It’s important for me to make this one of my first posts because horses have helped shape more than half of my life. In the words of M, “You know where we were at in our lives based on which barn we were (are) riding at.”
I didn’t know where that first ride was going to lead me.
I didn’t know just a week or two before that I had met one of my best friends. In all reality, I don’t remember a whole lot about this day. Had I known, maybe I wouldn’t have nearly fallen out of my chair in eagerness when the girl sitting next to me the first day of class asked if I’d like to go with her to her riding lesson.
Maybe I wouldn’t have, but if I’m being honest, I was already in deep by that point, and if it wasn’t then, I’m fairly certain it would have happened eventually.
Previous to this rendezvous, I had begun third grade and was now in the big elementary school. It was late August (none of this last week of July shit back in my day) during the first week of classes, and though it was debatable as to whether I was carrying a backpack or it was carrying me, I determinedly made my way to Miss B’s classroom and dropped myself front and center, ready for learning.
It’s a good thing I was ready for some learning, because I needed to make up for my
baby alien endearingly-awkward-stunted looks. There’s a reason a girl, who 1) would later become one of my best friends and 2) wasn’t even in my class, therefore having little to no interaction with me, called me the weird gummyworm lady. I was rocking some serious goggle glasses that made my eyes look teensy due to the intense magnification needed for me find my way in the world (still basically blind as a bat without correction today, woohoo!), and I believe this was about the time that my infamous mullet was beginning to grow it’s ugly tail. While I don’t remember eating gummyworms frequently enough to warrant a nickname, it doesn’t entirely surprise me.
Lo and behold, however, on that first day (or at least during that first week), when another similarly spindly girl sat in the front row (literally against our teachers lecturing desk) next to me. I shyly looked over to say hi, and WHAT. I looked quickly back at whatever my 9 year old self was trying to appear busy with since I didn’t have an iPhone, and then glanced over again. Sure enough, she was wearing a shirt with a gorgeous dappled grey Andalusian on it, roses weaved into the mane and everything. Instead of a hi, I’m pretty sure I greeted this classmate with a “I really love your shirt. Do you like horses?” Derp derp.
Later we exchanged names, and M told me proudly that she was taking REAL RIDING LESSONS (!!!!), and then asked if I’d like to come along some time (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). I think it took a week or two before we got it coordinated, but I know that day I was about to bounce off the walls when M and her endearing mother came and picked me up. Despite the fact that it was overcast, us girls were giggling balls of sunshine in the backseat, and I was about on my knees trying to press my face against the window as we drove slowly up the drive towards the stable. Pastures lined either side and I couldn’t take in the variety of horse shapes, colors, and sizes fast enough. The barn itself seemed limitless; after my eyes adjusted the first thing I saw was the monstrous indoor which served as the center hub of the stable. On the side we entered was a row of stalls running the length of the barn, with a few on the other side of the arena along with an entrance to their tack shop, and yet another full length row which shared a back wall with the aisle we were currently walking. Though the structure was beginning to show it’s age slightly, having been constructed in the 70s hay-day, it was still clean and well taken care of with perky faces showing over the half-doors. We continued about halfway down and found M’s instructor, who she introduced to me as K, and who allowed me to help groom M’s trusty mount, Studly. Studly was your stereotypical lesson pony. Fat, grey coat faded to fleabitten white with age, and solid as a brick house. When the time came to tack Studly up, M disappeared into the tack room with K to get Studly’s things. I followed to the threshold and stood in amazement at the rows of saddles lining the walls, bits and bridles of every type hanging on countless hooks. There were groomboxes and saddle pads, girths and lungelines, boots, whips, extra stirrups, ointments and sprays that seemed to go on forever. With so much leather in one place, you couldn’t help wanting to smell it; maybe in reality it was a dusty 12′ x 12′ cluttered little room, but I remember it as a vast playground of well-oiled equipment organized just so.
When tacked up, our little train made it’s way to the outdoor arena. I sat up on the fence bench and watched in rapture as M walked and trotted around the arena, was able to turn Studly across the arena and change direction, make him halt and back up. I couldn’t get enough of it.
The real treat came at the end of the lesson however, when, as M was walking by us, instructor K asked me if I wanted to ride. Did I want to ride, ha ha. I quietly squealed with delight as someone handed me a helmet (adding this in because I hope I had a helmet, entirely probable I didn’t, and I actually don’t know if my mom had to sign a waiver for me either, but anyways), and then just had me slide from the fence over onto Studly’s back behind M. I held onto her while she explained that we were cooling Studly out after his “hard work” (combined, I don’t the two of us weighed 100 pounds), and for 5 blissful minutes I was riding. The air was crisp with oncoming fall as we trudged around, Studly dutifully carrying his babbling cargo with all the calmness, occasional stubbornness, and wisdom of an old-school lesson pony. I was taller than ever, on a real live horse, able to pet his fuzzy, speckled white hairs and feel the one-two-three-four of his hooves softly crunching the stone dust arena. Daydreams of galloping around in the expansive field immediately outside of the outdoor arena were dancing in my head. I don’t think I had ever been happier in my short life.
All too soon Studly was sufficiently cooled out, and we made our way back to the barn. I gushed that I would soon be signing up for lessons, and likely asked a million and one questions before we got back to the car, where M and I continued our serious evaluation of M’s lesson. I did get signed up for lessons later that fall, and I haven’t stopped talking about these damn creatures since.