I started going through some old pictures this weekend. We tend to keep our pictures in boxes here at our house and some are labeled and some are not, so while dragging out the pictures is fun at the time, figuring out what the heck to do with them can be a chore later. I found an old photo of my dad as a child driving a goat cart, and that was pretty neat. I’m sure it’s completely posed and that he did not actually drive the goat cart, but it’s the kind of thing people used to do; plop their kids in goat carts, tell them to pick up the reins, and then whip out the Brownie and take a picture. Sort of like sitting the kid on a pony and sticking a cowboy hat on the kid’s head and taking a picture in the 40s and 50s. I like those pictures too.
Wish I had a picture of the first horse that I rode at the Crazy C Riding Stable in Mason, Michigan. Wouldn’t that be neat? I bet other people (I extend the invitation to our brothers despite the name of the blog) have pictures of when they were kids (even if being kid was, like, three years ago), seated on their first horse. The memories are good. Post ‘em if you got ‘em.
I thought some of my pictures were going to make me sad, like the pictures of my late father in his childhood, but they don’t. They make me feel human. So I’ve tucked a few them here and there, in amongst the book shelves, only visible from certain angles. A happy surprise to see loved vistas, pets, and people from the past: Oh look! There’s the beach! There’s the old back yard! And there’s that picture of a good face, right were I can see it any time I want. That’s the best one.
Yesterday we rode to music! Leah started working with another student on a show piece, so she had the boom box out in the arena and was playing some new-age, sorta Lord of the Rings type music. As soon as Mo heard it, he started trotting away — or as soon as I heard it, I felt happy and started telling him to trot without realizing what I was doing. “This is great!” I said. “OK!” said Leah, “Then we’ll ride to music!” Using her best Socratic method, she then asked me what I thought the benefits of riding to music might be. The main one I could think of is that it would relax me-the-rider, which it does indeed. Not only that but with the right kinds of music, you feel like you’re in a movie! And when a “canter” tune comes on, it’s very dramatic and all of a sudden you’re out there saving Ireland or Scotland or Middle Earth or something, surging ahead on your noble steed at the head of an invincible army or you’re delivering the message that will save the good people of Rivendell (or Union Center, Ohio) from a fate worse than death — heroic, know what I mean? Plus I got so into it that I think I was doing a bit better of a job of asking Mo to do stuff. By the end of the lesson, I don’t know what we were doing exactly other than some fantastic collected little trot that neither he nor I normally do. Leah says he never got that far in his training. Does that mean I was *training* him to do something in spite of myself? But oh riding him to music was that kid-thing, where you get all wrapped up in what you are pretending and you’re having fun pretending stuff!
Meanwhile, Gabby’s got a new official name: Avalon’s Fallen Angel. Isn’t that great? I burst out laughing when I saw the name on the white-board at the barn (something about vet certificates for an upcoming show) because it was just so darned appropriate. Gabby was born of excellent stock and valued at thousands of dollars, but she was moved about the country like a large and expensive piece of black walnut furniture that no one knew what to do with, like a wardrobe or an ice chest or a wooden commode chair that has to be made into something else since we now have built-in closets, refrigerators and indoor plumbing. She refused to jump despite extensive and special training, wound up at a teaching facility and then got sold to me, me who had some idea I could handle owning a 16 hand TB. She got sick, she pulled out of it, and now everyone loves her. I was so happy for her great new name that I made sure to give her some treats and rub her pretty, pretty head. The Angel Gabriel — a messenger from God who might have passed on to her earthly reward were it not for the efforts of many people and the plunging into debt of me with that horrendous vet bill. Ooof.
The week before last, I was out of town on a work assignment (and was it tough! I learned a big huge bunch about some stuff and it’s no exaggeration to say that I’m grateful for the opportunity and that I hope to repeat it). I had three free-time highlights and the first was a serendipitous chat with Erica who reads this blog — and who just happens to live in the same Western town where I was stationed for the week.
Erica, I’m so sorry I didn’t get a chance to say hi to your husband — I wound up drinking and chatting for hours by the fire with some women. One was a Texas matriarch, one was a urological nurse practitioner, and the third was a writer and a urological nurse practitioners. That was the third of three good things.
