The last time I was on a horse was way back in 1974 or 75. My family was on a tour around Ireland, staying at farmhouses and small inns, one of whom offered horse rides. My sisters and I jumped at the chance. (Mine was named, I think, “Gluestick.”) Before that my older sister and I had taken a summers worth of lessons, in 1967 (?) at Tri-Color Farm in Connecticut. My daughter Robin, a life-long horse enthusiast (a nice way of saying crazy) thought it was time for me to get back in the saddle. For Christmas, she arranged for me to take a ride at the wonderful Hearts and Horses Farm in Buxton. I was very apprehensive going into it – I’m not scared of horses, though I have a healthy respect for them. After so many years taking Robin to lessons and watching her ride (one of my favorite sights!), I’ve spent plenty of time around them, just not actually on them. This was almost completely unknown territory. The biggest apprehension was around the simple (I hoped) trick of getting me all the way up there. What sort of crane, I wondered, would they have to use?
We got there on Saturday, and I met Thunder, a 16.2 hand Percheron mare. I don’t know what you, dear reader, know about horses, but 16.2 hands is freakin’ huge. The barn has a wheelchair ramp up to what is basically a loading dock out in the arena. One woman got Thunder positioned up against the loading dock, another held her lead rope, another stood on the dock at Thunder’s head, Robin stood behind me, and after one failed attempt, we all managed, rather unceremoniously, to heave me up on patient Thunder’s back. No saddle, just a thick blanket and a vaulting surcingle , which I clung to for dear life. We made about a dozen or so turns around the arena, with my team keeping a close watch on all four sides of me. I felt like I was slipping off – dangerously so – although my guides insisted I was not. The whole point of the exercise, at least for me, was to feel and use core muscles that don’t normally get used when one is not on a horse. Balance, which can be fleeting, is also brought to the fore. I was remonstrated to relax and breathe from my belly (which, of course, means that I tensed up and breathed from my chest). Apparently, the horse can tell when the rider is relaxed, and each time I was able to let go of a little tension, Thunder moved a little faster. I had no doubt that I was in good and experienced hands, but that tiny increase in pace made it that much more difficult to relax. After 12 or 14 turns around the arena, I decided it was time to dismount. I know from my experiences in a therapy pool that it is better to quit too soon rather than too late. Getting off was a little more graceful than getting on. It was a great experience, and I can easily see why riding can be so deeply therapeutic – on so many levels.
I don’t think I’ll be going out for the Summer Olympics. Not even the Paralympics. It’s a bit expensive, and I doubt Medicare will cover it, otherwise I’d be there as often as possible. If they managed to get me up there, they can probably get you up there. Give it a try!