June 05, 2011
Year of the Horse
It’s actually the year of the rabbit, but I can’t imagine adventures centered around rabbits being much of a thrill ride. Anyway, work is still insane, but at least the rest of my life is off to a good start this month. I had a first date midweek that went surprisingly well, which included the best pork chop (smothered in apple & cranberry compote & served with mashed sweet potatoes) I’ve ever had. If work allows, I may actually have a second date in the works. I accept new jobs more often than I accept second dates so this is kind of a big deal…I guess.
This week I officially reserved my spot at a ranch in Montana for the fall. In prep for the trip, I started my first horseback riding lesson today. I arrived 30 minutes early (because I’m like that when nervous) which left plenty time to browse the grounds. It felt like heaven from the moment I opened my car door. I changed into my riding boots and immediately breathed in the smell of fresh hay & manure melted in the muggy air. For a second, I thought I was back home on the farm. Smells are crazy like that. It was instantly relaxing. I walked around to each horse and petted any that meandered close enough. My first thought was, “I forgot horses were *this* big.” The more I did comparisons between the size of their features vs mine (their head being the size of my entire torso area, for instance), the more I started psyching myself out on the whole idea. To shut up my brain, I looked around the amazing setting of grass-covered hills and marveled at these magnificent animals. (And there were a bunch of quail scooting about through the paddocks which added +10 awesome.)
I fell in love with the above horse immediately. He was beautiful and likely way bigger than I would ever be comfortable riding. I think he’s a Morgan. He wasn’t all that social which just added to his appeal ;) It reminded me of walking through the stables at the county fair, taking in the different personalities of each horse and memorizing all their names. Any fears I had were shadowed by how happy I was to be around these animals and all the years I’d wondered what it was like to ride them.
This guy was hilarious. He was totally “in your face”. He seemed to hope my iphone was a snack. I was really made for a life consisting entirely of non-human mammals. I love trying to connect with them and time in their presence flies by.
Today’s lesson was mostly an orientation. The instructors are a husband/wife duo. They’re Irish and seem to be 55-65 in age. They’re an entertaining pair, but both genuinely interested in teaching, seemingly blessed with patience and good spirits. My class consists of 5 females. One of them seemed to be about my age and the other 3 are mid-40’s/50’s. They’re all very nice and encouraging…no egos at play, which is refreshing. I’m the only one with no riding experience and so in the small bit we did today, it was encouraging to feel like I was able to keep up. We went through the basics of approaching the horse and grooming, as well as touring the tack room and getting down the lingo.
We spent the last 20 min or so of the lesson learning about mounting/dismounting. The following basically sums up the neurosis of my personality but I was less afraid of falling off or being kicked by a horse than I was of being unable to pull myself up on to the saddle. *cough* pride *cough* We were using English saddles which don’t have the little “handle” but they at least had us start by using a step. I was the last one to go and so I watched one-by-one as each woman approached the horse with a look on her face that implied she was about to jump in a snake pit. The first woman took a series of deep breaths and yelped an “Oh shit!” once she actually got on. Recall. All of these women had ridden at some point in their lives. Their reactions were not reassuring. The woman right before me lost her balance and fell on the step. Thus, I mentally prepared myself for wiping out.
So, I stuck my foot in the stirrup, grabbed the reins and some hair with one hand and the saddle with the other, whispered some kind of “sink or swim” motivating words to myself, and went for it. Success! Got it on my first try. I attribute my year of biking to being able to keep my balance, because that really was the key. I thought it would require more strength but the trickiest part was not swiveling the wrong way in the stirrup.
They walked us around in a circle so we could start to get a feel for how the horse moved. That was the most amazing thing to me…I didn’t expect to be moved around so much. They made us keep our feet dangling and I was convinced I was going to slide off. Since I was the last one, I had to sit on the horse while he talked to wrap up the session and the horse kept nudging at the guy. And even though it was just his head moving, it made me feel extremely unsettled atop him. My brain was thinking, “this guy is going to be mid-sentence when he hears me crash to the ground.” I gripped the saddle for dear life and finally tried petting the horse a bit, hoping he would chill out. It seemed to help a little bit. It was cool how each of us cheered for the other after each successful mount/dismount. As the instructor stated, group lessons can actually be better because you get to watch other people and we can help/support each other.
I should document the first horse I technically “rode”. His name was Casino and I think he is a Paint. He was probably only about 5-7 hands but I still felt like I was so high up. It was magnificent. I imagined how in a few months I’d be sitting on a horse like this taking in the views of Montana. (Cue excitement.)
Seriously, that 10 min span of time where I was able to pop myself on top of that horse and stay there brought a whole new meaning to the phrase, “get back on the horse”. It was so empowering. That 10 min equaled (if not surpassed) the impact of my cross-country drive. It was full of “fuck yeah, go me!” These lessons were pretty expensive so my biggest fear was that I would regret the experience. But no regrets. Anything but. All of us left really excited for the next lesson!
Afterward, I met up with Sallie in Sausalito (after 3 years, I’d never been!). We had lunch at this great place, Bar Boccee. I can’t believe I didn’t snap any photos. It was nestled right on the water and lots of boats were out for a sail. We ate on the patio which had a firepit and bocce court. The pizza was amazing and reminded me of my favorite pizza at Macaroni Grill. It was a great time and something we had always talked about doing but had just never scheduled it. So, that’s the second perk of my lessons…I’ll be forced to leave the city for 9 more days. I’d like to spend afternoons exploring Marin more. I might carpool with another lady some days, so that won’t always be an option, but either way just being at the stables is going to be recharging/therapeutic on its own.