After the loss of her equine best friend of 20 years, Honeycomb, Jessica Fox didn’t think she’d ever ride again. This is the story of her climb back into the saddle.
While my horse fever was dormant, I took to yoga with the fervor of a frustrated rider in denial.
Once, a woman came to class who had practiced for several years but stopped when she had children. Booty in the air, listening to the umpteenth squeak of shock coming from somewhere in the back of the room, I remember thinking, “What, you thought it would be easy after such a long break?”
Well, I should have been a little less impatient because, as I circled Jill’s ring, I knew exactly what girlfriend had been going through.
Things began painlessly enough. Jill took her seat in the gazebo beside the ring and asked how Playday and I were doing. We’d just finished making wobbly circles and right-angled serpentines in the arena’s fine sand. Sure that this hour was going to end in humiliation, I was feeling like maybe this whole lesson thing wasn’t such a great idea. But then I remembered how old I was, and made myself buck up.
“We’ve been better.” Playday snorted and tossed her head. Traitor.
“Why don’t you ride around the ring, so I can watch and get an idea of where you are?”
I swallowed dryly. She wanted to watch me ride and wasn’t going to say anything?
Gathering Playday’s reins self-consciously, I nudged her into a walk, stirrups creaking as I tried sit correctly. Heels down? Check. Hands light? Check. Sitting straight? Check. Legs glued? Check. In the center of the saddle? Check. Then I urged her into a trot. Playday’s jaunty stride whisked us down the long side of the ring. No screams of horror from the gazebo. This wasn’t so bad!
Then my nemesis was upon us – the corner. Why couldn’t we have had the lesson on the track? Clenching my jaw, I willed my inside leg to be like a concrete wall. No way was Playday going to fall in.
We careened around the short side of the arena as if on rails.
As Playday (nose to the outside, rump to the inside) and I blew by the gazebo, I peeked inside. Jill smiled amiably. This did not make me feel better.
And then she clicked on her megaphone.
“So, what do you think you need to work on?”
Playday and I haphazardly circled back and skidded to a halt.
“Everything?” Playday reached around and nibbled my toe.
Jill set down the speaker and shook her head. “Do you think she was straight?”
The air went out of me. “No… and the corners. Lord, have mercy!”
“Though she’s green, we have to work on you first. It may feel like you aren’t getting anywhere and sometimes things might feel worse than before. But it will all come together. Now let’s get to work.”
Minutes later, while posting side to side in order to loosen up my hips and get a better feel for the center of the saddle, I knew exactly how Yoga Lady must have felt.
Despite at least two decades of riding, things that had once been so natural now seemed impossible. My feet kept shooting forward, I couldn’t seem to stop launching myself out of the saddle while posting, and, no matter what I did, twisting to the inside while bracing on my left seemed to have become my default position.
Nowhere in the ring was safe from Jill’s eagle eyes. It didn’t matter that she was sitting in a gazebo on the arena’s long side. Even when I thought I was safe in the far corner, she spotted my arching back, questionable hand position, and left rump hanging off the side of the saddle. Which made (and still makes) me exhaustedly wonder if she was some kind of Dressage Yoda.
But I loved it and wanted to have another lesson as soon as possible.
Though I’d wanted to improve my riding in order to avoid ruining Playday, one hour later, my childhood desire to excel flickered to life. And, somehow, I’d not only stumbled onto a pretty amazing ranch and horse, but a great trainer, as well. One who saw what was going wrong and could not only (kindly, firmly) point it out, but also explain how that affected my horse and teach me how to make corrections. When she explained how my horse’s movement mirrored my own and that by arching my back, I was encouraging Playday to hollow hers, it was like one of those epiphany moments on Oprah.
Do you know what I mean? Or am I the last one in on this particular secret rider Jedi mind trick? And, while I’m at it, know of any other good ones? I need all the help I can get. Because, after conquering my dread of taking lessons again, I’m ready to cross other things off my stuff-to-be-afraid-of list. Lately, some pretty crazy ideas have been floating around in my head, like (gasp!) a schooling show in the Spring.
Before that can even happen, though, I’ll have to remember how to gallop, slog through (many) riding lows, and take some lessons on Jill’s dressage horse.
Photo credit: Astrid Mueller (www.AstridMueller.com)
About the Author: Jessica Fox is a freelance writer and novelist-in-training who dreams of the day she can sit a trot without flailing about. She currently lives in Los Angeles, CA where she writes as much as possible to feed her increasingly voracious horse-habit and almost rides Dressage. www.foxywrites.com