Friday, April 15, 2011

A Mother on Horseback

When I recently grounded my daughter for failing to adequately prepare for tests, I banned her from riding lessons. Her instructor said the perfect revenge for a kid that takes this activity for granted is to have her mother partake of it in the child's place.

So this week, I swung my legs gently over the back of a twenty-four year old quarter horse named Daddy. He was sensitive, highly responsive, powerful, beautiful--and by the end of the lesson, I could now announce I was seeing a younger man who happens to have four legs (I'd say five, but he is a gelding and that fifth leg isn't packing a punch).

I worked with that lovely beast, and the world did not exist in those moments. I did not feel the wind nor the cold, nor hear the birds or passing cars. Instead, I listened to what cannot otherwise be heard--I listened with calves and thighs to the relax of his breath in the swell of horse belly, the feel of rythmic gait countering my own balance. I listened to the flickering of his ears, the posture of his head, the angle of my thumbs against reins. I listened to my body for the invisible line that ran from ears to heels, and for the widening circle the horse drew as my interior leg pressed firmly and slowly against his ribs. I heard the horse react silently to my trainer's voice then rotate his decision-making to my own. And I heard him as he gave my body lift on the crescendo stroke of a trot.

In the barn, post-lesson, I gently removed tack from the back of my new friend and whispered to him that I was so thankful he had been kind to a woman who was pushing her prime. My hands eased him from one side of the stall to the other as I flecked pollen and sweat from his hide. He waited, turned his head, and spoke of the morning to me. Grateful for attention and a sweet carrot, he loitered before lowering his head into a waiting fly mask.

I left the dark barn, breaking into the bright coolness of spring. Horses calling softly in distant pastures, I knew--I want to do this forever.

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