Back in the Saddle Again

In the midst of all the tumult that has become my life, I found a few minutes of quiet yesterday, sitting astride a horse on a hillside with only the breeze rustling the clover and alfalfa and sound of very distant traffic drifting up from the valley below to disrupt the stillness.

Years ago when I still had my own horses, trail riding was my “thing.” The connection between equine and human, the trust and communication was like nothing else in the world. My old mare, Jenny, carried me into mountains, across rivers, through woods and fields. I tended to get us into predicaments. She always got us out of them. If she were still alive, I would still have horses. Or at least I would still have her. But she died over ten years ago and eventually I got out of the horse business. Physically at least. But the woods still called to me. Hiking never cut it with me. I may enjoy biking, but a bicycle is a poor runner up to a horse.

Recently, I’ve been drawn back into my old world by a neighboring friend with two horses and a husband that isn’t all that interested in riding. We’ve managed to get together once a week or so to take to the trails and back roads.

Admiral is a sorrel gelding. I’m not sure if he’s small or if I’ve been hanging around those leggy Thoroughbreds at the track so much that I expect all horses to be 16 hands tall now. It doesn’t matter. I don’t need a mounting block (or an overturned bucket) to climb onto him.

At first, I thought Admiral wasn’t too bright. He didn’t neck-rein. His whoa needed some work. He didn’t know how to back up. Things like No Trespassing signs scared him. But traffic passing us on the back road didn’t, so I could deal with the rest of his quirks.

Over time, I’ve been working on the neck-reining and the whoa and the backing up. But one thing that drove me nuts was his tendency to grab the shank of the bit with his teeth and refuse to give it back. Our rides were one long game of tug-of-war.

Until yesterday.

My hubby, who is rather handy with leather craft, made me a pair of bit guards for Admiral. Bit guards are like flat doughnuts that fit on either side of the mouthpiece of a bit and keep the horse from grabbing at the shanks (side pieces). We had our inaugural jaunt with the new equipment yesterday. And Admiral did not like them. Not one iota. The flat leather guards kept the bit in place and me in control. Admiral tossed and flung his head in all directions. If I had done that, I would need a chiropractor this morning. When that didn’t help, he threw a little bucking fit. Thankfully, it didn’t amount to much and I was able to ride it out. Eventually, Admiral surrendered. Ten minutes into our ride, he was plodding down the road, head low, on a loose rein.

I was amazed. The rest of the ride was flawless. He even neck-reined with a light touch. And in those minutes when we sat on top of the hill listening to the wind and the birds and the far-off traffic, I found a sense of peace I thought was gone forever. Even my meditation practice doesn’t match it.

And I’ve determined that Admiral isn’t so dumb after all. In fact, I think he’s smart enough to know that if he ACTS dumb, he can get away with being lazy. However, I believe he and I have reached an understanding. Yesterday was a bit of a break-through for both of us.

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