I always loved horses, for as long as I can remember, which stretches way back to about 2 years old. As a young child, I always broke my Mom’s number one rule about asking and begging, and pestered my parents to ride whenever I saw a horse. Even before I received my first pair of glasses at two and a half years old, I still knew the silhouette of a horse!
One ride I recall, I sat astride a big black and white Paint, and wept loud protests when my father tried to pull me from his back. My parents and Aunts often hid my eyes if they saw horses in the street while driving so I’d not go crazy wanting to ride. Despite my horrible eyesight, they did not succeed most days this occurred. I cared not that I risked my parents’ wrath with abominable behavior in those early years.
During the summer of 1965, just outside Kansas City, MO, at eight years old, I fidgeted with excitement as we drove onto the stable property belonging to a friend of my father’s good friend, Mr. Cooper, who we visited that summer after they moved to MO earlier that year. His daughter, a year my junior and a close friend, pointed at all the horses in the fields, and eager anticipation filled both of us. We stopped, and I tumbled from the car, thrilled to be in the presence of horses. By then, I learned not to pester and beg, and felt this the reward of a lifetime.
I petted a gentle palomino mare named Candy, while the adults readied for the promised riding. My father lifted me up onto the back of a big black horse for the big trail ride. Fear flashed through me, as it seemed so high above the ground, but as we moved out, the fear faded as the tall horse followed his stablemates. The sun shone from a bright blue sky studded with white fair weather clouds, and a gentle breeze blew in my face. Joy filled my entire being. Suddenly I noticed Blackie, my mount, lay back his ears and shake his head. My father’s friend, Mr. Cooper, reached out and smacked Blackie’s nose, shouting at him to behave. Blackie shook his head again, and I looked at Mr. Cooper’s horse admiring the grey dapples and black points.
As we turned into a wide open meadow, Blackie suddenly laid his ears back and reared. In shock, I clung to the saddle pommel like a monkey, as he bucked and reared, trying to toss me from his back. My glasses flew out into the tall grass. Mr. Cooper galloped his horse alongside and caught Blackie by the bridle, and controlled the big horse. He placed me in the saddle of his gentle dapple grey mount, while my father retrieved my glasses. I cried, but rode on, watching with envy as Mr Cooper’s son urged his horse to a gallop. Ahead, my friend rode her horse confidently, and as my horse walked quietly, my fear ebbed and faded, even when my mount paused for a potty break to pee! The ride went on without further incident.
I never seated a horse again, however, despite my experience with Blackie, no fear held me back or lingered from that last ride. I always wanted to ride again, but opportunities never presented themselves, except for once in 1979. The son of my hubby-to-be’s mother’s friend owned horses, and just bought a big bay named Apollo. One afternoon they asked if I’d like to ride him. Of course I said “Sure!”
I thought at that moment, I’d ride, but nobody took me out to the horse, and never offered ever again. I waited, at each visit, for the offer to repeat, giving me permission to ride, yet nobody ever spoke of again, and my disappointment ran deep. Later I found out they waited for ME to ask them, and since I never did, they thought I had no wish to ride Apollo! At 22 years old, it never occurred to me to boldly ask about their previous offer, since my childhood training that forbade begging or asking for things bloomed into ridiculous silence. My early childhood habit of throwing a tantrum when I saw a horse riding opportunity deserted me long ago, so that chance slipped into the past as the years rolled by.
I gave up hopes of ever riding again. We moved into our home in 1986, and I discovered the wonderful world of model horses. It fueled that desire to ride, sparking dreams at night that ended in frustration, as horses vanished before my eyes, or upon mounting, shrunk to the size of a child’s rocking horse or smaller. The thought of actually opening the phonebook to search for a place to ride never entered my mind. Pretty silly, but the models kept me happy, until one of those dreams cropped up, leaving something empty inside my very soul.
