Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Oh, Crap

So I went to the local tack shop and asked about local barns. Things had changed a lot since high school—the barn where I worked and rode was long gone, lots sold off to home builders. Other stables had suffered the same fate. Hey, wait a minute, isn’t this part of Virginia still considered horse country? 

I wanted to avoid a long drive towards Middleburg—the ultimate horse country in Northern Virginia, but hard on the wallet to fill the gas tank and traffic. What luck! I found a place less than ten miles away and made an appointment for an evaluation ride with an instructor. 

I was so nervous. Butterflies and no appetite. Worried if I had a chance in hell that my old britches would fit.  What if I completely forgot everything I knew? Would I embarrass myself by getting on the mounting block before lowering the stirrups? Would I forget to tighten the girth and suffer the horror of upside-down-saddle-syndrome? Oh jeez. 

Remarkably, I calmed once I walked into the barn. They say that smells evoke the most powerful memories—so true. Hay, feed, horses, dust, dirt, leather—that barn smell. You know exactly what I am talking about. Wonderful!

I felt better after meeting my horse—an elderly, calm, quiet gelding.  But, my stress-out moment is always when I go to get on a horse. I guess I have had so many of them walk off (or run off) with me as a kid. I’m fine when I am in the saddle, but I always have that split-second thought of “uh oh” when my left foot goes in the stirrup. 

Having survived that moment, my small triumph vanished as we walked, trotted and even tried a short canter (the instructor convinced me that the horse was very smooth). Oh, wow, I felt so out of shape and about as coordinated as a colander of cooked pasta. Swinging lower legs, upper body tipping forward, eyes down, piano hands, what a mess! But, I was elated and counted the days until I could return.

What was your back in the saddle experience?

Coming soon: profiles of friends who have found their way back to the barn and in the saddle...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What the Hell Am I Doing? No—Not Doing

I’ve taken several breaks from riding over the years. I rode as a kid, through high school, then a little in college. Then I transferred to a school without an equine program. With every penny going towards tuition and books, I had to give it up until after graduation. I got back into riding a few times for short stints, but always had to stop for financial reasons. Then Lauren was born, and I really didn’t think about it very much except for a few months when I volunteered at a local equine rescue. 

Then I had that moment when I realized that I had to start riding again. 

For my birthday, my husband, Joe, planned a wonderful weekend in the next county. We visited a few vineyards, had a great gourmet dinner and spent the night in a small, private cabin in the woods—but it all started with a trail ride. He does not ride, but is pretty adventurous and not nervous around horses. He found this great outfit that is family-owned and takes small groups around their vast acreage that has been in their family since the Civil War days. Not only was the weather perfect, but my horse was easy to ride, and they even had an English saddle for me, though I am not particular. When the trail guide paired me with a horse, I confessed that I had riding experience, but that I was beyond rusty. So imagine my bliss when the owners paired me with a dark bay gelding and watched us get acquainted in the ring before our ride, “Oh, yes, you ARE a rider!” Did Joe pay arrange for the ego boost in advance?

In the midst of two lovely hours through picturesque fields, woods and babbling brooks, I thought, “Wow--I miss this so much--why am I NOT doing this?” And, I resolved to find a barn the next week.

No related to the point of this story, but very amusing was the other party riding with us that day. I’m fascinated to see how parents who are not horsey people manage their children’s horsey obsessions.  On this occasion, it was a family of three:  A horse-crazy, starry-eyed girl accompanied by a dutiful father who didn’t seem to notice he was even on a horse and a terrified mother who screamed, yes--screamed, every time her horse stepped over a log or walked down the slightest slope (slightest—as in not enough angle to have to lean back). Our guide very patiently tried to explain to her all of the reasons why screaming while on horseback was bad—and eventually gave up. I tried to pretend I was hearing some rare predatory hawk following us on our ride, but it was difficult since Joe was also trying, not very successfully, to stifle a laugh. 

What was your “aha!” moment?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Back in the Saddle

If you’ve found this blog, we probably have something in common. Like me, have always loved horses. You may be married and may have kids. You probably rode as a kid, but gave it up to go to college or start a family or focus on a career. Time goes by and then something happens unexpectedly— you see a lone horse grazing in a field or maybe you are in the city and turn a corner and are face to face with a carriage horse. Or you find an old, beloved horse story in a used book shop.

Something gets your brain ticking and you find yourself thinking--maybe I should start riding again? Or, why did I stop? You may come up with lots of very logical reasons. It’s selfish to pursue a hobby when kids -husbands - friends - career demand your time and attention. And, it’s expensive. And, it has risks. Who in their right mind craves to head out to some dusty barn on a hot day, climb aboard a 1,000 pound animal that could crush you in a whim and then clean a stall or obsess over dirty tack?

Because, if you are like me, and I think you are, you can’t even remember when you first starting liking horses. You just always did. Maybe an aunt, uncle or your parents gave you a model horse when you were three years old and then had to pry that piece of plastic out of your hands at bath time. You probably had special shelf in your room for that model—a prized location so that you could see it from any place in your room. Or you begged to go the library to borrow any new horse book you hadn’t already read (remember, some of us are internet immigrants). You begged your parents to wake you up at 2 am when the summer Olympics were televised so you could watch the precious 30 minutes of cross-country coverage that the network bothered to air. During car rides in the country, you’d watch out the window just to catch a glimpse of a horse in the distance. And, if you stopped at any kind of petting farm or zoo, you had to find any equine on the premises.

If any of this sounds familiar to you, then we have a lot in common. I am married twenty-plus years to a very understanding “horse husband,” have a teenage daughter (also afflicted with the horse gene, but more about that later), and although horse ownership still eludes me, I borrow and lease quite a few. My goal is simple: if you’ve been thinking about riding again, but find ways to talk yourself out of it, I want to convince you that you can, and should, for many reasons. If you are riding again—great! You are already wondering why it took you so long to get back to it. If you don’t ride, but need to find ways to understand your horse-afflicted family member or friend, you will find help here. If you own or lease, I hope you enjoy this blog for many of the same reasons—we’re a bunch of mid-life crises in the making depending on our equine companions to save our sanity on this crazy planet.