Bow Legs

“You would like me to do WHAT!” I asked, not sure I heard correctly.

“Stand up in your saddle,” she patiently repeated.

I heard this time and immediately felt cortisol coursing through my body.  Is this lady mad?!  I’ll fall off the horse!  Sure, I am wearing a helmet, but no, not doing this.

“Hold on to the horse’s mane, it will help you stabilize while you push down with your heels in the stirrups” she encouraged.

“The horses MANE!” I repeated, “wont that make him angry?” as I was thinking about someone grabbing onto MY hair holding on for dear life. No way!!

“He wont mind, just stand straight up and once you’ve tried I’ll have you do it while he is walking,” she added, cool as a cucumber.

I couldn’t think straight, my head was spinning and I was starting to regret all the gear and the big idea of wanting to learn how to ride a horse.  In the end, my desire not to be defeated won out and I tentatively grabbed a handful of Olaf’s mane and clumsily pushed myself upwards.  I was standing!  I couldn’t believe it!  Standing in the stirrups, just like that.  Wow I’m a pro, I thought to myself as I unceremoniously settled back into the saddle.

“Good job,” Laura encouraged, “Now ask Olaf to move forward by pushing your reins forward and moving your hips gently in the saddle.  Remember, ask, tell, demand.  You should be able to have him respond to the change in your breathing.”

With that, I relaxed in the saddle, gently pushed my hands forward, relieved the pressure on Olaf’s mouth, pushed my hips forward and quietly sighed.

He moved forward with ease and I immediately wanted to jump up and down and declare myself the winner, but I didn’t. Instead, I gave Olaf a congratulatory “Good boy!” as we moved down the track.

Not to be distracted by my subtle, yet effective ask to move forward, Laura reminded me of my next task, “Now that he is moving, stand straight up until you get to “L”.”

This lady is relentless!

I grabbed onto Olaf’s mane pushed my heels down and stood up straight.  I could not believe myself, we were doing it, we were riding around the track, Olaf and I.  Me standing up! 

“Ok, now I want you to squeeze while wrapping your calves around his belly. Zip up your abs. You will feel this in your ankles.” Laura explained.

And she was right. By the fourth try, my ankles were screaming at me “What are you doing to us?” and I wondered if at the end of the lesson when I was asked to dismount, if from my feet to my hips, would my legs be permanently contorted into the shape of two bows pointing away from each other?

Jen at the Barn

Walking in the front door, I realized why horseback riders choose, where possible, to have two sets of Washers and Dryers in the house.  It’d been an hour since grooming and putting Scarlet back into her stall, but there she was, still with me after driving 30 miles.  She was there, stuck to my riding boots and pants.  Tuffs of reddish-brown hair.

When I had arrived at the farm for my first lesson, I was overcome with self-doubt.  I’d been on a horse once.  It had been thrilling as a teen, even though the ride had amounted to me being led around and around in circles for a full 10 minutes.  Getting onto the back of a horse and riding it around a track with me holding the reins was going to be new.

“Did I over equip myself?”, “Should I have tried to find gear more reasonably priced?”, “Did I do enough research?”, “What are they going to think when they see my, more than entry level, Helmet?”, “What if they figure out my boots are brand new Petrie and judge me for that? They are literally overkill and I know it.”, ” They’ll judge me harshly because maybe they’ll expect that I should ‘KNOW’ what I am doing, or better yet, know that I shouldn’t bother trying!”, “Maybe I am too old, too tall and too heavy to ride a horse and they’ll tell me so when they see me!”, “Don’t men ride horses? Sure, but they’d expect a man to weigh over 140 lbs and would have chosen a horse accordingly.”

There I was, at the barn, mentally spinning out of control as I paced around the entrance way.  Is this where I was supposed to be?

At a quarter past 6, the lesson prior to mine was over and Laura the Instructor, Jen the Student and Scarlet the horse traipsed into the barn. 

Jen, no more than 13, was jubilant!  She was so excited she could hardly contain herself.  If I were to describe her emotions, it was as though she were doing acrobatic flips off the barn walls, over the horse and running circles all around us.  But no, she wasn’t doing any flipping, she was holding the reins, steady, guiding the horse.

“You can leave her here Jen, the next rider will take her out as she is.” Laura instructed

Jen looked in my direction, “Awesome, you are going to LOVE Scarlet, she is the absolute BEST!  She’s the GREATEST!” she exclaimed as she struggled to find the best adjective to describe her adoration and excitement. 

She handed the reins to Laura and did a little dance, a dance only a 13-year-old can do when they can no longer contain a feeling that just needs to be seen.  She tapped her feet around, did a little pirouette, tried to hand her riding crop to Laura but the hand-off failed as she continued to spin.  Eventually she pulled herself together and placed the riding crop on a stack of hay bails as Laura had instructed.

The moment she put down the riding crop, she dashed between Scarlet and myself, bee-lining for the door as she yelled back at Laura, “SEE YOU NEXT WEEK!!!!!”

And she was gone as quickly as she arrived.

Everything I had been thinking and feeling was gone, sucked out of me, I was focused and ready.  I was right where I needed to be. Thank you Jen!

Names have been changed.

The World of Riding

One thing is for sure, my feet were feeling itchy for some change. A year cooped up, working from home, masked in-person meet-ups, plenty of time for self-reflection, booking reading and mental gymnastics had me thinking “Hmmm”.

Before our premier announced today “Do not make any plans for Easter…, this is an announcement about an upcoming, unplanned announcement!”, before that, I decided to dip my toe into the world of Horseback riding.

After much googling and reading reviews, I decided upon a Stable / Barn / Ranch that would be adequate for safe, in-person, private lessons and a Store from which to buy suitable gear. I researched boots, helmets, pants and armed with all the information I could find, marched into an equestrian outfitters.

Before I go further, I want to point out that from the very beginning of this notion that this would be a good idea, I felt out of place. An interloper ready to give away my money to a sport that will most likely eat me up and spit me out. This really isn’t my game but I want to play.

So, in I marched, ready to talk gear and immediately I felt out of my depth. The lady was very helpful, asking me questions for which I should have and answer, such as “how much are you planning to spend?” and “What size of pant are you.” Easy questions and I just had a huge brain block.

“I am willing to spend as much as it means that I will be as safe as possible if I am thrown from the horse and / or if the horse decides to kick me in the head.” Why am I doing this? I can back out; I hadn’t bought the ticket and the train was still in the station. I stuck to my plan, buy gear no matter the cost!

I picked a helmet, boots and breeches. Now the breeches are really just fancy workout tights with rubbery designs across the buttocks and down the inner thighs – $170 please! The boots, a return from a lady who paid $$$$$ for custom footwear and for whatever reason decided against the purchase? On sale, but still steep. The helmet, for an extra $30 you can replace the front, decorative bezel. Decorative! $30! I bought the helmet, not because of the $30 interchangeable bezel, but IT’S ON SALE. Again, still steep but on sale.

I left the store a bit sheepish, still a bit unsure of the WHY I was doing this, and announced to the sales lady, “Well if all else fails, when I fall off the horse I will be doing so IN STYLE!”

She laughed and I dashed out to my car.