“What tiny, dazzling joys do you still carry on your heart?”
I take riding lessons. A chasm yawns between me and haute école. I celebrate every minor success that most of you brush as lint off your shadbelly; so, my elation over small improvements and “ah ha!” realizations are, for me, diamond-bracelet-level thrills.
I just had one of those.
I was a late-in-life beginning rider – without a horse of my own. My lesson experiences sprint from a gal sitting in a lawn chair — in her front yard – shouting “heels down” through a bullhorn to riding with a fearless ex-Cavalia rider to my present patient, confidence-building trainer who explains cue-nuances in clear pictures worthy of Édouard Manet. We’ll call her Grace.
Embracing the Opportunity for Joy (While Snubbing Fear)
Thursday, Grace asked me if I would like to practice on my own. I was excited, honored with a knot of anxiety lodged in my gut. Everything from saddling to bathing would all be on me. But, Grace trusted me and I trust Grace.
My horse-related trepidation can be blamed on starting to ride late; now, I am past 60 and just raised the deductible on my health insurance. I never have owned a horse and my riding has been here and there.
Much credit must be given to the schooling horse. I read in Linda Kohanov’s book Riding Between the Worlds to be honest with the horse about what you feel. They know anyway, so you might as well come clean. I whispered to the mare that I was a little nervous about being alone with her, but I’d take care of her and maybe she would take care of me. She was a dream while I tacked her up. I tend to be equipment impaired – but she knows that and just sighed at some of my fumbles.
The mare will take a couple of steps when I mount without someone holding her. I had visions of spending the morning chasing her around the arena with the mounting block. Hmmm. My friend, Mary Jane, told me how she backs her horse to a fence so he won’t step back from the block. I led the mare to a fence – close enough so she sensed it without trapping her. She tried one step. I moved the block and held her enough that she knew I meant it without pulling her to step back. I made sure I was ready to mount with intention – and – pop! I was seated. Yea, me!
We strolled down to the large arena so I would feel the freedom to maneuver. Hmmm. We had to pass the mare’s field — and her buddies. She could choose to skip the lesson and go back to her friends. Julie Goodnight had counseled to keep the horse’s brain engaged. I zigzagged the mare on the path. I asked for “stops” and “goes” to keep her paying attention. Success! Yeah, me!
The Arena – 20,000 Square Meters of Joy
The arena was ours. It was equipped with jumps and ground rails and cavaletti that we could use (yeah, right) or make planned, clean-bend turns around. We executed some lovely leg-aid-only turns at the walk and trot. We practiced smooth transitions in and out of gaits. We practiced maintaining an easy “hand-trot” that I had never achieved before. We slowed without stopping, then we stopped when I meant “stop.” We didn’t glop into the stop, we glided into it. Yea, us!
Fears? What fears? I was now super equestrienne. Let’s go! Let’s canter! I have struggled with some tension cantering in an arena. The lovely mare carried me into and out of some of the most joyous, rhythmical canters I have ever performed. Yippee! Wahoo! Let’s do it again! Yea, me! Yea, us!
High on success, we walked and trotted over the ground rails and then over the cavaletti. I was eyeing one of the cross jumps, but why press my luck.
We could have aimed for the barn, but the path around the pond beckoned. I had ridden the mare around the pond before. She fought me the entire way, wanting the barn or to go back to her field. “We can do this” my gut assured. The mare and I strolled toward the pond. She thought about the barn – then her field, but I eased her forward. She stopped to listen to geese. Fifteen seconds was enough for geese, we ambled on. Yea, us!
The Ride That Brought Me to Tears – Tears of Bliss
I strode to my car with eyes brimming with tears. I was now like my friends who pull out their horses and enjoy a ride. My heart was dancing. The mare and I made music together. I will thank her and love her forever for the gift of joy she gave me. I will thank and love Grace forever for the gift of trust. How lucky to be an everlasting student rider, without Olympic expectations. Every ride can be an icy gin and tonic on a hot day.
Share the celebration. Share what you felt (not just how capable you are). What small victories do you recall from your riding? What tiny, dazzling joys do you still carry on your heart?