Saturday, September 28, 2013

At My Own Pace

It was a little over a year ago that I was sitting in Patty's front lawn on Merlin's back, on our first-ever western trail ride. Up until this point I stuck to what I knew, which was riding in English style with English tack on and English horse. I had a year of lessons with Riding Right Farm, and three months on Merlin in their arena. I knew this horse as a walk, trot, and canter animal. I knew subtle things about him. I knew how to get him to go from a trot to a walk to a full stop using only my plentiful ass cheeks. I knew English riding and was cocky enough to think I could understand Western. I mean, wasn't Western riding easier? Less finesse? Less effort? I would be a sack of potatoes on a horse right? Just along for the ride in a couch called a western saddle that required no effort on my part. That's what I thought.

I was an ass.

My first time in a western saddle and I nearly broke down and cried. The saddle was mine, bought at a flea market for a hundred bucks. The tears were mine too, and they weren't the happy kind. I cried because I was scared. For years I had sat on horses in English saddles, scant pieces of leather where you connected with the horse through leg, touch and balance. But this western thing was foreign and clunky and I felt like someone had duct-taped me to a chair on Merlin's back and I had no idea how to control him. My legs were gone. I was scared because he was crow hopping and fussing and I didn't know how to stop him. Patty let me get off, and then made me get back on. I hated her for it at the time but now I envy her ability to not laugh at me. I was falling apart because I had no idea what to do. Ignorance made me immobile.

That day we did not trail ride. We didn't even leave her yard. In the end Patty sat me on my horse and lead me around like a kid at the county fair on a lead rope, showing me that a western saddle was just another seat and to get used to it. Then when I realized this, we discounted and jumped into the hot tub with a glass of wine. Go at your own pace, I say.

Flash forward a little over a year later and I am in the woods, on the back of Merlin and sitting proudly in a western saddle. Merlin was at a fast trot, his lazy run, and about to do that thing where his muscles bunch and his rump lifts and I know he is about to run. A pair of Quarter Horses ahead of us are already on the top of a steep rise in the forest, and he wants to join them. So I let him. I accept his offer of speed and give him enough heel that he takes off like a rocket. We have been out here for over three miles and he is still more than happy to spring when I ask or a horse gets out of his sight. I think of that girl crying in Patty's front lawn and smile. We do go at our own paceā€¦

I have come a long way since tears and confusion. That old used Western saddle is now what I use several times a week to ride Merlin around my mountain. It is what I always use. It took a while. It took lessons with my instructor/farrier Dave. It took experience and miles with Patty and Steele. Mostly it took just going outside and tacking up. And now, today, I spent it with other riders in a wild forest, out on a trail ride for hours and miles. It felt wonderful.

The ride with the Cambridge Saddle Club was a nice, long one. At least for me. Over two hours in the saddle, well over five miles. We walked, trotted, and cantered all around a sanctuary owned by an Episcopal Convent of nuns and their church. 600+ acres! The 14 horses that showed up only sported two drafts (Patty and I) but our mounts kept up and at the end of the day Merlin was still ready to canter. He has a lot more verve and power that his short, stout stature shows those who would overlook him as a mere backyard pony. He's powerful, fast, and can run up a hillside just as quick and any quarter-anything. I was so proud of him, and amazed at my own progress. What had terrified me to tears four seasons ago I now had by the horns, or reins, I guess. I spent the day not as these Club member's equal but as a community member. Another one of the horse tribe who rode and laughed alongside them. I doubt my skill matched that of the seven year old on a paint pony in the group, but I didn't care. I was out on a beautiful fall day with my own horse. I was riding up mountains and alongside strangers, making small talk and friends. It was wonderful as it felt.

When we got off our horses and enjoyed a cookout of burgers and dogs, I listened to other riders stories and experiences. It was neat to hear and I was touched at the amount of older riders around me. I was one of the youngest people there (Save for the seven year old), and watching people in their fifties, sixties, seventies and possibly higher out for a five mile mountain ride made me feel like I had another thirty years of this in me as well.

When Patty and I finally got back to her farm it was once again time for her hot tub and congratulations. Five miles in the saddle made for some sore thighs and I was thrilled to soak with a cold beer in my hand under the Indian Summer sunlight. Tomorrow we have plans to drive the horses with the Draft Club but tonight was all about saddles, sore asses, and triumph. A girl deserves a drink when she can go from tears to trails in a year.

I'm happy as can be. I went at my own pace.