Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I really AM a Cowgirl

For years and years I have put myself in the path of equine (not literally of course) hoping that some day I would enjoy it as much as my friends. But I never did.

My first exposure came when I would often tag along with my college roommate and best friend to her equestrian lessons and events. I would wait for hours until she finally let me ride her beautiful Thoroughbred Ben. He was safe by this time as she had worn him out to the point where he would barely move for me. But I was always nervous and didn't push him to go beyond a lazy stroll. I remember the long drives and the long waits and sitting in the stands while she completed her hunter/jumper events. I cheered (not knowing really what for other than, "Yeah, you didn't fall off!") because I found it amazing that she never did (at least when I was around). I remember the two of us in the hallway of our dorm, her laying on the floor while I tugged her riding boots off observing the latest bruise the size of, well the size of a hoof to be honest. And I thought, 'I understand why she does this. But why am I doing this? I'm not a horse person.'

Later on I was with a wonderful young man whose family had horses that we would often ride after Sunday diner. I was always excited to do so. But again, nervous as anything. I could never tack up the horse myself and by the end of the ride my legs were so soar I could barely stand. Looking back, I never really enjoyed it. I rode because I kept thinking I would enjoy it but I never did. It was nerve racking. My horse was lazy and would walk right in the middle of the road scaring me half to death. I was so relieved when it was over. But I kept riding and in the back of my head there was the same question,'Why am I doing this?'

At the same time another friend wanted to use me as her guinea pig to start giving lessons. She wanted me to ride without my feet in the stirrups and put my arms to the side as the horse walked around the field. All this time I had never really reached a point in which I could comfortably trot or canter a horse. It freaked me out every time they started to speed up! Again, 'Why am I doing this?'.

Several years and relocations later, I decided to give the equine thing one more shot by working out at Last Chance. The theory; by being around different types of horses on the ground, I will gain the much needed confidence I have been lacking all this time that will lead to me being the best rider I can be. To be honest, I was not gung ho for saddling up. I was perfectly content walking around the paddock and confessing all of my deep dark secrets to the long, sympathetic faces that were really just after the hay in my wheel barrel. Lets face it, if I'm nervous about horses that are sound, all with known histories, how in the world am I going to ride a horse that has been rescued from God knows what?

One afternoon, the idea came from Victoria. "Leah, I think you should get a lesson today. I've got the perfect horse for you.," she stated out of the blue.

Isaac was his name. He had originally been rescued from the slaughter auction in Sugarcreek and returned to us recently after he suddenly 'retired' from being a lesson horse. Basically he was tired of going in circles and began staging 'stand-ins' during lessons.

Stretch (aka Rachael) helped me saddle him up and I wore a helmet - for the first time ever - and off into the paddock we went. Some things I had learned were coming back. But over all the ride was a little boring. So I, on Isaac and Stretch riding bareback on George, headed off across the road to do a little trail ride. While I remained a little timid, Isaac was in his element and we lead the way through brush and water and over banks. He was fun. And I was excited! I thought this would be a great horse for me to start from scratch on. Little did I know this would be the start of a blessing for Last Chance but a curse for Leah - he was sold that week.

Later on I rode Stubs. Sold that week.

Then Tracker and I had the ride of my life as you read in Lauren's entry about our trail ride. Sold that day! To the same family that bought Stubs!

So this weekend I rode one of the oldest, most down-trodden horses on the farm. With arthritic knees but still hot as a pistol, we decided that I was ready for an upgrade, a horse with some training. Mack is not the prettiest boy in the barn (a past kick has left him with an asymmetrical face. But I love it anyway), but he and I were buddies long before I threw a saddle on his back.

This weekend we bonded. He had me at first. He knew I couldn't trot and steer at the same time. So we trotted from one end to the other. Back and forth, back and forth. Lauren and Tracy provided good pointers and encouragement along the way. But I didn't want to push anything.

The next ride out was AMAZING! Mack and I picked up right where we left off. Lauren on Teddy and I on Mack went across the road and MAN what a difference! After Victoria suggested I try neck reigning, Mack was like riding a scooter! He moved with every little signal I gave him and was in tune to the gear I wanted to stay in (even though he really wanted to go for it).

So the moral to this extremely long blog entry is - I really AM a cowgirl!

I always thought I could never be since my interest started well into adulthood whereas all true horse people I've known were in a saddle the day after they started walking. And while I was not doing any formal ground work with these horses, the fact that I was out there frequently wrangling them around, moving them from stall to paddock, entering their stalls during feeding time, etc., it is clear to me that a relationship on the ground is vital to the relationship in the saddle. Mack and I were not strangers. We were simply taking our relationship to the next level.

I've also learned some things about tack such as I WANT AN EQUITATION SADDLE! Simply put, it places you in the correct position. Oh, and chaps are good too. Especially when they have fringe and silver medallions :).

But seriously, it took me a while - about 12 years - but I finally got here. I am comfortable, confident and truly enjoying these wonderful animals for the first time. Thank you Victoria, Lauren, Stretch, Tracy, Isaac, Stubs, Tracker and Mack.

the newbie

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MACPhD said...
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