The second was an opportunity to go riding in the mountains. A local ranch and the hotel’s preferred provider had room for me to take an hour’s ride on a brilliant day. I’ve never been so grateful for a Western saddle in my whole life! And nose-to-tail riding is very comforting! Since we were up in the mountains and all, we went, well, up and down. But my horse Henry did great, just plugged along and only spooked once (a small spook, more like a practice one).
The family that owns the ranch is amazing — three generations — and it was such a pleasure to walk along under the open sky, among the pine and running streams and melting drifts of snow. It was one big week of gratitude but it was good, beyond good, to get back home.
Yesterday I held Gabby while she was shod. I was so glad to be at the barn, I’d missed her so much, and it was so wonderful to stand around with the horse, the farrier, and his assistant and listen to them talk about horse hooves. Really. It was wonderful. Honest and I kid not! There’s nothing like standing in the barn with your horse while the craftsman goes to work.
And the farrier was so kind and so nice and so gruff. “Anything you need, you call. If you call and I’m not there but it’s an emergency, leave a message and let me know it’s an emergency. Call any time. I mean it.”
I felt surge of undue enthusiasm and wanted to throw my arms about his neck and clap him on the back and call him a splendid, splendid fellow — but I’m not sure we’ve read all of the same books and this series of gestures might have been misunderstood.
I got some advise on how to hold Gabby’s back feet when I’m picking them out. The demonstration provided by the farrier was much appreciated. I need to put her foot high up on my thigh and hold it in place. That should give me some leverage, angle, support, etc. because I often feel like I”m holding up her big butt.
It was also splendid to watch another horse get its hooves polished. I had no idea that some horses have pretty white hooves like a pair of white patent leather shoes.
Gabby was hot shod, so the red-hot shoe was applied before the final fitting to her clipped and rasped foot. The smell was not quite as bad as the smell of burning hair or feathers but in the same family, for sure. The smoke rolled off of Gabby’s hooves and she curled back both of her lips as did the other horses.
I swept up a little afterwords. I wanted to stay and help because that’s pretty much all I want to do these days; stay and help at the barn. But I had to get home.
This morning I took in an hour’s ride at the barn. There’s no instruction or supervision, just the use of the horse for an hour. It was sublime. At 10:00 a.m. on a rainy fall morning, there’s few humans and most of the horses are munching hay. No one was kicking his or her stall or fuming about a wrong or injustice perpetrated upon the horse-self; just the quiet grinding of jaws, the rustle of hay, the occasional swallow.
I rode Sadie this morning. Had my lesson on her yesterday afternoon and learned about leg yielding. Previous attempts at same haven’t been so successful. Leah taught me on Sadie because Sadie is just darned cooperative about that kind of stuff and is a blue-eyed sweetheart. She’s also preggers and due in May.
So what I learned about leg yielding is that on a cooperative horse, I can do it! I pressed with my leg just a wee bit behind the girth (not much but enough to signal that I wanted her to move her rump) and bent her nose slightly to the direction inwhich I wanted her to go and Hey Presto! Sadie was walking sideways, leg over leg over leg. I changed legs and leads and Hey Presto! again; sideways leg over leg over leg back the other way.
I recalled a dressage competition I watched on TV once — ok, fast forward (I was in a hurry!) and saw the same thing but had not the foggiest idea of what made the horse do that. The rider was sitting up nice and neat and looking like she’d never broken a sweat in her life. So to me, actually doing it is a small miracle. And doing it in the quiet of the empty riding ring the very next day was another small miracle.
After we’d zig-zagged back and forth, I dismounted and removed the saddle and rode for another 10-15 minutes bareback, trying the same techniques. It was harder without the saddle, probably because when the trot speeds up, I get tense and am applying all kinds of pressure with both legs. But it was also good to sit the trot bareback and concentrate on relaxing and breathing.
When I step into the tack room to fetch Mopey’s bridle and girth, I smell leather and a wonderful musty smell. It makes me happy every time and while I do sneeze at lots and lots of things, I don’t sneeze in the tack room.
