I was three or four years old when I first met a horse. My mother and I were living out West and because she took me almost everywhere with her, I got to go riding at an early age. I won’t claim to have a vivid memory of this, but I feel like I remember it. I have some other very clear memories of that time in my life, clearest being the floor plan of our house in the cul-de-sac. I remember going to the hospital emergency room when I punctured my ear drum, swallowing a quarter, digging for worms, twirling a baton (or trying to), playing with a lamb (a real live one), eating a dog’s Milk Bone, and riding in a jeep. And I remember the picture on the wall over my bed. But my memory of riding a horse is hazy, just a feeling, perhaps from photos I’ve seen long ago, perhaps not. Still, it must have been a good experience because seven or eight years later I became a pretty good rider, albeit back on the East Coast and in an English saddle. The photo at left is yours truly at summer camp, age 11.
I was fairly fearless as a young horsewoman, not afraid to ride bareback (emergency dismount was easy), and eager to participate in the local shows at which I won an occasional ribbon. I also remember a horse we named Camel because he liked to lie down and roll in the sand dunes at the end of one of the trails. I recall a few spills but I always got right back on the horse who threw me. Now, more than a few decades later, I have a fear of falling, a sensation that I do not recall feeling back then. But I still love to ride.
It’s been more than ten years since I have ridden. The last time was in Oregon, on vacation with my girlfriend, Alice. We had flown to Portland, rented a car and driven many hours down along the Columbia Gorge. Our plan was to slowly wend our way back toward Portland, stopping to spend a day in each town along the way. One day Alice said she wanted to go riding and she found a place listed in the telephone book. We called and booked a half-day trail excursion for the next afternoon. It was absolutely beautiful, but oh boy, we paid for it, and I don’t mean in cash. The following day we could do little more than sit by the pool at the Motel 6; any and all movement was painful. But it was worth it!
So here I am, at it again; the picture on the right is from yesterday. I’ve been going once a week and this is my third time. The first time the trainer put me on Contessa. She’s an older horse, stubborn but not wicked like some of the 3 year olds. We stayed in the arena that day and Contessa ran the show; I was just happy to stay seated. Last week, a friend went out with us and they convinced me that I could handle Flicka. I was doing fine in the arena, but then my friend talked me into going out on the trail. Wow. Or more appropriately, Whoa. First of all, to get from the stable to the arena you have to ride down the street with an occasional car passing by. The horses seem used to the cars, but lawnmowers spook them. The arena is in a large park, but to get to the trail you have the leave the park and ride down Lincoln Avenue, a fairly major street. At times, we rode on the sidewalk. The only thing missing were the hitching posts. Given the price of gas right now, perhaps not a bad idea. It was an exhilarating trip, even if half of the exhilaration was just plain terror. I acquitted myself well, and had some measure of control over Flicka, though I suspect only as much as she allowed me. This time it was back to Contessa and I stayed in the arena. We battled a bit, but I felt more in control. I went out in flat shoes because last week my ankle gave out and it may have been due to the heels on the boots I was wearing (I haven’t worn shoes with heels in more than six years). This felt a little better, so perhaps I’ll treat myself to some boots without heels. We’ll see. Gotta keep those heels down.