Wednesday mornings I have my riding lesson with Sandee and then the rest of the week I practice with homework she gives me. I anticipate those times in my week that I can escape to the stables alone like a fifteen year old who is just about to get his driver’s license.
When I arrive, I put my phone away. That’s the first good feeling. Then I open my door and the smells of the barn welcome me, and I have to say poop odor and all, I love it. In my mind, that sensory stimulus at the stables surrounds me with the understanding that I’m on a short vacation from the demands of my life. Everything in my body exhales deeply as I carry my bag of horsey things to the post where I will tack up Gunner.
I’ve been working on endurance and strength for the past two weeks so I can learn to canter. In other words I’m developing a vice grip of the inner thighs so that the horse could tip over sideways and I’d still be in the saddle. I can’t find the words to describe how sore I’ve been in those muscles since I began riding in August. I am beginning to doubt there will ever be a morning after a ride that I don’t groan when I get out of bed.
I’m not sure what I like better, preparing Gunner to ride from the ground where I can look in his eyes and touch him all over, or riding him and feeling his power yield to my requests. He has begun to recognize me now when I go to the pasture gate with his halter. Yesterday he left his hay to come greet me and stood still as I slipped his halter on and led him out. I’m beginning to think we are developing a sort of bond that I first imagined would be the best reason to begin riding. I’m simply fascinated by animals, and I knew I was eager to bond with a horse, and it is as good as I hoped it would be. After my lesson Sandee said, “I’m glad to see he is doing what you ask him to do because in lessons he has been really stubborn with the students.” I told her, “I don’t think there is one thing I ask of him that he refuses. We are getting along very well.” I got a look of approval.
I’m feeling comfortable posting at the trot, and working on the seated trot. I can make two laps around the arena without stirrups and still post (which is why my inner thighs scream in the mornings). This is the indication that I am strong enough to hold on at a faster gait. So yesterday she said, “You are ready for the cross rails”, which meant she was going to let me begin jumping. I love jumping, and I’ve been doing small jumps at the other stable and it’s such fun to aim and score. I can honestly say it’s a rush.
So, we do a few rounds on the small jump where he basically hops over. Then I brought him over to the side lines where there are two jumps in a row and he flew over the jump and cantered out of it. It took my breath away. It was the first sensation of flying on a horse that I have ever experienced, and it surprised me so much that I wasn’t ready for the next jump, and Gunner sensed this so he pulled off to the side and halted. I squealed, my breathing rate increased, and I was more alive in all of my senses than I’ve felt in a long time. That’s the moment I knew there was no turning back from riding horses. I love it.
So I practiced those flying jumps a few more times and listened to Sandee describe her thought process when she’s going over a jump. She sings in her mind and thinks stretch from the chest through to the heels. So now I have my homework for the next week. I’m itchy to be back out there but I have to wait until tomorrow.
After riding for an hour I brush Gunner down and take as many hugs as he’ll give me, which means he presses his head into my arms and lets me hold him. After I remove the bridle and bit I feed him chunks of carrots I buy at the farmer’s market. These are fresh, sweet and crunchy, and it turns him into a beggar. He reaches his nose down to my bag sniffing for more, and he paws at the ground with his left foreleg to let me know one more would be nice. He’s a gentle giant. He usually gets a few more carrots because I enjoy giving him that pleasure.
I brought my camera with the big lens yesterday and spent a leisurely hour mixing my two loves: horses and photography. I gave myself an hour to photograph my instructor’s daughter Lauren with her pony Jack. She is fourteen and homeschooled, and I’m thinking about when Kira is her age and I hope we can share the stable experience together. I also aimed my lens at Andie who was riding Buddy. He is a stinker of a horse who needed her expertise to put him back into line so he’ll behave better with the students. Buddy is a gorgeous draft horse. He shares the pasture with Gunner, and I enjoy his teasing. Andie is another instructor at the stables, and she also babysits for me. The kids love her.
After riding and working with my camera, I was completely free from stress when I returned home to my desk and resumed the process of preparing to travel to Uganda. Can you imagine? No stress. It’s new to me. Time spent at the stables is a good head sweep for me. It seems to brush all the dirt and debris away so I can think clearly. I’m hooked.