Sometime in 2017, I got my ass in gear and decided that instead of longingly watching other people ride horses and wonder if I’d ever get to do it again, I was going to finally suck it up, find a barn and do it. There were probably a lot of other larger image issues at play there – thinking things like, I’m still too tall, I could be skinnier, I’m out of practice… but what it all came down to was – how am I going to know if it’s possible if I don’t just show up and try?
So I searched barns in the area, and found one that I thought kind of fit my aesthetic. I wasn’t looking for a place that valued clean aisles over horsemanship, or who had more ribbons than sense. If the barn cat did more sun bathing than mousing than that was fine by me — what counted was the horses, and how the people made me feel.
Horseback riding can be an exclusive and expensive sport by nature – owning horses isn’t cheap, and kitting out to ride can be costly. When you factor in lessons, boarding, arena time, or competition it can be kind of daunting. A lot of the time we associate horseback riding with having money, with being rich, with affluence – and that in turn leads the sport to come off as kind of snobby and exclusionary. But when I competed in rodeo as a teen and rode horses back in my youth, that was never my experience. So as an adult it was something that I was actively searching for – that same calm, genuine feel – where we embrace one another and lift each other up. Where the brand of your breeches doesn’t matter, but how you treat your horse sure does.
And you know, I found it. I found this great barn where they don’t judge me for being really tall or not being waif-thin or not having Hermes boots. Sometimes riders come in jeans or sweatpants, they have helmets you can borrow if you can’t afford your own, riders will sometimes donate their old outgrown breeches to younger, new riders that need them, and as long as you have footwear that keeps you safe in saddle, you can ride. They care about how I treat my animals. How I talk to the other riders, how I coach new people, how I help out when they’re short-staffed. I don’t yank horses by the bit, I don’t get angry when we don’t do well in the ring, I don’t over-whip my horse, I take care when I’m picking feet to check everyone’s shoes and gently feel their soles and frogs for tenderness. I come early and stay late to help, and I never shy away from a difficult task.
They challenge me – I’ve traded out my cowgirl boots for tall boots, and my Wranglers for Breeches. Made the comical switch from a competitive rodeo rider to a beginner English rider. It’s tough having to start all over and relearn things and to this day I will ALWAYS fall back on neck-reining in a pinch because it’s what I did in barrels.
Heels down is the bane of my existence, and I think the only reason I’m so advanced after a year of weekly rides is because I spent 10 years in ballet so no one has the kind of balance I do and I’ve had years of madams prodding my lower back to arch higher, my shoulders to drop lower, and my spine to lengthen as I cant my hips forward.
But now I just have to do it on 1200 pounds of absolute Bag-Of-Cats and the only way to control it is by an incredibly soft touch on leather reins and gentle legging.
Oh and while you’re at it make sure you post up in the saddle, drop your heels, but in rhythm with the horse’s gait, DROP YOUR HEELS, and steer them into tight corners, figure 8’s, 10 meter circles, and occasionally bring them to a full stop.
To say horseback riding is madness is selling it a little short I think. But it’s the most fun I’ve ever had and I can’t get enough. If I could I’d ride 3 days a week and spend half my time mucking stalls to cover it. There’s nowhere I feel more comfortable, more at home, more in control and more at peace than when I’m in a saddle. Learning to communicate with a horse, read their motions, talk to them through touch, and have them trust you implicitly is such a pleasure. I adore my regular lesson horse, and I look forward to every weekend for the time I spend at my barn with him. Blazing heat of summer, bitter cold of winter – we’re still out there.
It’s been a year and maybe I’m not jumping oxers yet but I’ve taken a horse that when I started enjoyed snatching the reins out of my hand and who didn’t quite like doing the fancy dressage angles I asked for … to now, I can stand in a half seat and whisper “trot” and he voice commands around the ring for me and will follow me around the barn without a lead.
As it turns out he just likes a challenge, doesn’t want to be bored.
Same, Monty. Same.