By Karen McPeak
1. Of course it isn’t a phase.
Whether riding is a phase is a topic that pops up on social media every so often, but don’t kid yourself. The target audience isn’t middle-aged amateur hobbyist folk. And by ‘middle-aged’ I mean arthritis relief Tylenol takers. Those of us who took a long break from horses, or maybe never had the chance to be “all-in” but now have time to be horse-crazy. Because I’m telling you, when you climb on your very own horse for the first time in years, it’s like a scene from a movie. In your mind you’re 10, or maybe 16 at the most. This flexible, lithe being with natural hair color. That’s until someone takes a photo of you and you think, “For the love of Pete, go buy some shapewear already.” That self-recrimination won’t last. You aren’t 10 or 16, or even 30. At this age, no one asks if you’re going to get over it. They just roll their eyes behind your back.
- There will be pain. Eh, maybe, maybe not.
Maybe you have an untrustworthy right knee. Dismounting to the ground is dicey. Try to ease down and land softly on your left leg but you rub the insides of your arms on the edges of the saddle on the way down. Voila, bruises that generate funny looks from the grocery store clerks when you go sleeveless. You bend over to wash your horse’s legs, then ratchet in degrees back up to vertical. You make a mental note to call the orthopedist. Then there are days when nothing hurts. Why? It makes no sense.
- Why can’t I remember this stuff?
The first few times you tack up, or try to wrap your horse’s legs, or any other too-many-steps tasks, including riding, there could be a wee bit of frustration as you probe your memory for instructions. You know these things! You wake up at 2 a.m. and lie awake for hours remembering everything you ever knew about horsemanship. In no time you’re assembling bridles with the speed of a CIA field agent, recalling old-tyme first aid tricks, and reciting the cues for lateral work. Boom. Except leg-wrapping. Order boots with velcro. Like shoes for the very elderly.
- Is that all cotton?
All of a sudden you’re an earth mother. You fed your kids fish sticks and french fries all those years ago; now there’s no way you’ll let artificial products near your horse. All cotton saddle pads, and be sure to scrutinize the fill. Wish affordable pads and blankets were easily found in organic vegetable-dyed fabrics, or not dyed at all. Natural fly repellent made of essential oils. Boar bristle brush for her tail, a baby brush for her face. Ancient cloth diapers for that final polish of her coat. Scour the ingredient list on the hoof dressing then decide to make your own, buying pure lanolin and mineral oil at the health food store right next to the tack shop you visit at least twice weekly, explaining to the clerk it’s for your horse. Do NOT add up the cost. Just don’t.
- To show or not to show?
Knock yourself out. I used to show. I thought about showing Rosa recently, for about 30 seconds. Supporting friends at a local dressage schooling show cured that. It was 95 degrees that day. I forgot to bring a chair and my knee ached. I watched a few horses and ponies act up, their riders sweating in show attire while I was stress-free in shorts and sandals, knowing I could leave at any time. Rosa was back at the barn, blissfully eating hay in her familiar environment. I imagined entering at A, halting at X and remaining halted at X because Rosa turns to stone until she memorizes every detail of her surroundings, or if she thinks I’ve lost my mind and she needs to be the voice of reason. We would have been eliminated and we’d still be standing at X. So, y’all go right ahead. I’m going to stick to the sidelines with my camera.
There are days I ride, aiming to progress to levels I know are within reach. But honestly, there are as many or maybe more days where I just want to stroll with Rosa, or brush her while she naps, or just watch her be a horse because it’s impossible to think of her as a racehorse. Neither she nor I have a killer instinct these days. A friend of mine enjoys sitting in the pasture reading while her horse grazes nearby. Sounds perfect. I’m going to park myself near Rosa with my dressage books. There are tests to memorize. Just in case.