Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Fever Bends the Mirror

Did I See It or Just Dream It?
Only once, a long time ago, did I ever get seriously sick. It lasted a week or so. I've never been hospitalized, but I probably should have been then. I didn't know what sickness I had, but I was  tempted to imagine it was some rare, exotic malady, Dengue fever or the like. It felt especially foreign and intriguing because it threw me into a sustained, fitful delirium, where I stayed for days. I remember thinking a lot during that illness, or thinking I was thinking, anyway. One thing I seemed to obsess over was that Hitler had been to the United States. Friends who came to visit me still remember my asking them When did Hitler come to the U.S.? That's what I asked: when, not if. I was convinced that he had been here and that I had missed the precise details in all my reading about the two world wars. I still recall the certainty of those feverish Hitler thoughts; it's as if the baking happening to my brain seared them into brands. (It did: When I was better, I still had to go check the Hitler business with H.G., who wasn't my lifetime mate yet, only someone I was selfishly flirting with.)

Here, now, I've been thinking of one particular incident with Scout during the past few days. The recollection weaves through sleep and wakefulness, pushes into the foreground, then recedes into the background. What is it about it that caused it to flower in the over-rich Petri dish that is me in a flu-state? I don't know.

Back in early 2008, I kept Scout at an expensive semi-private barn for a while. I put her there because my trainer's new horse was there and the indoor arena was huge. I was willing to scrape together the board in pursuit of the answer to the question about whether Scout and I would ever be able to partner. This barn wasn't elitist or smug, but there were a few expensive horses there, no matter that some of them seemed rarely to be ridden or even visited by their owners. It all motivated me to ride through the winter months, and I was in a regular lesson schedule with my trainer, as was Scout, who even played a role as a walk-trot school horse once a week.

I have to define "lesson" in this context. E always worked with me on my riding, but she also worked with me on how to ride Scout, in particular, and additionally worked with me on how to train Scout as I rode her. A three-layer sandwich slathered in patience. A four-layer sandwich, actually. E had to manage my fear, as well.

During a lesson one cold morning in March, Scout began to crow hop as we rode on a 20-ish meter ovally circle to the left. All the other horses were outside and she was ticked off. The crow hopping terrified me. I could hear E calling instructions, but her voice was drowned out by the rush of fear in my head. I quickly fell off. E was never judgmental about things like that. Calmly, efficiently, she checked on me, reminded me to breathe, and then went to fetch Scout.

I knew I would have to get back on, and I did. As I settled into the saddle and gathered the reins, E stood at Scout's head and repeated the instructions I had been unable to follow. She told me Scout would do the same thing, only this time I could be ready for it. Meanwhile, the tears were building up; my emotions had really seized. I could only nod. We walked on. We made it almost all the way through a wobbly, misshapen circle before Scout blew, and then she did. I was crying. Like a robot, mechanically, I followed E's instructions, and they worked. Scout crow hopped and I stayed on. I pushed her forward, I made her work. All of it worked. But none of it worked. I nodded, crying, while E pointed out everything I had done to bring Scout back to me. I got it, I understood, but I didn't care. My fear was just oozing out of me, it was what was defining the moment. And this was nothing like the fall that had led me to consider divorcing Scout in the first place.

That was Tuesday morning. Thursday night I went back to the barn. The fall had jarred me and I was sore. I did something I hadn't planned at all. I took Scout out of her stall, groomed her painstakingly as I like to, clipped my double-ended lead rope to her halter and led her to the arena. It was well lighted; it looked beautiful that night. From the mounting block, I slipped onto her bare, fuzzy back. There were people around, and a couple of them must have known about my fall. The barn owner did, I'm sure. She was a kind person. E finished brushing down her big mare, and then she and the barn owner stood leaning in the doorway. They weren't watching me, but they were being near, and I understood that. I lifted my knees and rested them against Scout's withers and then hunched low over her neck, stretching my sore back. Gently, she shifted underneath me, so soft, so easy. "I needed to sit on my pony," I said. I was really comfortable, familiar with me in my jeans, sweatshirt and scarf, wearing battery-powered hot socks, and familiar with Scout warm underneath me, comfortable to feel me, carry me, ready to dawdle on forever. Scout mindful that all the other horses were inside.


Anonymous said...

You write very well about these difficult and important moments with horses. Thank you.

Beth said...

Oh I can feel exactly how you felt from your writing.

I have been gone for so long and need to catch up. Looks like you have a new hopeful!

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

Beautiful :)

June said...

What you write is so interesting.

I think fear plays a huge part in the riding experience for some people. When I was young, I felt there were people who had no fear, and that they were at a great advantage over me. I still had fear when I took up riding again in middle age - we acquired an appaloosa mare, who despite her age was still rather feisty. Every time I was ready to mount, I felt that old fear. I really think it was she who told me to get over it. One time we were out on the trail and a tractor came by. I got all ok-I-can-handle-this-let's-stand-to-one-side-and-stay-in-control. I could literally feel the horse under me saying, "Oh for crying out loud, do you really think I'm such a baby as to mind a stupid old tractor?"

But I really think the main thing in overcoming fear is not setting up an adversarial relationship with the horse.

Muddy K said...

June ~ Scout and I were always balanced in the waiting game - who will tell who it's okay first. My friend K tells Scout it's okay whenever she rides her; she's just got that gift. I think Saxony is more like that Appy mare, and I hope she says all kinds of stuff like that to me as we get to know each other this year.