Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Finding Home

Having left my summer home, I haven't yet found my way into my winter home. I've moved back, yes, and everyone else has settled, but it's as if I'm on the outside looking in. I don't know where my head is, but it's neither here nor there. I have nothing sensible to say about me or my life right now, but I do have a story it's time to tell. 

This story is about Scout, the little red mare who gave rise to my journal. It's called Finding Home.

Part I

This is what she was the day I got her, a seven-year-old scrub mare with a name so unlike her, I won't even say it. Sound, strong, unattended, she was an island unto herself. Pretty, curious and unkempt. A jouster who'd quit her job. She drew me in, brought me back to horses after 25 years away. I had all of her to love.

I cleaned her up and built her up. Lots of hands on, hours and hours. It was easy for me, not so easy for her. She was used to indifference. It took her a while to develop a taste for attention, but she did, she did. Along the way, she re-learned ground manners and played at trusting me. I was deeply invested in winning her affection. I didn't ride her very much, just dawdles here and there around the indoor.

A couple of years in, I began to see she was too much for me. A little too hot, a little too fast, with real rawness around the edges from erratic training and a rough-road career that I didn't have the experience or skill to handle. I could do some reshaping, and I did, but not where it was really important. She challenged my confidence and fired up my doubt and soon those things ran away with me. We needed help.

I went through one trainer before finding another who worked with us for a while. The trainer rode, then I rode, but I couldn't ever convince myself that Scout and I were the right team. My anxiety ramped her up, and we quickly found our way into a dance of mutual tension-building during most rides. I loved her more on the ground than I did on her back, felt more able there, more present and equal. Five years after I got her, I put her up for sale, doubtful but resigned.

I abruptly pulled my ads less than month later, when she was kicked at a barn I'd moved her to where she might be seen by prospective buyers. She underwent surgery to remove a shattered splint bone. Her fierce strength through the operation and subsequent nine weeks of stall confinement made me know I could never leave her in the hands of someone else. I was lovestuck.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Liner Notes Inside (Me)

I have been away from lessons for two weeks for moving back to the city and it will be a few more weeks before I resume them, but they have left an expected echo that could sustain me until I can get back.

Lesson Notes
After my sixth lesson, I realized I hadn't ridden Saxony since beginning the lessons. To be fair, she'd been recovering from an ulcer in her left eye, but that had healed by mid-October. It occurred to me that I was putting off taking her out because I felt so changed as a rider. What an odd thought, coming unbidden into my mind just when I felt exhilarated to be standing at a new verge as a rider.

Typical disarmament, I thought to myself. The old check-rein of nerves insinuating its way into a galvanized me. I thought, You can't ride her like you ride that schoolmaster. There, the conditions are artificial and rigged for success, aren't they? Don't test it by riding in the real world.

But the Saturday after Lesson 6 was beautiful and I just had to know, so I went to the barn. The first thing I did when I tacked Saxony was remove the knee blocks from my dressage saddle. The saddle I've been using during the lessons rides like a close-contact saddle and I love how my leg and seat respond to it. Liner note: Where practical, minimize the middleman between horse and rider as much as possible.

At the mounting block, she stood motionless. I've worked on training her not to walk off, but it hasn't quite reached Golden Rule status in her mind. But she stood like a statue there because that's what the schoolmaster does, so I wasn't expecting anything else. Liner note: Where possible, believe in and expect the desired outcome.

After walking a few strides, I dismounted and lowered my stirrups two holes. Oh, they'd felt awkwardly short to my newly-lengthened leg. Statue-like again, Saxony waited for me to remount. We walked the fence line of the ring. The stirrups were still too short. I had to question whether it mattered that much, but I dismounted and lowered them another hole. That's when I knew my laziness wouldn't trump my desire to learn, to better myself in my relationship with my mare. Liner note: Best to go to school when you're ready and willing to let yourself learn.

Riding her offered a kind of multi-tiered revelation. My long leg let me feel her in ways I hadn't so far - hadn't felt her or any other horse, for that matter. I felt how unbalanced she is, how right-handed she goes, her bracing when moving to the left. I put her on a straight line right through the middle of the ring and she rippled her way across, warping each stride just a hair under me. I was aware of that happening. I felt my mare and she felt me. This is what my lessons have given me.  Liner note: Lots of good forward walking will do wonders for both of us.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Archaeologist in the Interval

I'm one of the people who returned to horses after a long time away. It wasn't even a One day I'll have my life in hand, be steady and settled, and then I'll get another horse kind of thing. Life just carried me off and, one by one, the four horses I owned in my twenties fell away. Then, I always missed them. I missed it, that indescribable thing of having a horse in my life, right there in my life. It was an absence I experienced as an ache, a mostly silent but real longing that would pull me into myself. Sometimes I forgot the cause; often I didn't even think of the cause. I could call it melancholy, call it phases of life. And those things could be true, but I missed horses.

You know, you turn quickly at the sound of hoof beats, glance and then glance again at riders on the road, hunch toward the screen whenever horses move through the frame. That kind of absence. They were something my being recognized, auto-alerted to, before my mind got involved. Like a kind of training just in case, keeping me adding a teaspoon of fuel to the tank, storing up a bit in anticipation of that one-day drive. There were horses at the festival and familiar pastured horses I could look for during my daily commute. Like many who've put horses aside but can't forget the life, I even watched the few annual televised horse races, until the death of Eight Belles ended that for me.

No more Derbys for me after her.

Somewhere in the past year, though, I've come to realize that I never really did put horses away during that long interval. Not really. I collected things emblematic of them all the while. A framed print, an old lithograph, a statue, a notebook horse-themed in broken Korean English. Once I bought a brand-new double bridle for who knows why, and later a fine leather halter and lead. I had a ridiculous, trendy pair of haute couture "jodphurs" from Gianni Versace that I never had the nerve to wear, but that's not why I bought them in the first place. An ashtray, a horseshoe, a worn riding crop; artifacts piled up, findings, evidence of the thing that I missed. It's like I was an archaeologist, discovering horses over and over again through the years.

Some of my indeliberate excavations unearthed items that speak, I think, to and of the evolution of the horse/human interaction, a subject of enduring fascination to me and one I will revisit in this journal.