When Jack and I go to the barn we are on neutral turf. I’m am a student there too, not just mom. We are learning together, sharing our discoveries, opening our vulnerabilities with the hopes of improvement and we are laughing at our mistakes. We are also loving these big horses with a silent understanding of how good it feels to grow a trust with an animal that could buck and send us through the air like rag dolls.
Jack comes with me to the barn three mornings a week to ride the horse he is leasing, Biggie. This horse clears the pony size by an inch and has the audacity to bite the rump of my bigger horse Bear while I’m in the saddle. We are beginning to believe Biggie thinks his name is true. He’s a great challenge for Jack because Biggie won’t give up anything for free. Jack has to ask correctly and think three strides ahead or the spunky horse will just trot right on out of the arena towards the barn. Twice a week Jack has a lesson with Biggie, but on Mondays he is free to tack him up, ride around on a trail ride or practice in the arena while I have my lesson. If he has an immediate question my teacher is happy to assist him, and she keeps a good eye on Biggie while she helps me improve.
A significant temperature drop can make a horse feel “fresh” or too good. I can feel it immediately when I get on Bear and he’s feeling fresh. There’s more bounce, more interest in going forward, and he tosses his head around as if he were swinging his halter for fun. We walk pass horses in their turnouts who are bucking, rearing and running like crazy wild mustangs. I just pat Bear on the neck and apologize, ” I know that looks like fun, but you don’t have permission.” I can almost hear him think, “it’s ok, I am kinda old for that now, I was just remembering.” (exactly why I bought him!)
I wasn’t sure if Biggie would feel like running away with Jack if he were fresh. He’s a horse that stops or makes a slow exit if he doesn’t understand what Jack is asking him to do. He hasn’t done a naughty thing, yet, but we can’t use the words never or always when it comes to horses. This is the horse for Jack to gain his confidence, enjoy independence and build a relationship. And in worse cases the fall isn’t too far from the ground. But the morning was cold and all the horses were acting fresh. I wanted to worry and advise Jack as he rode around independently but I kept my mama mouth shut. It all went well, and there’s much to be thankful about that report.
When I finished my lesson (where I am eager to share I am sitting the canter with increased ease) I found Jack perched on a rail while Biggie was grazing grass. Jack had his notebook in his lap and he was recording what he learned by riding Biggie that morning without an instructor telling him what to do. He now knows how to get him to stand while mounting rather than walking off, how to walk through the grass without plunging his head down for a nibble, and how to trot pass the open arena door without exiting. He also is learning that it takes a lot of practice to get the bridle on a horse that won’t keep his head still. It’s funny for all of us who have struggled with the same frustrations, but not so funny to a boy who thought it would all be easy. And so the relationship and learning intensifies because he has to decide if he wants it bad enough to get “it”, that amazing feeling when rider and horse become one mind.
I never understood why golfers would chase that silly white ball around for hours and hours. I hit balls with Craig for two hours a long time ago. Maybe I hit a hundred balls and only one went straight and long. That’s when I felt it all come together. I don’t know how I did it, but it felt good. And I wanted it to happen again. With horses the ball and club become an animal that has a mind of its own. When it all comes together perfectly and horse and rider get that hole in one feeling, there’s a joy that can’t be duplicated with drugs. With a lot of practice it happens more often and that’s rewarding, so we just keep at it even though when there is success in one hand there’s a new challenge in the other. That cycle will never end with horses, and there’s the hook.
Jack and I share that craving for the feeling we get when it all goes well with the horse under saddle. Last Friday while Craig’s parents observed Jack’s riding lesson, he successfully cantered Biggie for the first time. He did great and the smile on his face lasted all day long. It is so much fun to canter on a horse when the fear is gone and the skills are set. I was so happy for him. I was pony walking Bear with Kira on top while Jack had that lesson. She kept asking me, “I go fast now?” I know she wanted to canter around like the other riders. No way! Finally I asked a friend to jog a little with the lead rope so I could jog and keep a hand on her saddle. Bear looked at us like, “really? You want me to trot with your baby up there?” Yes just a little. So we made a circle and she bounced around up on top of Bear. Her eyes grew wide, her smile went deep, she held on to the saddle strap and began to giggle. This was a thrill for her and she was loving it. “Again?” So we jogged another circle and everyone in the arena stopped to enjoy her giggling and fun. This is why we ride. It is fun! And sharing her brand new discovery of this great feeling made us all happy. It was a good reminder not to take it all too seriously.
So when Jack and I locked up the tack room, the horses were returned to their stall and pasture, he looked at me and said, “that was really fun mom and son bonding time.” In the sport of parenting that’s when the hole in one feeling, or the perfectly synced ride sneaks in and creates a strong desire for it to happen again. Jack, Kira and I have found our elusive bonding venue. And Donny liked Bear so much he has requested his first riding lesson this weekend! He’s getting a crash course in horses for Easter. Meanwhille Daddy and Jordan are shopping for a truck to haul a trailer! Kevin is cool with Bear on the ground but no interest to sit in the saddle. (He’s not a thrill seeker.) We are all becoming a little bit country. Some day it will be a family thing to hang out with the horses and I can’t wait for that. I wish it were as easy for me as to sit with a deck of cards or a chess board and create the elusive bonding environment a mom needs with her boys. I have found it is easier for them to open up about their heart matters if we go to a place that makes us both happy.