I found part of me last weekend, part of me that I had packed up and put in a box for almost 4 years. It pains me to admit I let part of me wither from neglect, but I know that a healthy helping of humble pie is one of the things that will help me ensure that I don't do this to myself again. My pride can take a hit and I can admit that I was wrong.
What was I so wrong about, you ask? What part of me was packed away in a box? The part of me that, for almost 12 years, jumped astride a horse for dressage lessons at least once a week during the school year and more often during the summer. When I was 7 or 8 I convinced my mom to let me try dressage lessons. She took me to her old instructor, Karen. Ironically, my mom was forced to stop her own lessons when she discovered she was pregnant with me.
Karen was, and is, a horse person through-and-through. She told my mom that I could come over for a test lesson to see if we could work together. Karen is not someone to put up with childish crap in children, or adults. It only took one afternoon out at the barn and my heart was sold. Lucky for me, I think Karen saw this and agreed to give me lessons. I continued riding and learning with her through the first year of college. She was one of the most influential and important people who helped me grow and mature as a young girl. Sadly, I don't think I fully realized this until college.
Although I never owned a horse, or competed in the arena, I took my riding very seriously. However, after my sophomore year in college, travel, internships, jobs and my blossoming life as an adult crowded out my time for Karen and for riding. After the summer between my college freshman and sophomore years, I never returned to the barn, to Karen, or to the horses. I tried several times to call her on the phone and see her at the barn, but each attempt was met with answering machines and notes left in the tack room. I know I could have tried harder to hold on to this very large part of my life, but I think I was too distracted by the promise of new adult adventures and ashamed I had let my connection to the horses and Karen slide so far already. I started to feel so ashamed about this that I stopped letting myself think about my life with horses in it.
Flash forward three years and some change to last Saturday. I had had multiple dreams with horses in them over the past few weeks. Enough was enough. I can take a hint. I've started over in many ways down here in Texas, starting again with horses should be no exception. My friend Dave had made a horse date for me out at a friend's stable. I was going back to place I never should have left. These thoughts were flying through my mind as I reached for a box in my closet. A box that hadn't been unpacked after my move.
Kneeling on the floor, I looked at the writing on the top of the box . It read "Horseback Gear" in my mom's perfect handwriting. I felt a searing pang of home sickness shoot through my chest. Of course my mom would have packed this box, she had always encouraged me in my riding and we shared a bond over our love for horses.
I grabbed a pair of scissors and jabbed violently at the masking tape which was holding such a large part of me inside a tiny, dark, cardboard prison. When the tape had given way and all four flaps of the box top were peeled open, my hands were greedily shoving my riding pants and vest into my face. Ahhh! It all still smelled of Tesoro, Madison, of Hagi and Avatar. The horses that had taught me so much. I could try and hide memories, but oh the smell! That couldn't be washed from these clothes even after 100 washes. I grabbed up my Tipperary helmet and then looked to my two pairs of boots. One I used to wear during the Michigan winters. They were well insulated and were great for mucking stalls and crunching through muddles of partially frozen mud. The second were my knee-high dressage boots. Which to wear? I was pretty sure I would be put into a Western saddle that afternoon, so better go with the winter ankle boots.
Cody was his name, and he must have thought I was out of my mind. I kept wiggling in the saddle on his back and asking Ben to adjust the stirrup lengths for me. I was told Cody had a sensitive mouth because of some prior abusive riding and care, so I rode with an extra long rein. After a half an hour of finding my seat, listening to Cody and making sure he was listening to me (how I expected him to feel my small riding signals through all that leather of the Western saddle, I don't know) I decided we could try for a nice sitting trot. Now that was an embarrassing endevour.
My dressage training was getting me squat with this horse. Ben jumped back on him and even he couldn't get Cody to move faster than a walk without some serious leg thumping. The solution: spurs. Cody only had to see Ben put them on my boots. As soon as I remounted, he had a more lively walk. That's more like it.
I won't say my sitting trot was elegant. I was still unsure of his pace, gate, and the saddle, but I could sit it and keep him at it steadily, which was all I needed to know. I had my mind set on one goal, one of my favorite things in this life: riding the canter. I think God made my heart for the canter and the canter for my heart. Again, I won't say they were the best circles of canter in the arena, but they were smooth and fast. My legs wrapped and formed around the saddle and Cody. I let my hips find his rhythm. And then I let my heart sing a song of praise as it soared at the pace of the canter.
It was all very poetical. The feeling of my inner thighs the next three days were not. But they were a bitter-sweet reminder of what I had rediscovered by swallowing my pride. Those aches and pains were also a confirmation in my mind that the English saddle is superior in many ways to the Western. But that is a post for another day.
This post is dedicated to Tesoro, my first horse love, Hagi, a mare who matched me in attitude, Madison, the fastest ride of my life, and Karen. I would not be the person I am today without her. God bless them all.