The scent always takes me back to two places. The first one is summer and a storage shed inwhich were kept old inner tubes, beach umbrellas, and various rubber rafts. This was at Lake Michigan were my parents and I used to stay at a friend’s cottage. The shed was underneath the walkway to the beach that bridged the dunes and it was a little scary, but then anything dark and dank is alittle scary. No scary monsters ever came out of it, however, and rubber inner tubes are great for bobbing up and down in the water.
The second place that’s brought happily to mind is the happy place in my head that I found as a kid and my kid-ish excitement at the prospect of going horseback riding. At times, horseback riding occupied huge amounts of my brain and so I fantasized about it for hours on end. And when you’re a kid, you can do that. It really keeps you going and does a fair job of standing in for the real thing since the veil between reality and imagination is so thin.
Mold is the smell of adventure and possibility.
. . .about gaining competence in some area.
No, wait. That’s not it. That’s not what I meant at all. What I mean is:
I’m gaining competence and I recognize it. I feel it. I feel it when I ride, when I think about riding, when I get out of the car at the stable, tack up Mopey, and climb on Mopey’s back. I don’t dread doing this stuff incorrectly, worry about making mistakes, feel like kid who is mostly going to do things wrongly and awkwardly most of the time.
I don’t feel like I’m going to drop the ball. I don’t feel like it is inevitable that I’ll miss soemthing or fall down. It just feels like. . . well . . . weirdly normal!
Is this what competent people feel like?
Are there any competent people out there who can assure me that this is normal????
(Meanwhile, Sam the cat is behind my computer screen, grasping gently with his paws in a half-hearted attempt to snag something, something like my hands as I type on the keyboard)
Wow! I had class on Monday and on Tuesday this week! By the time I got to bed last night, I was too tired to sleep!
(Isn’t that weird? How can one be too tired to sleep? Yet, this thing is true).
I rode Mopey (the old Morgan with scoliosis, a fear of brooms, cataracts, and a fear of rodents due to an old trail-riding incident involving a squirrel and a cat) for both lessons. Monday night was the group lesson and it was just myself and another student, and yesterday afternoon was a private lesson, also with the Mope-ster. It’s still very hard for me to keep my leg underneath. I push it forward (like a plowboy, says Leah — hence the picture) without any awareness of what I’m doing (or not doing). Plus I tense up, hollow my back, and push out my butt. One solution to the latter is to keep the abs engaged. That’s what I did yesterday and today I am feeling the fruits of doing so.
But isn’t that a wonderful feeling, to have sore muscles from having done the right thing? I feel very athletic and healthy. Gosh, if I could just ride every day!
So far, two of my lessons have ended due to thunderous downpours. And they are thunderous. Storms are bigger out in the country than they are at our home in the ‘burbs. The tilled fields give the viewer a broader look at what’s incoming (big dark clouds) and the trees seem to flail more than the suburban trees. It gets quiet (and by “it” I mean the air, the insects, the general milieu of the outdoors). Almost too quiet. I wondered if Mopey said to Ginger, “Ginger, it’s gone quiet!” and if Ginger said, “Yep, almost too quiet.”
Both horses were pretty well behaved though as the storm approached. I think I was more nervous than Mopey. And as lightening flashed e, I dismounted and brought him inside for a treat and a brushing.
Since it was raining so hard, I hung out for awhile and waited for the rain to slow down some rather than to chance the soaked roads and test the zero visibility. I helped Lean hand around the evening’s rations of hay. When we were done, I joined one of her daughters who stood half-in and half-out of the rain, catching water in our hands and cleaning off the itchy grass seed from our arms.
The day after a ride, when my thighs are sore, I feel fabulous. I feel fit. I feel . . . Utterly Beautiful! I mean stunning! A beauty queen, Ms. America, Marilyn, Angelina, like …. like…. like Aishwarya Rai! Yeah! Like her! Riding, balancing, working, being outside (or inside if the the weather’s bad) gives me so much strength, like a rod of flexible iron is in my soul and in my spine.