Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Walk On

I’m in love with a horse that pushes my boundaries.

Go figure.

I start out with a plan. While I’m deeply in love with Flash, my pocketbook is draining. I started to creep on other stables for less expensive lessons. With two kids in college, it would be wise to get the most bang for my buck.

I try a new stable and horse, feeling like the worst adulteress. The stable is wonderful; they have a program to help the physically and mentally challenged ride. Everyone is kind, professional and welcoming. I wonder how to take this, I'm here for an able bodied lesson, but who knows how one is percieved?

But I digress....

Then they put me on a very safe horse. He trots slowly rhythmically like a sonnet. I, however, am all thumbs, and ride him like a piece of plywood. Where did all my albeit limited, skills go? I feel like a two hundred pound guerilla riding a mini-bike.

I am beyond embarrassing.


With spectators.

I come home and pour out my angst to my husband. He disengages his ear-piece to Malaysia Intel long enough to nod, and tell me to be quiet.

I cannot bitch. This is the man who is largely paying for my flight of fancy. Buck up and stop whining. There is no free lunch. I am gaining ground on a horse that flops me around, but improves my balance. As odd as that sounds.

Flash, you have my heart. You challenge me. You never let me get too comfortable. Somehow, I need you right now.

I want my Flash. He’s tall, he throws me out of my seat at the trot, and I have to adjust to him and his long strides. While he has lovely ground manners, will sit quietly while I tack him up, like most males, he’ll only take so much. When I’m on his back, he wants to move, and will have none of my nervousness or hesitation. He challenges me, every time.

What do I think about? I think about the eye-lift I would like to have. It’s not going to happen if I keep learning with this horse. He’s expensive, challenging, but worth it.

I will never look twenty-five again. But, man, I feel it, every time I regain and gain balance on Flash. I never felt this way at twenty-five, but I feel it at fifty, and it feels good.

As they say in horse-speak.

Walk on….

Friday, November 26, 2010

Spooked and Calmed....

I learn about a horse and what spooks him today. It happened too fast, the wind kicked up, threw a dust cloud against my horse’s side, he bolted and someone screamed. It took me a moment to realize it was me who screamed. I yanked back on the reins, listed precariously forward, then back, and, and….

He stopped.

It was seconds really, the wind, the bolt, the full gallop, and then, intense fear. Everything got quiet in the ring.

“What the hell just happened?” I asked Pam.

“He spooked,” she said. Her eyes are wide, but she is unflappably calm. “It’s the wind Jane,” she says. “It spooked him and he bolted a bit. You did okay, don’t worry.”

“I don’t think screaming like a girl is good,” I say feeling unnerved and embarrassed. I don’t even know what I did to stop him. All I know is that he did stop, and I am not on the ground. For this, I am profoundly grateful.

“It’s okay, Jane” Pam says. “He’s a great horse; the blustery wind inside the ring is something the horses just don’t expect, and it kind of freaks them out. Walk him out a few turns on the ring.”

I walk Flash around the ring. There are a few younger kids in the ring on smaller horses, and I have no desire to break into a trot anytime in the next, let’s say, few decades.

He scared me that much in that tiny amount of time. I feel a little betrayed and a lot stupid. My new boyfriend, Flash, who nuzzles my neck when I groom him, has now shown himself to be somewhat unpredictable in his temperament. It gives me pause. Significant pause. I remember the guy I dated back in college who grabbed my arm during an argument and slammed me into a wall. The back of my head made contact and I saw stars. There was no question then that that relationship was over.

Flash was frightened, not angry. I understand fear much more than anger. And I remember; I am not perfect in my temperament either. Hardly. No one is more skittish and nervous than me. I have just learned to hide it better over the years. The horse was frightened and wanted to bolt. He needed someone to tell him it was okay. Screaming like an idiot wouldn’t work for me, so why the hell should it work for him?

This is part of the process, and I’m willing to accept that. I think; anyway, I’m going to try. The rest of the lesson is pretty tame. I am learning to post up; move with the horse in trot, and remarkably, so much of it is letting go and following him. I still fight it, and I still become afraid at times, but when I sink into his rhythm; it’s oddly effortless, albeit the posting back up. It’s simple physical discourse. But I want control of an animal where the negotiation of control can always fly into uncertainty. I wonder again why I’m doing this, and why I don’t just go back to the gym.

But I just can’t.

I cannot go back to that God forsaken gym anymore. I never feel more like a drone than when I walk or run in unison with a fleet of people on machines that go nowhere.

But I do worry about getting hurt on the horse. If I fall off the treadmill all I’m going to hurt is my pride. If I fall off the horse I could break something….important.

And there again, I hear it: the voice of doubt. This voice has plagued me throughout my life.

Don’t do it. You’ll fail. Don’t ever take a chance. See, the horse spooked. You don’t know what you’re doing.

