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

A Horse is a Horse is a Teacher of Course

A thought-provoking question was posted on the social networking site LinkedIn, for one of my member groups that reaches horse lovers in the business world.  A member asked what skill or trait has been improved on through interaction with horses. That gave me pause. Leading, touching, tacking, riding, watching, loving, jumping, healing, cleaning, listening to horses has taught me so much over the past twenty years that I have been riding.

I have learned to be aware of my surroundings, as even docile horses can be unpredictable, spook at air.  I am more humble; as my trainer Jeannine says “you can be a hero one day, a zero the next” as one excellent round on a course can have you eating dirt the next day.  I know–I have several now-healed broken bones to prove it.

I have experienced the exhilaration of jumping (for me) a perfect line of jumps or an entire course.  And after a hard ride or unexpected fall, sometimes I am ecstatic with simply galloping.  Patience, patience getting the muscles and confidence back.

I have learned that there is always something new to learn, to test, to practice, to challenge.  I have learned that these magnificent animals take a lot of time, of heart, of money to care for.  I have learned that equines have varying temperaments, personalities, physical beauty, abilities, riding styles–and we don’t all like the same horses–just as we don’t all like the same people. Yet they capture our souls.

I have learned that cross training really does help.  I have written before that yoga has improved my riding, my confidence, my center, dramatically.

One of the most valuable things that horses have taught me personally is to live in the moment.  Trying to squeeze 90-120 minutes into several days a week with work, family, errands, and other obligations can be a challenge.  I used to sometimes rush through the motions of tacking up, a quick ride with scattered thoughts, finish, leave. Not satisfying for me or the horse, I came to realize, still stressed after riding.

I slowly learned to live in the moment, to savor all my time at the barn.  Grooming gives me time to check out the entire animal, then make sure my tack is on properly, then warm up and ride, cool down, post-ride grooming, and carefully cleaning the tack.

I try to leave my stress on the street. Focusing on the task in front of me is far more enjoyable than a whirlwind of each motion, it is safer being aware of my animal and others around me, and I think that  the horse is simply calmer without nervous, hurried energy.  I have tried to carry this into other parts of my life, focusing on what is in front of me, and I think it is more satisfying, fulfilling.

My riding friends, I wonder what you have learned from horses. and what we will learn tomorrow. C

No Carrots for Sophie

Transitioning from outdoor to indoor riding is never easy (or the other way around).  We have been completely spoiled, riding outside until mid-November this year.  Sophie has been a gem outside, despite rumbling garbage trucks and migrating geese and chasing dogs and playing foals.

Sophie grazing

Today the weather is distinctively cooler, murkier, so we flatted inside.  She started off great, with many transitions, maneuvers over poles, changing directions, despite the coolness.  Her friend Louie threw a shoe.  The we stopped in the middle of the arena to talk to Sue, one of the trainers.  Both Louie and Sophie were alert to the flickering lights, the people calling from the outside of the door.

we were set to finish our ride as everyone left the viewing area.  She had a great pace, more impulsion than I have seen, and I was enjoying our ride.

SCRRAAPPPEEE! I heard the chair outside the door moved just slightly, with a loud creak.  We were at the far end of the arena, and that was just the impetus that Sophie needed to gallop off the line, bucking, bucking bucking.

“OH…my….God!” I thought I screamed as I tried valiantly but fruitlessly to stay on, reins pulled loose.  I saw the first jump of the gymnastic approaching, as I slid off her back, rolling to see her legs dance above me and away.

I got to my feet as Sophie walked calmly away, “Hey girl,” I called as I picked up her reins.

“Can you close the door?” Danielle called, thikng I was leaving the arena.

“Oh, I’m not leaving,” I replied.  “She just threw me.”

“What?” “What?” was the reply from several people. No one had heard me fall, or call out, so maybe I just thought it as I tumbled.

Sue walked in the arena. “Do you want Katie [her daughter] to get on?” she asked me at the mounting block.

“Oh no.  I can do this,” I said.

“OK,” she replied.

We moved off at a walk, then a trot several times around the arena.  A cat was stalking a hidden mouse, and Sophie didn’t bat an eye.  We trotted around the evil corner, her acting like the angel as people watched.

A blip in my day.  She is frisky once a year, and I happened to be on her back. Ah well, better ride next week.

No carrots for Sophie today! C

Freedom

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

Barn Thoughts

“You smell like barn,” my family wrinkles their nose, mumbling their mantra, if I don’t shower after I return from riding.

Me, I love the barn, the smell, the horses, the quiet, the sometimes chaos, the time away from the day-to-day.  It is my space, my place to unwind, to mingle, to learn, to love, to cry, to stretch my brain and my body, to exercise. to sweat, to be solely focused.

The rhythm of grooming, brushing, petting, tacking, cleaning ,riding, untacking, washing,cleaning, thanking.  It is comforting, familiar, but it is always a different experience, changing emotions, unexpected challenges, elated successes and physically painful failures.  It is a space away from my job, my family, my everyday–though I strive to visit everyday, my yearning on days I cannot go, my wish for warmer days to ride outside.

So I might smell like barn to you, but I smell like me to me.  And memories, and always challenges, and freedom. C