My 50th birthday came and went, and that summer, an electronic conversation between me and my good friend, BJ, convinced me to look for a place to ride. Illness and injury forestalled my plans after a few inquiries, but in the summer 2008, 43 years past that last ride, I located Lee’s Riding Stable in Litchfield, a mere 20 minutes up the highway. All along, this place lay within my grasp, hiding in the rolling hills of Connecticut. I reached for this opportunity, resolving not to let this one slide away. I called, and made the appointment to hit the trail Wednesday morning, August 21st, 2008. The previous night, I barely slept as excitement kept my brain awake, but that morning I woke, alert and eager. My sister agreed to go with me and she drove up from Long Island that morning. We ate a hearty breakfast and headed up to the stable, arriving just in time for the 10:00 am ride.
We walked in to pay, and receive our helmets, and we both noticed the big pinto part Belgian(?) in the first stall. The name plate said “George”. Both of us talked to George, but the big guy never raised his head from his feed bucket. We walked out into the yard, to await our mounts. Like that long ago day 43 years ago, the sun shone out of a deep blue sky, yet this day no clouds floated on the wind. After my sister sat astride a handsome bay Quarterhorse named Nicky, they brought my mount out of the stable. To my surprise, big George walked out, his sorrel pinto coat shining. I thought to myself, what a big horse! In my awe, I barely heard the Guide warning that George likes to eat! I soon found out what that meant!
I mounted the big Draft partbred, and fear flashed through me as I sat my 51 year old body in the saddle. My aging muscles strove to remember what my eight year old muscles once knew so well. The saddle and pommel looked far smaller than memory showed me, but I still sat high off the ground. We moved off, and I wondered if my body might betray me with pains, or anxiety, and ruin my great anticipations. As we walked along the edge of the road, my body accustomed itself to the pitch and roll of George’s gait. We crossed the main road, and down onto the trail into the nearby Topsmead Park. My body struggled still to recall ancient muscle memory, and George took advantage of my greenhorn status by dropping his head in the first patch of Forget-me-nots! I pulled back on the reins, and turned his head toward the trail. He lurched out of the flower patch, and a huge tree branch clocked me in the head, nearly taking my glasses off my face. Some de-ja-vu there, but a strap around my head kept the glasses on my face. George returned to the trail, happy with his pilfered mouthful of Forget-me-nots, and I learned to watch his attempts to stop and snack.
Up the trail the lead horse balked, obviously scenting something she did not like at all. She refused to move ahead, and the second guide rode up and her horse balked as well! I suspect possible black bear scent, as they were sighted right here in Watertown that week. Finally the guide convinced her horse to move on, and we rode the wide trail between two pastures. George proved a good mount when he put his mind to it, and even circled a conifer bough that hung low enough to strike me. I patted and praised him. I thoroughly enjoyed the interaction necessary to keep George’s mind off trying to feed, which he attempted several times. He tested me often, teaching me things I long forgot. By time we returned to the stable, I sat the saddle with better balance and more confidence, sorry the ride came an end so quickly. We took some photos before we dismounted and left the stable for home. Enthralled and feeling like I woke up from a dream, I asked my sister, “Did we really just do that?”
The next day I called the stable, scheduled another ride, and requested to ride George again. On the 27th, I arrived early, and to my surprise, only the Guide and I rode out. This time George only succeeded once in snatching flowers and grass to snack on. He kept me busy as I worked to keep him on the trail and not in the roadside snack bar! On the return trip, George suddenly turned and plunged into the brush. I pulled back on the reins, but he wanted that grassy stuff so badly he pulled his head down despite my grip. I knew what to do, but even as the Guide instructed me, George fought me, wanting his feed! I laughed, and pulled his head up, and urged him back on the trail.
Once again, the ride ended way too quickly, and we returned to the stable. I dismounted George, and he entered his stall, eager to eat. Though not an easy ride compared to the other horses, who rarely went off the trail, George endeared himself to me with his love of snacking, and by forcing me to really learn again to ride, to keep balanced in the saddle, to handle the reins properly. I walked to my car, happy, knowing that this big handsome glutton opened up a whole world I thought long lost, and I promised myself never to let that door close again.
March 26, 2009
As of March 28,, 2009-we ride the trails a few times a month! George is five years old and tips the scales at 2000 pounds, strong enough to carry my bulk around!!
June 8, 2010-still riding the trail 2-4 times a month weather, schedule, and health permitting!
November 2, 2010-still hitting the trail 2-3 times a month!
Thanks, George, and may we ride many, many, MANY years before my aging body refuses to let me sit astride your broad back!