Friday, April 29, 2011

Equus caballus: it's been awhile.

Equus caballus.

When I was a kid, I was all about the Equus caballus.  For the non-nerds out there, it means "domestic horse."  I was the epitome of "horse crazy girl."

When a horse show was on t.v., I'd grab a [p]leather purse, jam the bag part under a bunch of couch cushions, piled high, and run through the course astride my noble tweed and poly-fill steed, ensuring that my hands were positioned just right on my pleather pink reins.  I'd clear every hedge, every oxer.  I'd hold my breath over every water jump until my earth-tone steed ended with a clear round and a jump off (and then I'd wave to the crowd, reins gathered in one hand, raised in my carpet stirrups as I cantered around with my blue ribbon.)

A family friend was an avid rider.  She showed horses.  She rode polocrosse.  She taught lessons.  She's the person that taught me how to ride in the first place (one can only be a horsemaster of pillows for so long.) She would call my mom on the phone and say, "I'm going to feed the horses carrots, does [Jack] want to come?"  Well d'uh.  Of course [Jack] wanted to come! "Feeding carrots" actually meant I would walk into the musty and dusty tack room, don a velvet-covered riding helmet, and gather "Strawberry Shortcake," a plump little red roan Shetland pony, for brief lessons around the ring.  I remembered pointing to a western saddle in the tack room (shoved way back in the corner,) and I asked, "what's that?"  The response was, "we don't ride in those."

First there was "Strawberry Shortcake," lessons snuck here and there between carrot feedings.  Then there were company picnics with the company my dad used to work for.

Same barn.  More horses: Applesauce, Heineken, Idol, and more.  I'd see the horse trailer pull up at Memorial Park, and I would RACE down to the field where I KNEW there'd be pony rides.  By the third year they came, they were already saying, "Hi, [Jack.]"  I look back now, and I realize there was no enthusiasm in their voice.  It was more like, "oh dear Lord.  Here's that gangly horse crazy girl again.  'Greeeeeat.'"

Every year for my birthday, my parents or Nan and Pop would buy me boots: one year they were these fabulous brown leather boots with a zipper down the inside.  They looked like Dress boots.  The next year, I received rust-colored leather and cream-colored leather cowboy boots (that I wore when my Pop took me to trail ride at the same barn.) Black boots with black sparkles would come as would more cowboy boots.  You get the idea.

When I turned nine years old, my big birthday surprise was that our family friend was taking me on a lengthy trail ride.  I was disheartened when it started to rain on my birthday: disheartened to the extent of crying at the window.  I was upset until...."we have all-weather saddles we're using."  Wearing my pink and purple plastic, non-breathing raincoat, we headed to the barn where I was mounted on a HUGE black horse (16 hands) named 'Whinny.'  To me, Whinny looked like a prized Friesian stallion (Google it; it's worth it.)  In reality though, Whinny was probably a draft cross of some sort.  We rode for, what seemed like hours.  I remember cantering for the first time through the trails.  I remember imitating the aforementioned "show" scene by gathering reins in one hand and managing a wave to some other riders as we passed by them.!

When we moved to Georgia, I didn't get any riding time.  I take that back.  I got riding time at a barn, and my chosen horse's name was "Mischief."  Imagine my mother's terrified look when I told her my horse's name (when my mother's ideal horse is defined by her as "one foot in the glue factory and one foot in the grave.")  The look was priceless.  Then I finished, "he's 29."  After a week at the horse camp, I was horseless again.

When I turned thirteen, I had read information about therapeutic riding centers in Horse Illustrated.  Then I found out that our town (30+ minutes away) had one.  When I turned fourteen, my mother took me down to the center to talk to the director, and although I was fourteen, I was allowed to volunteer.  Of course, I couldn't do any volunteering as far as sidewalking, etc.  BUT I did get to bring up the horses and get them ready for classes.  I got to go on trail rides, introduced the instructor to Australian Stock Saddles (someone had donated one, and no one knew what it was.  I was proud of the fact that I knew exactly what it was as a very sexy Aussie careened down the mountainside in "Man from Snowy River" in one!) That was a grand experience until 1) I was introduced to Heat Exhaustion (puking in a towel on the way home while having a body temp over 100 is NOT fun and 2) I was put on an ornery and pissy mare in heat that kept taking off with me and eventually scared me from ever wanting to ride again.

Several years passed, and I rode some horses here and there: mainly some audacious trail rides or around a friend's farm.  I gained back confidence, and I rode some PITA horses whose owners had become fed up with them.

My fiancé and I started taking lessons until we had to stop due to distance, money, and an accident.

So fast forward from my whole heat exhaustion adventure to present day. So here I am: twice the age that I was when my ardent passion was horses.  When you're a kid, horses are these magical four-legged creatures whisking their riders away on rolling countrysides, through the forests, crossing creeks.  When you're an adult, horses are magical four-legged creatures....that are expensive to care for.  Sure they will whisk you away to mysterious lands (such as a back pasture) that long as they don't think a tree will kill them.

My fiancé and I have an opportunity to ride a friend's horses : every Sunday and every other Saturday; a trailer for our use for off-site trail riding, all tack provided for us.  Way down deep I still have that "racing around on pillows" passion for horses, but I've been burned by so many horse people through the year, I'm still trying to bring it forward.

I want that same giddy excitement I used to get (and get myself physically ill!) before heading to "feed carrots."

I want that same hay/manure smell I cherished, and every incident in which I smelled it, I knew there were horses nearby.

But how can I get it again?  When we go meet our new mounts and mount up for our first ride, will it come back again, or will I have to work at it?  I'm much taller now.  I'm much heavier now.  As a kid, I'd ride anything.  Common sense has told me, "I'm not a kid anymore."

Will that same little girl making her friends run circles around her on the end of a length of rope come out to play?

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