After that triumphant first day in the saddle I immediately booked more lessons.
Cram in as many as financially possible- three times weekly seemed doable for a while- and then ride alone when possible to solidify what I learn. Make every day count. At 75 I’m on a very short leash. I may have what -36 riding months? More? Less? Whatever. I’ll be the best rider I can be in the life I have left. Good enough!
When ‘grounded’ I study online and keep in shape.
The older I get, the more important this is.
So, I trot with Bryn on her rounds when it’s safe to do so. (Ice puts us off, but there’s always our treadmill.)
When I reach each day’s stamina goal I do enjoy a rush of exhilaration.
Joe’s recorded some of my riding lessons. Good thing, too. Early Dee-geek behavior included:
- Flapping elbows while cantering, reminiscent of a goony bird trying to take flight
- Leaning too far back or forward at the trot and canter (Drunken Sailor Syndrome)
- Allowing my legs to flap about
- Losing a stirrup while admiring my horse’s ears
- Dropping a rein while adjusting my saddle’s tendency to cant to the right as I rode
The list went on and on. There’s nothing that motivates change quicker than watching oneself look foolish.
My dopey grin didn’t help matters.
Five months later I’m much more confident. My horses agree. Menesson, the Farm’s champion stallion, tested me for four face-reddening months after he’d been so incredibly obliging that first time, but now, acknowledging my growing skill and confidence, he’ll respond immediately to most cues. Laura, another superb teacher there, commented last week that I’ve begun to earn his respect. These days he’ll rarely show annoyance (such as flattened ears, or stopping dead, then refusing to move forward).
I so want to avoid those embarrassing admonishments.
There was another thing I fervently hoped to do-- clean stalls with the crew. Karen, the Farm’s owner, was fine with it after I assured her I knew what to do. (A twelve-year-old girl on YouTube had demonstrated how to clean a stall properly. It ain’t rocket science, for sure, but I’d never been in a stall, let alone clean one. She’d demonstrated the special filter rake to shake viable sawdust through, and how to rake the fresh sawdust stored against the stall’s wall to spread it over the bare, cleaned floor. Simple. Sensible.)
I can’t remember when I’ve been happier to do scut work. For me, it’s an essential part of the whole horse experience. Every day there I learn something brand new.
I wore a good mask, lest all that hay/straw/dust trigger The Monster. My wraparound glasses fogged, though. (Rats. I’d have to fix that, somehow.)
Fun horse gossip kept us laughing as we worked.
One of the staff commented that an experienced cleaner knows which stall belongs to whom, just by noting each resident equine’s toilet habits. For example-
- Some horses poop in one area and keep the rest of their home pretty clean.
- Others are messy, depositing droppings everywhere. They might add some bucket water or urine to a poo pile and mix it up, just for fun.
- One horse sometimes backs up to his emptied food bucket to poop in it- probably because it amuses him. Every day it must be checked, then cleaned if necessary, before fresh fodder is added.
- Another horse pulls a mouthful of hay from his rack, dips it into his water bucket, and then eats it. For him, water enhances the flavor.
- Others might have a favorite comfort toy tucked into a corner- a good-sized rubber ball, for example, or a cloth bear.
- One horse is very interested in the latch on his stable door. The staff, watching him watch them undo it, have since tweaked the mechanism slightly. (An ounce of prevention...)
He still thinks hard about it, though.
Watch ‘horse escape artists’ on YouTube. It’s a hoot.
I love learning this stuff.
It takes 3-4 hours every morning to muck out 30 stalls, sweep the long aisles and refill food and water buckets according to each horse’s nutritional regimen, printed out on each stall’s exterior wall.
The huge manure pile outdoors slowly breaks down, cooking naturally to about 160 degrees f. It’s turned regularly. The resulting rich black compost is sold to eager gardeners every spring after cooking for a full year. (My secret garden contains countless yards of horse compost that I’d worked into the dusty soil 26 years ago. The result? Astonishing flower power.)
One fine afternoon in late September I was driving eagerly to my lesson and had nearly arrived there- when a horrible realization hit me! Busily studying technique and setting a lesson plan goal I’d totally forgotten to take the three medicines! The pill, for example, needed two hours in an empty stomach to be maximally effective...Ah, what an idiot!
What should I do?? If I went back home to take them, I’d miss practically the whole lesson! And the pill wouldn’t kick in anyway. Not that soon.
I pulled over, thought it through, decided.
I rode yesterday. Joe once mentioned that these meds might take a while to dissipate. Maybe they’ll still offer some residual protection 24 hours later. Or not...
Whatever. I’m not going back.
That decision could be construed as stupid and dangerous. But here’s the thing: Danger be damned. Suddenly I was a lifetime’s sick to death of being threatened by this curse.
I’d ride bare and deal with the consequences.
Within 20 riding minutes, the next Miracle manifested.
Nothing dire happened in the arena. Not one thing.
I breathed normally.
No eye and tracheal blisters appeared
There were no coughs, no vision problems, no egg-sized wheals popping up all over my body...
Joe and I were stunned, disbelieving. Scarcely daring to hope, I went back two days later to clean stalls again and ride. The meds stayed home. And, in a truly bold decision, I even chucked the specially ordered mask. (In for a penny...)
Turns out I’ve somehow evolved into ‘normal’---a standard issue human being who can mingle just fine with horses. !!!
After three quarters of a century, this astounding fact illuminates my life.