I got on a horse for the first time in eight years this past weekend.
I have sort of a love-hate relationship with horseback riding. Not horses. I love horses. I adore horses. When I'm around some horses, I can't seem to leave them alone. I have to constantly be touching them. I love the way they smell, I love watching them move, and I like just being around them. At work when the IT guy set up a new computer for me, he made sure my screensaver rotated through a pile of horse pictures (and Viggo Mortenson, who incidentally is a horse person himself - I always admired about him that he bought every horse he's worked with on a movie set). Another coworker and friend commented on my carousel of horse pictures, and I said I just love looking at horses. It's like my porn.
That became a silly joke between us. He would always tease me about my "horse porn," and I told him he had a sick mind.
All little girls go through that horse phase, I think. The ones who don't are alien to me. Most little girls grow out of it though. They may still appreciate horses in the back of their minds, but they aren't as obsessed with them as they were as little girls. The age this phase starts is around eight or nine, and it can extend into twelve or thirteen, round about the time boys become interesting. I never lost my love and obsession for horses, and my two best friends share this with me. When we were sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen we would spend the weekends riding our horses all day and then pigging out on cake we baked afterwards. I manage to drop a horse or ten into all of the novels I'm working on; my house is full of stuffed horses; and of course, the horse porn on my computer. Despite all this, I still have that love-hate relationship with horseback riding.
I took riding lessons when I was sixteen or seventeen, and I rode a lot with my two best friends when we were still in high school. I even owned a horse for a short amount of time, an ornery little palomino I called Ty who used to like to rub me off on trees and buck me into the dirt. One thing Ty did love to do with me on him was gallop and race the other horses. When the three of us girls got together on our horses and ran them, Ty put all his heart into it even if his short legs couldn't deliver him as winner. I still remember the time my Colorado best friend tried to work with him on the lunge line and he sent her rolling across the ring. She somersaulted a few times while he trotted off, throwing his head and sneering a horse snicker.
Boy, that pony was a pain in the ass, but he was fun for awhile. He was also responsible for one pretty bad concussion and eventually I had to sell him when I went away to college.
I fell off a lot. Ty bucked me off or rubbed me off on a tree at least once a ride. I fell off my best friend's old, swaybacked mare, Baroness many times. My Colorado best friend had two horses: Baroness, and the love of her life, Grey Lady. In the winter we would ride these two bareback all day long in the snow until we got so hungry we had to go in. One day we rode the circuit of her property and a car blew by on the highway, spooking Baroness and causing her to take off. I toppled right off her back and fell into a snow bank. It must have been quite a sight for my friend. I could hear the laughter in her voice as she asked me if I was okay, and as soon as she got confirmation she totally lost it. It must have been quite the sight. Me one minute on Baroness' back, and the next disappearing with a poof into a snowbank.
This was before the days of cell phones where she could have recorded it and uploaded it to YouTube.
Moving out to Wyoming, I didn't get a chance to ride much. This is surprising considering it's cowboy and horse country, but at first I just didn't really know anyone with horses to ride. I spent a weekend on one friend's ranch when I first moved to Wyoming and rode her family's old cow pony, but other than that it was a long stretch before I met my ex-boyfriend, a ranch cowboy and horse trainer who owned several horses. He took me out to his family's ranch most weekends and put me on his old roping horse, Kid. I loved Kid, but he got bored with me. That horse was born to rope. By then, however, I had become a complete sissy on horseback. I'm not exactly sure why. I always got right back on whenever I fell off a horse. I think maybe the older we get, the more afraid we get of things we used to love and take risks with. I'm terrified of heights too, now.
On Kid, I refused to go faster than a trot, I freaked out every time the horse spooked or stumbled or went uphill or downhill. My ex got very impatient with me, and on the one hand I couldn't really blame him. I had taken horseback riding lessons, I wasn't a complete greenhorn, and I acted like I was going to die every time I got on a horse. He, on the other hand, was born in the saddle. He has this magical way with horses. My ex had a lot of issues when we were together, the main one being that he was an abuse victim and had a very volatile relationship with his family. They cut him down a lot and criticized, so while he is the kindest man, he has very little self-esteem or confidence, and he would get stuck in a cycle of constantly trying to gain approval of these people who will never give approval. Around horses, however, he became a different person. His confidence came out in his horse training and riding, and he seemed happiest when he was working with horses. In a way, he shares that with my Colorado best friend. I'm still good friends with him, even if a relationship didn't work out, and I hope one day he can have his ranch, surrounded by horses, and do what he loves best.
My latest horseback riding adventure came about with Mr. White Knight whose family also lives on a ranch. They own three horses, so knowing my love of horses, he thought it would be a fun idea to take me horseback riding. Of course he put me on the most docile horse who also happened to be the tallest horse, and I remember looking up at this beast and thinking, "Why do I have to ride the big one?" I used to have so much confidence around horses, but I have to admit I was a little intimidated. This horse is roughly the size of an elephant. I'm sure watching me mount gave Mr. White Knight quite the chuckle. I have short legs, so I need shorter stirrups, but on a taller horse, I can't get my stumpy leg high enough to actually get my foot into the stirrup.
So Mr. White Knight had to shove my butt up there which I'm assuming he didn't mind much. Once again, a YouTube video would have completely captured my humiliation.
In theory I can mount on my own, I promise. I just need to do it on a pony. Or a miniature horse.
We didn't go faster than a walk which is what I prefer, and I hope I didn't bore Mr. White Knight too much. I know people that are comfortable in the saddle don't think twice about taking a horse through his gaits, but I have so little control over my own body, I'm not confident I can control a beast ten times my size just by using a thin bit of nylon rein and leg muscles I don't have. I have enough trouble controlling my dog on her leash. And if the horse misbehaves I can't exactly wrestle him to the dirt and sit on his head like I used to do with Tess.
I had two minor freak outs. The horse spooked once and shied (more violently in my imagination than in real life) and I screamed. Another time when he tried to break into a lope going uphill, I nearly dismounted and walked him the three miles back to the ranch. Apparently horses like to run uphill to get to the top faster. I, who used to gallop my pony across my best friend's field, can't handle anything faster than a trot because I'm sure if I go too fast I will lose control of the horse and go flying into the next dimension.
I tend to overreact and overdramatize.
The funny thing about this was that after a three hour ride, a seriously sore booty, and the rather pleasant view of Mr. White Knight's riding his own horse with such confidence, I rediscovered my own love for riding. I imagine with access to a horse every day and riding in a controlled environment, I would probably regain my confidence in horses and myself around horses. He'd better be a push button horse, but I could do it. In the past, I have to admit that I didn't really care if I ever got that confidence back because I was pretty much done riding. I was too scared to ride. I will always love horses, but riding I could take or leave. Now I think I would actually like the chance to get back to a place where I feel comfortable getting on a horse and just taking off for a nice ride. Maybe I tried to squash it for awhile, but like anything else one truly loves it will eventually bubble it's way back to the surface. I tried to quit writing once too.
It's like my Colorado best friend always used to say: There are two types of people. Those who are horse crazy and those who are just plain crazy.
I guess once the horses are in your blood, they are there for good.