During this rather drab, up-and-down temperature, little but snow-dust winter, I’m grateful I have a horse and dogs to get me outside. If I didn’t, I think I’d hibernate like so many people.
I complain and resist as I pile on the layers – long underwear, wool socks, turtleneck, sweater, felt-lined-nylon-wind-blocking-$80 (on sale) riding pants, knit hat with the long tassel that bebops in circular rhythm to my movements, down jacket that has taken on a permanent horsy smell, 3M miracle-material lined gloves, and insulated paddock boots that are so old the leather is peeling and cracking. There are variations of this attire for cross country skiing, dog walking, and chicken tending, but you will know a Minnesotan by her clothes, by her clothes, yes you will know a Minnesotan by her clothes. (There’s a song kinda like that, in case you were wondering.)
Last Sunday, once I was properly attired, I walked with effort to my Mini and folded myself into the seat, preparing to drive twenty-seven miles to the barn where Luke resides. According to my Mini, it was 14 degrees F out, warm compared to some of the temperatures we’ve been having but not all that inspiring. Did I mention how grateful I am to whoever invented heated seats? They not only warm your ass but feel awfully good on a sore, tight back and neck.
As I drove, I pondered whether I’d ride or simply pay my board for February, groom Luke, feed him a sweet feed and molasses horse muffin, and head back home, where Herbivore homework awaited me. I really didn’t feel like riding. I don’t think I would have even been driving to the barn if it wasn’t that my board payment was due.
I pulled up to the barn and walked inside. As soon as I pushed the tightly sealed door open with a scrooshing scrape, I heard someone call out “Hello?” -- probably more to forewarn her horse that someone would be rounding the corner than as an actual greeting.
She was glad to have someone else arrive at the barn. The fun of arena riding in the winter truly comes when the sun shines brightly, heating up the metal arena roof, causing sheets of snow and ice to slide off with a glorious whoooooosh sound followed by a big kaboom, when the sheet explodes onto the ground.
The other boarder's horse had done a 180 on such an occasion, sending her crashing to the ground a couple weeks ago, leaving her with a sore hip. Keeping her company was the push I needed to ride against my resistance.
As always, the familiar pattern of preparing to ride – the brush strokes, tail and mane combing, hoof picking, and gentle face wipe to remove hay debris, are a form of meditation. Then comes the saddle pad, saddle, girth tightening, and bridling. All familiar. All with a well-worn rhythm that precedes the next dance.
The stretching cadence of the walk. The popcorn popping motion of the posting trot. Twenty meter circles, serpentines, figure eights, a bit of a sideways dance as Luke yields to a touch on his side. A fluid downshift to stop as I drop my heels and seatbones. Our aerobic surges are broken up with long-swingy walks, turns on the forehand and haunches, and backup pattern we’ve been working on – three steps back, move haunches over, three steps back, repeat, until we’ve created a box, one direction and then the other, a bit of a butt and collection work out. Tough work for my tubby boy, but he does it better each time, and it makes for a better canter departure when we move into that gait next.
When we’re done, the routine continues in reverse – remove the tack, groom, treat, put the winter blanket back on. And of course photos to keep the memory of how I feel, how grateful I am, every time I push myself to spend time outside with my horse.
Why is it sometimes that we find it so hard to do the very thing that makes us feel whole?