Where did your journey begin?
In literature, the literacy narrative is a writer’s account of when they learned to read and write, the cornerstone of their career and the first steps towards greater understanding. I remember writing my own literacy narrative in college, a common assignment for budding memoirists as we struggled to find our individual voices and develop our stories.
February is historically, for me, not a time in which I’m doing a lot of riding — writing, yes, but riding, not so much. The fields are usually either frozen over or terribly muddy; ice lies in treacherous patches around the farm; the temperature fluctuates wildly and without an indoor or even an arena space my limited saddle time is spent mostly in light bareback hacks with our old arthritic senior, making sure he gets a little exercise to keep him limber.
So instead of riding my working horse and thinking about lateral work and softness, I’ve been mostly clinging bareback to the old man, letting my mind wander as my horse wanders the farm, both enjoying a patch of thin winter sunlight on my face and reflecting on the concept of the equestrian narrative — not our personal stories of how we learned to read and write, but our individual journeys, the moment we fell in love. We all have an equestrian narrative. Everyone has a story to tell.
My equestrian narrative probably isn’t too different from many — I enrolled at a summer pony day camp at a local lesson barn and was immediately enveloped in a bright chattering world with ten or fifteen other little girls between the ages of eight and 14, all horse-crazy and bedecked in the same combination of jodphurs, faded tee shirts, hand-me-down helmets and preciously small paddock boots. Everyone was my friend. All of the ponies and horses were beautiful, elegant, as mysterious as the Breyer models that graced my shelves at home, each with their own untold story, I was sure.
I was paired with a slightly-faded black-and-white pinto pony named Fancy, who retrospectively I’m sure was the quintessential squat little lady chosen for her endless patience and good nature. With lots of help from an assistant instructor, I groomed, saddled and bridled Fancy and tottered off to the big arena for laps and laps of walking on top of the world, learning carefully how to steer, stop and stand in a wobbly two-point position.
The humble Fancy ultimately gave way to another starter pinto pony named Justy, a fancy gray Welsh pony named Snuffy, and eventually to my first great horse love, a wicked cremello named Knotty with a stubborn streak that taught me more about the rewards for persistence than anything else.
Decades later, making slow ambling loops of the cow pasture on our old Winston, I know in my heart how far I’ve come from those first halcyon days of summer, learning how to brush Fancy while the barn rang with the chatter of excited children and the barn swallows turned their circles overhead. So many things, however, are the same, from the way entire days can pass so quickly at the barn, the dusty smell of horses and hay, the gentle swaying cadence of a horse’s walk.
What’s your equestrian narrative? We’ve all got one — how did your journey begin?