First Ride

27 08 2015

My friends who have known me since long before I started blogging know that my first passion (even before airplanes) was horses. When we lived in England and I was 9 years old, my father’s work colleague’s daughter introduced me to horses. By 13 I was riding in international junior tournaments, and placing among the top competitors.

Me and Carlos, December 1982

Carlos and me, December 1982.

I went to summer riding camp in 1984 and won all of the championship ribbons there. At my home barn I was one of the better juniors, and among the most ambitious on competition day. And of course I thought I would be doing this forever.

But the logistics of life have a way of intervening. I had to go to college at some point, learn something sensible and begin working on a career of some sort. Horse riding cost money, and the day would come when my generous parents turned off the faucet. Not to mention the time factor. So when I realized that I did not have the clout, wealth or connections to make it onto the professional circuit, riding slipped into the background.

As an adult I took on a horse-sharing arrangement, where I had one lesson per week and one free ride out on the trails. Then it was just one trail ride a week. And when the horse I was sharing moved away, it dropped to zero. My interests shifted to cheaper endeavors like flying airplanes and skating marathons.

So yesterday was a premiere of sorts… I probably haven’t sat in a saddle since about 2008, and haven’t had a real riding lesson since way way way before then. Maybe 15 years? The first thing I noticed about this sport was that everything is even more expensive than it was 15 years ago.

My mount was a huge beast called “Bear” – a gentle giant, with a massive, loping gait, and an easygoing personality. His life motto could be: “Sure, whatever.”

Everyone, meet Bear. Bear, meet everyone.

Everyone, meet Bear. Bear, meet everyone.

In the hour or so I was on board, I was reacquainted with muscle groups that I had not felt in years, and knee ligaments that began to ache even before the lesson was over. It was an assessment of sorts, so that I could get the feel of the saddle again and gain confidence in my instincts, and also so that the trainers could gauge what I know. I was told I have a “very European riding style”, and (bad) habits that I would need to work on if I want to raise my skill to the next level. It’s a lot harder work than it looks, trust me. By the end of the hour I was soaked from the effort, out of breath and dehydrated. Lesson learned: bring a bottle of water to the arena and take breaks when the trainer tells you to.

But in the couple of first hours I spent in their company, in the saddle and on the ground, I realized once again that horses are my people. I love the beauty of their movement, the warm velvet of their noses and their gentle, forgiving spirits. I love being in a working barn: the sawdust and the muck, mixed with the smell of saddle soap, fresh hay, and sweaty horse. I love getting my hands and my boots dirty.

Later in the day I started feeling like I had been hit by a truck. I considered taking a few Advil before bed but thought to myself… Nah… I’m tough, I can take this. I slept terribly.

My husband often likes to remind me that I am no longer 25. I often hate to admit that he is right. Nevertheless, I am getting back on a horse next Wednesday morning. The pain be damned.

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The magic of a sunrise

12 08 2015

When stuck in the grip of jet-lag, I often wonder if humans are really fit for transcontinental air travel. Sitting in a large shiny metal tube for up to 10 or 12 or 15 hours, moving at close to the speed of sound, traversing vast distances at 6 miles above the earth’s surface with no regard for the landscapes, peoples and cultures below. I suppose it’s the most efficient way of getting from point A to point B, when point B happens to be about 5,000 miles away. But it’s tough on the body and the soul.

There are days and trips when jet-lag has no power over me. Exhausted by the emotions and the anticipation of the trip alone, I arrive home, sink into my own bed, thankful for the peace and quiet of not having a carpet of noise produced by four CFM56-5C4/P engines thrusting the metal tube across the sky. I sleep the sleep of the dead.

This morning, though, I didn’t do so well. Shifting one’s internal clock by nine time zones is truly brutal. My night was over at 430am and my brain went into overdrive, as it usually does when I have about 5 million things on my never-ending to-do list.  It was still dark outside, but a light sheen was starting to illuminate the sky just above the hills beyond my back terrace. And so after about an hour of lying in bed, tormenting myself with problems that need immediate solving, I thought I’d go outside and watch the sun rise.

Night turns into day.

Night turns into day.

There is no sense of urgency at 545am. Mist slowly rises from the meadows below and the crisp, fresh air sits still as time creeps from indigo to light. The slightest crescent of a moon climbs into the sky before disappearing as the sun prepares to burst over the horizon. I sit on my back terrace in the half-light, my cup of tea cools before I can drink it all. A curious grey fox trots up to the fence that separates me from the wilderness, we look at each other for a moment before he loses interest, turns around and trots away.

A solitary single-engine aircraft crosses the clear light blue canvas above me from east to west. Its pilot is probably thinking the same thing that I am or she wouldn’t have made the effort to get up in the middle of the night, prep her airplane and take off at dawn to watch the night turn into day. (Or maybe she has jet-lag too.)

Jet-lag is a tedious by-product of travel. But a sunrise is simply magic.