Tuesday, September 21, 2010

So Damn Lucky

That's what we are.  Do you know that?  Horse people are the luckiest people on Earth.  We have virtually no free time.  Every coat we own has hay and dirt on it somewhere, and vaguely smells like damp earth.  Our cars are always a mess.  Many of us can't put together an outfit that doesn't involve breeches and tall boots.  We are all usually broke, or about to go on a spending spree at the local tack shop that will leave us broke.    But we are so damn lucky.

Through our horses, we get to be stronger, faster, braver, and more agile than most people can even imagine.  We get to fly.  On a regular basis, we get to meet new challenges head on, we get to feel an adrenaline rush and push through it and do something great, something we were previously too scared to do.  We get to feel how making a tiny adjustment (a shoulder an inch farther back, more weight in one stirrup, a little more give in one elbow) can influence the entire way of traveling of a 1200 pound animal.  Maybe even most importantly, we get to forge these complex, deeply personal, spiritual, life-changing relationships with the horses in our lives.  They are our companions, our children, the loves of our lives, our teammates, our partners, our teachers, our best friends. 

I was trying to explain these concepts to some family members on Sunday morning.  My grandmother seemed genuinely curious about why I do this.  I couldn't quite articulate how I feel about my horse, but I tried.  I wondered out loud what non-horse people do to replicate the way I feel about riding, and my horse.  How does someone without a horse get to experience anything like the feeling I get when I jump something big?  When do they find themselves in a situation where they have to work through their fear or anxiety and accomplish something, and how can they live without that regular feeling of elation, satisfaction and pure joy that we get from a really great ride?  And most of all, how would I even know that my life is on the right track without seeing how happy my horse is?  How would I know that I'm a good person without seeing how much my horse loves me?  These sentiments were, generally, met with blank stares, and then some vague musings about other people "playing sports too" and most people having these types of feelings for "other humans" (and, by the way Marissa, you're not getting any younger, are you ever going to get a new boyfriend?).

Despite my inability to explain it, it was all perfectly clear for me on Sunday afternoon.  I got to the farm and had the whole place to myself, it was so quiet and peaceful.  My horse was in one of his really expressive, affectionate moods when I went in his stall to say hi.  I groomed him and he kept turning around and grooming me back with his muzzle.  Then I had a bunch of things to organize before my lesson and he was just hanging his head out of his stall and watching what I was doing, following the sound of my voice and watching the doorways when I came back in.

We had a great lesson in the hackamore.  We worked hard on the flat.  I had a really tough time getting him going forward at the trot.  There were times when I had to outright kick him with my spur to get any reaction at all.  Eventually though he did start getting his act together and the canter was good.  We worked on going forward and holding him straight.  Seems like in the hackamore, since he couldn't evade by locking his jaw or leaning, he was more prone to bulging through his outside shoulder.  We corrected it though, and got him going straight and forward. 

When we started jumping, we worked on carrying that straightness and forward rhythm over to the jumps.  Since he was a little on the quiet side, I really had to work on sending him forward out of the turn to the jump.  We started with a tiny little jump on a left lead circle, and Alicia pointed out the spot in the circle where he was slowing down so I worked on closing my leg and sending him forward there, and paying close attention to the canter rhythm by counting.  Since the jump was about 10" high, I could just concentrate on the pace and keep sending him forward without thinking about the jump itself.  I was able to really feel the difference between coming forward all the way to the jump and letting him slow as we rounded the turn to the fence.  Same distance, but one coming forward and one slowing, and the jump felt way better coming forward.  Then we picked another little jump off a right lead canter circle and did the same exercise. 

Then we worked with two single jumps on the diagonal, a vertical off the left lead and an oxer off the right lead.  Started out at about 2'6" and 2'9", and just repeated a figure-eight pattern over them.  We worked on the same thing, coming forward all the way to the jump, keeping my leg closed, and keeping my hands up and following.  I loved jumping in the hackamore.  He was landing so softly and jumping really round.  Then Alicia put both fences up to 3'3".  I have to say I was kind of intimidated by the oxer, but we did each fence twice and he felt so amazing!  I kept my hands elevated (it felt like they were all the way up in front of my face but of course they weren't) and kept following with my arms. I realized I was tempted to take more contact on the way to the jump and had to force myself not to touch him.  He was right on it every time when I just left him alone and kept going forward.  And he was so incredibly light.  The hackamore is amazing!

The last time we jumped the oxer he jumped it so well...  he was soft, and round, and made a big effort but since he was so relaxed and forward, I didn't get jumped loose and was able to hold my position in the air.  It literally felt like flying.  Such an incredible feeling.  I'm not sure if I've ever ridden a horse that jumps as well as he does.  I think he had fun too.  He walked back to the barn with an extra little spring in his step and he kept licking his lips.  Then when I turned him out for the night, he paused for a minute and just pressed his nose into me and closed his eyes before he walked away. 

I've been turning these moments over in my head for the past couple of days and every time I do, they make me so happy.  The grooming, the flat work, that light as air feeling in my hand on the way to the jump, the mid-air, defying gravity, flying feeling, and that sweet moment in the dark when I turned him out.  And that, my friends, is why we are so damn lucky.


  1. You are so right - there's nothing better and non-horse people seem not to get it.

  2. We are lucky and if non-horsey people never get it that's their loss. I used to get the same thing from my mom. She would always wonder why I needed lessons because after all the horses on the track are trained at 2yrs., why wasn't my horse trained at 10?!

    Sounds like you had a great ride, I love that feeling of getting it right and flying over the jumps.

  3. Loved this post! While reading it, I was riding Tucker with you. :-) I had a very good non-horsey friend say to me the other day that I looked younger and she believes that it's because of riding. It's amazing how getting some fresh air, exercise and being with an animal that can relieve stress in 10 nano-seconds can take years off of you. :-) We are damn lucky.

  4. I get it! I am sure that we all completely get it. With no time to write myself tonight I am going to share your wise words!

  5. Wow..beautifully written and so true :)
    Even in the tough moments, there is something to learn. It's funny, when I try to explain it to non horse people, they think of when they went horse back riding on a push button, down a trail, on vacation........no people, NOT the same :)

  6. Absolutely!
    Some people think I'm nuts for the time and especially money spent on my horses. I think their nuts spending their time and money on manicures/pedicures and haircuts/coloring!
    To each his own...I'll take the horses anyday.


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