More than Muscle Memory

I am back in the saddle, literally. And damn, it feels great.

It’s been a couple years since I rode horses regularly.  Work, family, my health, finances—ahh, life– all contributed to keeping me out of the barn.

But, I woke too many mornings during this no-horse phase, wishing I was riding. And I kept practicing my two-point position on my bike. Clearly, I wasn’t through with a hobby (an addiction?) I had practiced most of my adult life.

Why is it that some girls never outgrow their love-of-horses-phase-of-life?

After 4 lessons in two weeks, I am in. 100%.

Barn basics quickly came back: brushing, tacking, mounting, handling, riding (walk-trot-canter-low jumps) and yes, a little nerves. As my trainer J says, the muscle memory was still there. And in each lesson, that memory and confidence was a bit stronger. I certainly couldn’t pick up a brand new sport this quickly.

After several visits, I realize it is more than the horses, the lift I get from riding that brought me back. I think I also relished going back to a familiar place for the mental memories I have of the barn, the people, the friends I have made. I feel welcome, like it’s been days since I have been there, not a year.

Resuming riding is also a short reminder of cliché’s—life is short, time goes fast, etc etc.

If there is something you love to do, DO IT. If you want to try something new, make the time now for yourself, your interests, yourself. The joy it might bring is worth it.

The journey continues.



Riding High

I really miss riding.  It’s been a month off of most exercise–too busy with work, family, too hot to ride weeks–other than a short bike ride, dog walk, yoga class.

But on my bike, I close my eyes and feel a horse canter between my legs.  I wake in the morning thinking “I wish I could ride today.”  I yearn for the camaraderie of my friends, my trainer pushing me to better, be more, challenge myself.

So today, with the kids back at school, work under control for a moment, I escaped my desk on a gorgeous summer morning for a couple hours to ride.

And how I have missed it.  I didn’t realize until I was back the myriad of things I love about riding:

Greetings with the grooms, the horses, the scent of hay, soft nickers.

  • The Zen feeling of currying Gatsby before tacking up.  I feel myself relax, as I move my arms in repeated circular motion, watching loose hair and dirt escape.
  • The smell of leather, the saddle-bridle-girth in a familiar hold as I carry them from the tack room.
  • A familiar warm up routine in the refurbished outdoor arena, I am enjoying our alone time as we walk and trot through circles and serpentines, move smoothly over poles.
  • Then cantering in both directions, flying-flying-free, smiling.  A gentle pat.
  • Once done, I welcome the sweat streaming down my face, my back.  It’s been a great workout.
  • The routing of lathering up Gatsby, then toweling him off after hosing him off.

I feel lighter as I leave, my spirit lifted.  Tonight, I feel the premature ache of legs not used to this exercise.  I can’t wait to ride again.

I was not going to write about riding today.  But, since the happy endorphins still feel as if they are flowing, I want to capture and try to remember these feelings.

Try it this weekend, to escape a few moments doing something you love.  It will lift you, put a spring in your step. C


The tightness, it loosens from between my shoulder blades. The shoulders roll back, stomach in. The legs elongate, heels down, then quiver after forty-five minutes of use.  The hands firm but relaxed, simultaneously.  The forehead lines  vanish. The eyes open, focus.  The stress from the previous few weeks, so heavy on my heart-my brain-my body-slowly evaporates in layers into the Tiffany blue sky, a rainbow of leaves skittering around, gently  crinkling as they run across the lawn.

Warm body underneath, motion together, as Sophie and I canter across the arena, leaving behind the negativity and mental lists of goals to accomplish-work to complete-projects to begin-yesterday locked in the past-tomorrow a dream to be-NOW, living in the moment of autumnal beauty, escape but concentrating, breath coming faster, sweat beading in my hat.

