to make their horses perform to their bidding. Bright Morning says,
Neither Running Bird nor I knew how to ride a horse, but we had learned a little from our journey with the Spaniards and during the long night just past. (Chapter 10)