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.


28 01 2011

This weekend a dear, dear old friend of mine turns 40. And when she turns 40, we will have known each other for just about half of our lives.

Where exactly we met is no longer relevant. What’s more interesting is when and where we became friends: on my last day at university, in a bar over numerous ales and too much high-cholesterol pub grub, our then-boyfriends at our sides. Thankfully, we both had the sense to jettison the boyfriends within a useful timeframe, and get on with our lives.

Full speed ahead.

Like all women on the cusp of middle age, I will assume she too has gotten her fair share of suggestions, tips, tricks, ideas and junk mail advertising on how to try to stop the clock, at least in terms of physical appearance. Numerous flyers promoting beauty treatments, magic fountain-of-youth serums, liposuction and plastic surgery have probably found their way into her snail and electronic mailboxes. For some people apparently, only drugs and a little “snip snip” here and there can soothe that sudden, tragic, sinking feeling of officially “getting old”.

Yesterday, another (under-40) girlfriend said to me, “You know, I need just a little teeny touch of Botox just… here,” pointing to a spot above the bridge of her nose. Unless I developed a sudden and catastrophic case of glaucoma, the spot she pointed to was pretty much invisible. There was nothing there, not even the first meager sign of a wrinkle-in-waiting.

So I was somewhat insecure the next time I looked in the mirror myself. Do I maybe need a little teeny touch of Botox too? Or perhaps a whole gallon?

Of course I don’t, don’t be silly. And I firmly believe that a woman who can’t stand the sight of her natural 40-year-old face urgently needs some kind of professional psychological help.

My 40th birthday last year came and went – it was a wonderfully warm Spring day – and I eased into my exciting new decade with grace and cool and panache. Someone once told me that turning 40 is like turning 20, except you can afford to wear nicer clothes and drink more expensive wine. I am not the partying type, but I did take the opportunity to dress up (high heels and all) and R. helped me throw a damn good one with a few close friends. We feasted on sushi and antipasti platters in celebration. One doesn’t turn 40 every day, after all.

So, dear IronicMom, Wordbitch, teacher, wife, daughter, sister, mommy, auntie and Best Woman, on the morning you turn 40, simply remember this: You are the same person, a day older, a day wiser and a day longer my friend. And please ditch that mail like you ditched that boyfriend. You look fabulous. Happy birthday, Leanne.