So simple, so joyous, so freeing to think only about the motion, the body, the horse.  And then it abruptly ends with a walk, a dismount, as we head back into the barn.  A lighter mind and step as I head back to my desk and my computer, once again riding and being with the horses is the way I feel human.  So thankful. C

Not the Horse’s Arse

Have you ever been whipped in the face by a horse’s tail?  ouch!  As the flies landed on Sophie’s flanks and legs, I watched as her tail swung around to knock them off her to even better, smash the suckers. She didn’t have fingers to swat them away, arms to wipe her forelock out of her eyes, but she had a tail to smartly aim where she could not reach, a shake to target, no head movement visible.

A steamy but breezy Friday,  it was no blowing  fan, no standing in the aisle while Sophie dried off after a turnout, ride and bath. It was an air dry day, mouthfuls of grass while we waited, the sun patiently drying one side–than the other–watching other riders, seeing the flies land then take off in surprise, listening to the chewing, feeling her mane.  Thinking how great a tail could be.  Sometimes.  C

P.S.  Not Sophie’s tail.  But a cute one!

Totally Awesome

Have you ever seen a child who cannot walk help steer a horse through a set of cones?  Have you ever seen a high school senior with such strong disabilities he can only communicate through nods ride a horse with a smile from ear to ear? I volunteer with an wonderful equine therapy organization called Equestrian Connection in Lake Forest, IL and I am thankful and hopeful every time I side walk or lead walk with one of their clients.

 I cannot imagine the freedom that horses grant these children with disabilities.  Some of these people who cannot walk have freedom of movement for their first time ever, as we work them through exercises and games and get them to simply focus.  I work with S.  with Downs syndrome who was once petrified of the horses and could only ride for less than ten minutes, but now she tries to direct each session. There was C. who we tried to slow down his motions and pay attention to our task while working muscles, and S. who once could not communicate verbally now smiles and mumbles a few directives and holda her head up and focus on us and the horse.  The therapist had me tell her mom about the wonderful changes I had seen over a several month span, and she simply cried smiling.

Hippotherapy has given me a great apppreciation for people with all disabilities, their view points in the world, and a profound respect for their caretakers.  Yesterday, one of the most beautiful, charming  4 year old girls I have ever met showed me how she is learning to walk independently with her pony (we usually have our hands on their legs for support).  We walked over some poles on the ground, and she exclaimed “That was awesome!” 

Then, as she stretched her body up and around hitting balls suspended from the ceiling, again she said  “Totally awesome!”

After I was done volunteering, I had a riding lesson at my barn.  I thought about these children, as I was able to carry my tack, groom my horses, walk outside, and as I jumped a new horse my thought was the same as S, “Totally awesome!”  and very lucky indeed. C

Frustrating, but a Lesson Learned

Last week I had a very difficult riding lesson, in which I felt I accomplished nothing.  The horse and I were not in sync; I could not get him to do the most basic of maneuvers for someone with many hours of riding experience.

I wanted to end the lesson, but when Jeannine agreed I could dismount, I declined so I could work through it.  After all, it was a gorgeous day out–and I would much rather be riding than sitting at my desk working. 

When my mentally-painful lesson was completed,  Jeannine said something I have been contemplating since then.

“You are a capable rider.  You just need to know that you are capable of doing this.”

Isn’t that the truth of it? There can be a wide berth between being capable of something and being aware of it, so we can act on it.  We all know people who think they are far more competent than they are in various tasks, and others who don’t know their capabilities and strengths.

I AM capable of doing many things on a horse–I just need to realize I have more skills than I envision.  Hard to do, after a bad fall and injury last year.  When Jeannine then pointed out that a couple years ago if a horse spooked and took off galloping I would have been thrown, last week we only went about 10 feet and he stopped (correction–I stopped him).  I had to take away the minor victories of the day. 

Today I rode my favorite horse Felix, who I haven’t ridden since my fall, and we had a beautiful time together.  I’m being taught to think like a horse, which is helping to better understand his responses. I need to realize I have the ability to do more than I have been doing and surpass what I am attempting.  I just know how hard that ground is, so I will take my time. C