I’ve listened to the doubting voice all my life. Truth be told, it hasn’t always been wrong, but it hasn’t always been right either. In fact, more often than not, like most people, I’m more sorry for the chances I didn’t take in my life. I’m sorry for the many times I let other people or my own self doubt, cause me to stop in my tracks, second guess my own heart and mind, and accept whatever is given to me. Good or bad.

Marching on a treadmill, going nowhere, is somehow symbolic of all the shots, roads and chances I refused to take in my life. There’s no risk of failure, you stay in one place, with only an illusion of moving forward.

I’m afraid of failure, but, oddly, I’m not all that keen on success either. It makes me uneasy, and I have no idea why. When things are good, I wait and listen for the first as well as the second shoe to drop.

But the truth is I am improving on Flash, and I’m holding on to that thought, voice and notion with both hands.

I can post a trot, albeit not for long. But I can do it.

I’m beginning to understand and achieve balance when I ride.

I’m learning a lot about what not to do on a horse.

I can thoroughly groom a horse that I was afraid to even touch as early as a month ago.

I had my first “spook” on a horse and I stopped him, and continued to ride him.

Even though I worry a lot about falling off him, I still get on the horse every chance I get.

I no longer see the idea of learning to ride, or myself, as a joke anymore.

I like the last part best of all.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

It's about the ride

I have a guardian angel, whom I ignore. But she is ever vigilant. She whispers to me about faith and trust, and I turn up my iPod. I then turn it down, because my phone rings.

“I’m going to tell you something- I don’t want you to get upset”

I hate conversations that start this way. Especially when it’s one of my kids who is speaking to me. “I won’t get upset, what’s the matter?” I say. I’m starting to get upset. This is my daughter, calling me from college, she’s been sick for over a week. I went up to see her four days ago because she was sick. She seemed a little better; she promised me she would go back to university health services if she felt worse.

She felt worse.

We went back and forth over the phone. I told her to go back to the health services again. She does, and they give her antibiotics. I am relieved she has done this. I tell her several times. “You need to take the entire course of antibiotics; you have a sinus infection and bronchitis. Unless you want pneumonia on top of this, you’ll take every bit of those antibiotics.”

“Okay mama,” she says.

Done deal, I thought….

“You promise you won’t get upset,” she says again.

“Yes,” I say. I have just gotten out of the shower and dressed.

“Well,” she says, “I had to go back to university health services last night, because my throat started to swell up.”

I feel the blood pumping in my ears.

“Anyway,” she says. “I guess I’m allergic to amoxicillin now. They had to give me a shot, and then I had to stay there forever,” she says.

“Was it Epinephrine?” I ask.

“I don’t know, but I felt a lot better afterward,” she says. She still sounds like a bear cub when she talks, raspy and vulnerable.

“I’m coming up to get you,” I say.

“You don’t have to, they gave me another antibiotic, some prednisone, and told me that if I feel that feeling again, I’m supposed to call 911,” she says.

Jesus H. Christ.

“I’m coming to get you,” I say.

“You don’t have to,” she says. “I feel better.” The prednisone is talking.

“No,” I say, “I think I’ll go get a pedicure today.”

“Cool,” she rasps.

“I’ll be there in an hour and a half,” I say.

“Oh, okay,” she says.

I call my husband, because I want to yell at someone, and why not him, he’s just handy that way.

“Are you going to get her?” he asks.

“What? Of course I am,” I say.

“Okay,” he says. “Go get her and call me when you calm down. She did exactly what she should have done. Think about it, Jane. ”

“This could have been really, really bad,” I say.

“But it wasn’t. Just calm down and go get her,” he says.

“I am calm,” I nearly scream into the phone.

I pick her up. She looks thin and pale. I pop the trunk and hear the duffle bag slightly list the car. She comes around and plops in the front seat. “I haven’t had anything but Gatorade for over four days,” she says.

Her pupils are like pin points.

“Did you take the prednisone this morning?” I ask.

“Yup,” she rasps. “That and the rest of the drugs they gave me. Tylenol, ibuprofen, Benadryl, a decongestant, and something else. I feel pretty good. You want me to drive?”

“Ahh no,” I say. “I’m glad you feel better, honey. I hug her and kiss the top of her head four times. “Let’s go home for a couple of days.”

I am trying to think of what Dave said. She did the right thing without me there. She’s okay because she knew what to do. I practice my deep breathing. I still feel like I’m going to hyperventilate.

Dave meets us at home, gives her a big hug, slips his laptop bag off his shoulder and says to her, “Need a Rock Band partner?”

He looks at me trying to get a read, before he says anything. She’s gone in the house; we stand in the driveway. A rusty basketball hoop hangs over us like the arm of an old friend.

“Don’t you have a riding lesson tonight?” he asks.

“Yes,” I say, “but…”

“Don’t start, Jane,” he says. “She did the right thing. How could you possibly have known that she would have a reaction to a drug she’s taken before with no problem?”

