Friday, July 21, 2017

Summer of the Horse: Shit Happens


I look at this picture and I imagine what my teenaged self would be doing: goofing around, feeling self-conscious, and exclaiming, "Ew!" and "Do I have to?" That very young, privileged young woman would not have appreciated this moment and this opportunity.
On the other hand, my forty-ish self practically ran for the shovel, hollering, "I'll do it! I'll do it!". This photo is my version of a victory fist pump in the air, shouting, "Yes!"
Just like having a chicken coop full of hens was a symbol of sophistication for me when I first moved to Nova Scotia, so too is this shovel full of fresh horse poop. It also means I'm exactly where I want to be, doing exactly what I've always wanted to do.

Yes, shovelling shit has been one of this city girl's aspirations. And, like riding, it's not as easy as it looks. There's a way to flick the shovel when you're scooping that allows you to pick up more and make fewer trips to the wheelbarrow, or directly to the manure pile outside the doors. Dawn, the lifelong horse woman who is my riding instructor, can do it in two scoops; I made six trips to the manure pile.
Grinning the entire time.

My sixth riding lesson was all about working on and building on the basics I've learned so far: turning the horse, halting him, posting in a trot, and stopping a horse that has bolted (this is the most important skill for me, in particular, to know since I panic first, think second, if I remember to think at all). The rest of my lessons will go like this, round and round the ring, walking and trotting and stopping over and over. That's the only way to learn.
There's this idea that after 10,000 hours of doing something, it becomes muscle memory and you never forget. I can see how this would work for horseback riding, especially when I consider how many muscles are involved in riding, even in the basic riding I'm doing.
Last week's posting lesson gave me an acute awareness of my inner front thigh muscles!

New revelation: You use the entire body when you ride a horse, yet you are using each part individually. For example, to make a horse go, squeeze your calves BUT to stop the horse, squeeze your thighs (while doing three other things as well). Your hands hold the reigns but your elbows do the work. Cripes, even the ears, which do nothing, are involved: Ears, shoulders, and hips are to be in alignment when you're sitting in the saddle. Maybe the heels, too, but I can't remember.
So many details.
Not only do I need to be aware of every part of my body, as I gain a skill, there's a way to build on it. I was using the outside leg and inside reign to turn when Dawn said, "It's actually more about the outside reign" so that was an add-on. Later she instructed, "You're leaning into your turns. Just turn your shoulders. Don't lean." That's an add-on to the "Turn your head in the direction you want to go."
There isn't a part of the body that doesn't do something in riding. And there are four or five things to think about when doing something even as simple as turning. I was paused at one point, gathering myself, and Dawn told me to get going.
"I'm going over everything I have to do before I start moving," I told her. "There's so much to remember."
She laughed. "I don't remember what it's like to know nothing about riding."
At 15, I wouldn't have had the confidence to say that to her, to do what I needed to do; at 47, I know how I need to approach things and I'll no longer let anyone tell me what is best for me.

Some habits are hard to break, though, and I'm not talking about my propensity for leaning.
"I'm not coordinated enough for this," I said later as we trotted in a circle around Dawn. I was feeling awkward and bouncy, like I'd never figure it out, and I wanted an excuse for not getting it.
My usual self-conscious horseshit.
"You must be coordinated if you're posting," Dawn answered. "Some people never master this."
Knowing how unathletic I am and how many times I've said "I can't" about trying something new, that comment hit my heart like a powerful kick from a pair of hind legs. I can do it. I AM doing it.

My friend, Gail, one of the women who inspired this Summer of the Horse, arrived at the stables in Linden during yesterday's lesson. This morning, she sent me a text: "Good to see you riding so well. You looked confident."



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