I ride horses. It is my absolute favourite sport. And yet, I have never blogged about it. When I talk about the sports I participate in to people, I sometimes don’t mention it. It’s like my secret sport but that isn’t intentional.
When I committed to a regular guest post here, I cast my mind about to think of topics I could draw on and that was when horses occurred to me. But that made me wonder why it hadn’t before. I usually write about experiences or advances or issues that have an edge of angst. Since I was a random poster, the only reason I’d write something was because it struck me some way or another.
Horses are another matter, another level. Horses are magic.
I was privileged (in all meanings of that word) to be able to learn to ride when I was about 11 years old. It started at summer camp and then eventually, I was allowed weekly lessons at an English riding barn north of Toronto. I suppose I was doing Hunter/Jumper work but all I knew is I got to ride every week and it was pretty much the only place I was happy in the disaster of a social world that was me, age 11-16 years old. It was fun. I was good at it and the whole thing revolved around these creatures that I couldn’t get enough of. Huge strong beasts that let me ride them. They listened to what I told them and took me flying. They had soft noses and big beautiful eyes. They smelled so good. Even their poop smelled good to me.
Then my parents tricked me. I also liked to play saxophone at school. I had a choice. I could continue riding or they could buy me a really great sax. I chose the sax and horses faded from my life. Freud would have a field day with this, but I digress. . .
25-ish years later, I ask my 8 year old daughter if she wants to learn to ride. I am living in a town that has quick access to many teaching barns. She says yes. I go to the barn to help her get ready and I’m shaking. I burst into tears of joy and longing. I’m so happy to be home.
It took about 6 months for it to dawn on me that I could also ride again. I didn’t actually have to live vicariously through my daughter. Those first lessons were chaotic. My body and mind remembered so much and yet so much had changed. I was 40, not 16 and I was weak in places I didn’t remember needed to be strong. I fell off. I screwed up. I got yelled at by my teacher. It was fantastic.
I had to come to terms with my body and the profound truth that if I wanted to continue to ride, I had to do other things so that I could ride. I needed more strength and balance. I needed more endurance. So I started to do strength training and running and yoga. I restarted Pilates. I kept riding. So did my daughter.
8 years later, my 15 year old daughter and I ride in the same group lesson. We ride Hunter/Jumper and every week we are in the presence of these magnificent creatures with soft noses and huge eyes. They let us ride them. They pay attention to every move, every breath, every thought that goes through our heads and when it all aligns, they take us flying.
In the journey back to horses, I have learned to run a 6 minute kilometer, reacquired my core strength, built up my shoulders and upper body, learned to cycle fast on skinny tires, led canoe trips and become more or less fearless about trying new things. In some ways, it led me back to myself at a time of tremendous transition. It wouldn’t have happened the same way without that imperative, that longing to get back up there and fly.
I still don’t fully understand why it’s so strong, the love of that sport. Maybe it isn’t the sport at all. It’s them. It’s the way they look at you or the way they ignore you. It’s the way they demand treats by searching all your pockets or, in one case, trying to find them in my pants. It’s how they stop and check on you right after dumping you into the dirt at the base of a jump. It’s how they let you cry on them when you are a lonely sad 14 year old girl. Even now, writing this post makes me weep with. . .something. . .love, joy, grief. It’s horse magic.