September 13, 2009

musing on horseback

this weekend I taught myself to swing onto Cookie's bare back without help of a step. the maneuver is harder than I ever thought, a lesson I learned several months ago after declaring with bravado that it can't be that hard and then leaping pathetically three or four times, making a herculean but futile effort at swinging my lower half onto (somebody else's) horse. the problem is, horses are slippery, tall, and alive. the trick requires that you have enough spring to propel most of your body to horse-back height, and then enough arm strength to get yourself on the rest of the way. more importantly it requires either that someone hold your horse, or, in my case, that your horse is good-natured enough to stand still while you heave yourself on.

we've been riding bareback a lot more this past week or two. it's good practice for a secure seat -- and it's remarkably difficult, even for someone who's been riding for 12 or 13 years. kids are good at riding bareback. do you know that it's our higher consciousness that keeps us from naturally being able to swim? that's why babies can do it. our thinking gets in our way. it's the same with bareback riding, I think. kids are good at it. they take to the constant balance shift naturally, and they aren't afraid of falling off. they aren't constantly obsessing about where their legs are supposed to go. on the other hand, I can never decide if I'm in the right spot on Cookie's back, or if my legs should dangle, or should they grip? I feel bad that my seatbones are digging into her back. I overthink.

when I prod her to trot and I'm riding bareback, she resists. yesterday I kicked and kicked and she did nothing more than raise her head. I think she was telling me, "listen, I know you want me to go, but girl, you are not balanced enough right now and I don't want to pitch you off." I tried to calmly explain that if I slipped off I wouldn't blame her. stubborn mare! she didn't listen; she just kept walking. eventually she did trot, but despite feeling relatively secure I could not convince her to keep up the pace for more than half a lap around the arena. I conceded.

tuesday I'm headed out with a friend on a trail ride. it'll be only our second trail ride together, Cookie and I, and I'm choosing to ride in my english saddle rather than opting for the more secure, but also more alien, western saddle. last time we went out on the trail, I rode western at the barn owner's suggestion, because the saddle is larger and harder to be bucked out of. but I don't ride western and so it felt very uncomfortable. now Cookie and I have been riding together for a year, and I hope I know her well enough to be able to ride through whatever she throws at me. we will see.

in related news, I've found myself at least five times this week caked in dirt and horse hair and having to run an errand. the other night I was at the mall, buying a gift for my mother's birthday. I was wearing a tank top and black shorts. I had been bathing Cookie, and had ridden her bareback. I was COVERED in mud and hair. I threw on the 4-H sweatshirt the barn gave me last year, which was in my back seat. I thought, surely it's better than the soaked, filthy tank top! I gave myself a once-over in the parking lot and thought, not so bad. then I stepped into the fluorescent light of Barnes and Noble and, well, oops. there was no hiding it. it didn't help that the sweatshirt I was using as a mask had itself been used for a ride two days before.

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