|I was at the park where I took my first lessons the other day and spied Lacey, the horse who gave me my first lessons, on the far right. Drifter is both much larger and a much better teacher, but she did help me figure out that riding and being with horses was something that I wanted to do.|
|Bear, one of the other school horses, looks up to see who is interrupting his grazing session.|
|Drifter's grooming tools.|
|So when I looked like this...|
|....Drifter must have looked like this!|
|(These are not actual pictures of Drifter as a baby, but I searched for images of a sorrel quarter|
horse foal with a white face, so they are probably pretty close to how he looked in June of 1981!)
|The two of us looking good together at 32.|
|Halters hung on pasture|
|Syd, another Sage Meadows horses, heads off for a lesson with an advanced student.|
|The ears of Beacon, Drifter's stable buddy.|
|Drifter with an English saddle.|
It's always nice to have the right outfit for whatever your task at hand may be, so once I had switched saddles, I wasted little time in ditching the jeans. I now have full seat breeches, paddock boots, and half chaps! While it may seem slightly silly to have such an official get-up when my ambitions are minimal, the breeches and half chaps (what the rest of the world would call gaiters) do serve practical purposes. The breeches, in addition to being comfortable and flexible for riding, are lined inside the legs and on the seat for better grip on the smooth English saddle. And I quickly learned the benefit of half chaps when I wore breeches inside my Western boots: everything I picked out of Drifter's hooves dropped straight into my boots and pebbles jumped in as well as we did our warm-up walk around the arena. But the whole get-up--boots and breeches--looks so official and there's no harm to getting a psychological boost from your clothes when you're trying to make a thousand pound animal trot when you say so and stop when you say stop!
|Decked out in breeches and half chaps, I guide Drifter around the arena on beautiful summer day.|
There's always more to be done. On days when I'm feeling strong enough, I work on posting, but even on the days when I'm more tired, I'm always working on my form and I'm learning how to tell him what to do simply by changing how I sit in the saddle. Riding requires a subtle balance of looseness and control, so I'm always having to remind myself to keep the elbows bent at a particular angle but not rigid, to have my pelvis rotated just so, to have my heels down and my legs back, to pull my shoulders back but not too far or too stiffly, to be moving my hips with the horse but keep the shoulders still and even, to arch my back just so, to have my fingers closed on the reins, to not unconsciously pull up on the reins, to keep my hands down and forward when posting while keeping the elbows loose, to try to lift from the inner thighs when posting and not from the stirrups (I'm not quite strong enough to do this yet, but am working on it), to keep my eyes up and looking ahead (sometimes I forget to do this because I am admiring the passing scenery), etc., etc., not to mention all the particulars that go along with the tack. Of course, all of the riding works best when you're not thinking TOO hard about it, so until it becomes second nature, you have to figure out how to remind yourself of all the particulars at the same time as not thinking about them at all. I find that it works best if I concentrate 90% of my focus on getting my hands in the right place and letting my body naturally (more or less) follow the information I'm getting from Drifter. I love the challenge of it, though, and it's why even slight progress can feel like a satisfying accomplishment.
|Getting better all the time! Best of all, I don't look or feel like a largely housebound chronic migraineur when I'm proudly mounted on a horse.|
I've made lots of progress on my posting in recent weeks.
It's been an amazing journey so far and I hope that Drifter, despite his advanced age, will remain in good health long enough to teach me everything he knows. I will forever be indebted to his calm, patient, and willing demeanor long after I have graduated to more advanced horses and he has departed from this life. I know that with him (and with my great instructor), I am laying a foundation to make me a competent horsewoman that will serve me well no matter where this newfound passion takes me. Dogs, photography, and maintaining a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world all play a role in helping me remain positive despite my significant health challenges, but adding horses to that mix has proved beneficial beyond my wildest dreams.
* * *