Climbing into the saddle on a horse is choosing to take the risk that he will have a scary moment turn unpredictably and drop me to the ground. As I drive to the stables my stomach often churns while I prepare myself to both have the most fun of my day and be on high alert for signs in the horse that danger simmers under the saddle.
I’ve had a long year learning what it means to have a young horse. I really didn’t understand what I was getting myself into with sweet Gwinny. As I am trying to learn to ride on her back she is wondering what in the world am I doing to her because it doesn’t match what the trainers did with her. At long last it became apparent it wasn’t exactly safe for me to learn to ride while riding her. Being stubborn as I am I was forced to experience this truth when she went lame last October in her hind ankle. She was on stall rest for nearly three months.
Crazed to ride, to continue to learn and build my strength in the saddle I found an older horse to half lease three days a week. I was educated much faster riding Ariel in a few months than I was all year on Gwinny! What an interesting experience this was for me. I realized I could learn to ride on a seasoned horse that knows her job and can teach me mine. Then I can take my confidence and ride Gwinny not for myself, but to bring her along for where SHE is. I was confusing her when I was trying to learn to ride on her and that’s not fair to do to a young horse. A green horse and a green rider is a recipe for disaster, and I prefer the safest route to becoming a good rider.
She’s coming out of her stall rest and it’s taking a team of us to bring her back to her good manners and athleticism. We decided to take her to the beginning and work on all her basic skills and drive them in deep so when I simply whisper whoa she hits the breaks. A wiggle of the finger on the rein should slow her down. A tap of the heel should ask for the trot. I still cannot canter on her because she doesn’t know her job. She’s explosive and unbalanced and it scares the jeebies out of me to ride that. I’ll let the experts put her canter together for me and that will take some time.
Meanwhile it is clear an older horse that can teach me is in my future. So recently a barn mate contacted me about her daughter’s horse, Bear. He’s for sale and he’s everyone’s favorite in the barn. H is a New Zealand thoroughbred, furry like a bear, and rather small at fifteen hands. I won’t bore you with all his wonderful attritubes, but he’s 18 and done everything, and couldn’t be gentler. He’s known as a school master! Not only will he teach me and take my skills as far as I want to go, but he would be a great horse for Jack to ride. Jack is a budding equestrian who loves to canter and take jumps. There’s NO WAY I am letting him on Gwinny’s back. He’s not had a horse to ride for a few months because the one he liked moved to another barn. It has been discouraging for him. He took a lesson while we were in Uganda and he had such a good time. He really likes it and he has a good instinct for it.
My poor husband. He doesn’t want two horses. He is confused because he believes people should give horses away for all they cost to keep. He is doomed and though I apologize the truth is he would rather both of us ride a seasoned horse than take risks on a young horse. The exciting thing for me is I get to learn to ride on one, and learn to train on the other. I love both sides of this equation. Some day Gwinny and I will find us perfectly matched and I am striving toward that day when she and I experience unity. There’s one more piece that adds the sparkle and that is Kira can now take regular pony rides whenever we can get her to the barn. She had three of them in Uganda and there’s nothing she’s done that lights her up like when I say, “do you want to ride a pony today?” So when she’s old enough to really take lessons, around six, Bear will be an old guy and a perfect teacher for her. And she and I can hang out at the barn together. For me, there’s no place I would rather go with my kids than to the barn with the horses. I’m so thankful Jack and Kira love it there as well.
I was all set to take my first lesson on Bear yesterday. I admit I was so excited about it I was wide-awake in the middle of the night in anticipation. I arrived early to spend some time with Gwinny because she gets jealous when I am with another horse (really). While I was greeting her she dashed to the outside window. All the horses had their heads up and in the fields it looked as though someone took a stirring spoon and swirled them around. There was a loose horse, I thought it was her friend Pilot and he was all tacked up. Someone caught him so I returned to my work. Ten minutes later the golf cart delivered my friend, Pilot’s mom, her hair was sticking out all over, her face was pinched an she was limping. Oh no. Pilot shied from a jump and dumped her. She’s in her sixties and started riding at my age! She’s such an inspiration for me. All I could do was give her a hug. It happens. That’s what everyone says. Her back was sore but she was ok. A few Tylenol and some rest for the day and she’ll be back on him tomorrow, and showing this weekend.
Soon all the other ladies in the barn began to share stories of how their horses had done silly things. It’s like women who share can’t help but share the gory details of giving birth. I could say my young horse has taken off with me a couple times and I stayed on. That’s my testimony. But they all had worse stories.
Not ten minutes later another friend had a terrible fall. She’s an experienced rider on a young horse that got spooked, galloped off as she was finishing her mount, and then bucked til she was off. He’s the biggest horse in our barn. Powerful. She hit the metal fence and landed outside the arena in a ditch. I was walking toward my first lesson with Bear the schoolmaster when the crowd huddled around her and the emergency vehicles were heard in the distance. I took a deep sigh, said endless prayers for her, turned around and decided today was not a good day to get on the back of a horse. All the horses in the whole Equestrian center were aware and uneasy about this morning’s business. I sat in the barn and just prayed and prayed and sometimes it was just heart murmurs because I couldn’t find words. I learned later that she broke her leg and we were all relieved because that was a fall that could have paralyzed her or worse.
This situation gave me a lot to think about. But I can’t say it will change my mind about riding. I love it. The courage it requires me to develop is something I’ve never had in my life. And thankfully as I practice courage while riding, I can put it into action while I do work in Uganda. I just have to be careful and smart. And… this is the big one… I must never become over confident. I promised Craig that if I ever feel the silly’s brewing in my horse when I am in the saddle, I’ll get down. I can feel it with Gwinny and I’ve dismounted many times because of it. She’s young. And I love her. We shall not part ways, we’re going to patiently grow together. And meanwhile I’m going to get to learn to become the kind of rider she deserves while I ride Bear! Craig likes to say, “you might work for Kirabo Seeds for free, but you have a lot of perks.” Yes I do. A husband who loves me is the best one. (unfortunately as a final note I have state for the record that our horse fun is not in any way financed by our ministry funds. This is a personal splurge that my sweet husband pays for from his own pocket. All the account books are carefully managed by an accountant and we can prove the ministry money is untouchable until it reaches the needs of the children in Uganda where it educates, feeds, shelters, clothes, and pays salaries.)