“I should have just brought her home with me on Friday,” I say.

“She didn’t want to come home, plus she was feeling better. She wanted to see the boyfriend over the weekend,” he says. “If you want to torture yourself about this go ahead. She did the right thing in an emergency situation without you standing there holding her hand. Why can’t you understand that?”

“You’re right, I know,” I say. “It’s going to take awhile for me to process this.”

“Process,” he says. “Good, go process; ride the horse. I will watch her every minute you’re gone.”

“Dave I just…”

“You need to think about something else for awhile—just go,” he says.

I go to the farm. I bridle Flash and begin to lead him out of the stall.

“THE CAT!!!!” A woman shrieks immediately to my left. “WATCH OUT FOR THE CAT!!”

I freeze. I am wedged between a wall of horse and the stall door. I don’t see any damned cat. I don’t see the source of the shriek. My heart starts to pound. “Don’t worry,” says a girl from the tack room. “The cats are quick, and know how to get out the horses’ way.” She nods her head over toward the direction of the shriek and rolls her eyes.

“Go ahead, Mrs. DeWitt,” Amber says. You’re fine.”

I love little Amber. She walks down to the ring with me and Flash. “There are some ladies who come here just to talk to the cats,” she says. “That lady, she gets nervous about them-the cats.”

“Well, I get nervous about her. Can I hit her with the crop so hard that she never comes back?” I ask. Amber laughs, “I think you’d get in trouble Mrs. DeWitt.”

“Yeah, but it would feel so good,” I say. “Besides, people should not shriek when someone is trying to lead a very large animal out of a small stall.”

“Yup,” says Amber. “I always think adults are smart, you know, and don’t do dumb things.”

“Oh honey,” I say “Look who you’re walking with.”

“You said you were going to stop saying stuff like that about yourself,” Amber reminds me.

“Amber, why are you here so late?” I ask, changing the subject.

“My mom works late tonight,” she says. “I like it here; I can do my homework in the room next to the tack room. There’s a table in there. Mom comes and gets me when she’s done.”

“Aren’t you hungry, honey? It’s after six.” I say.

“My mom packs me extra snacks,” she says and taps her cell phone. “She calls me to make sure I eat them."

“I bet she misses you when she has to work late,” I say.

“Uh huh,” Amber says. “But we order a pizza and eat it in our pajamas when we get home.”
“A pizza pajama party? Can I come one night?” I ask.

“Sure,” she says. “I’ll ask my mom.”

“No, no, Amber,” I say. “I’m just kidding.”

Amber slides the ring door open for me.

It’s like some kind of switch goes off in my mind when I enter the ring. My legs start trembling. Pam gives me a smile and says “You ready for your lunge lesson?” I nod and walk Flash slowly over to the mounting block. I’m really trembling now. What is the matter with me? I tell myself to just get on the horse, and stop this foolishness. My body’s not responding to the command though. I’m shaking like a damned leaf.

“Are you okay?” Pam asks.

“Yeah,” I say. “I’m just-I’m just afraid today. Really afraid, and I don’t know why.”

Pam smiles at me from under her Red Sox cap. She has the prettiest face, why she wears that cap down low to cover it—I don’t know. This thought distracts me for a few blessed seconds.

And people knock ADD.

“Jane,” she says. “Just get on Flash. Just take him for a slow walk around the ring. You’ll be fine.”

“I don’t know,” I say. “I’m really afraid today. I’m just really afraid.”

I’m starting to sound like Rain Man, and worse, I’m acting like him. I mount Flash and walk him around the ring. I like to nudge Flash by squeezing my legs. I just can’t kick him. I’d love to tell you it’s about my great humanity and love for all creatures. It’s not, sort of. I don’t want to set him off to too fast a trot. And well, yeah, I just don’t like the idea of kicking him. He’s very nice and sweet, and couldn’t we find another way?

There’s a woman in front of me. She’s wearing some funky, high tech riding helmet. She’s holding her crop and watching me as I amble by on Flash. My legs are relaxing. I pet Flash, “that’s it boy, mama needs a xanax cocktail right now,” I say. “I know you understand; I can feel it.”

“You need to make him understand who’s boss,” says high tech helmet woman. She’s holding a crop at a right angle like some kind of scepter. “He senses your fear right in your seat,” she says. High Tech points her crop at my legs.

She’s spooking me big time. I wouldn’t put it past her to whack me with that thing.

I almost ride Flash into the wall. I pull Flash’s reins in, and speak very softly to him. “Let’s let the dominatrix from Crazytown get way ahead of us, okay love?” I stroke Flash’s mane. Pam walks over to us.

“Better, Jane?” Pam asks. “Yes,” I say. “Let’s do it.”

She puts Flash on what looks like a long dog leash and ties up my reins. She tells me we are only going to build up a trot in small, slower circles. “Remember,” she tells me, “Move with the horse.” We begin to move in more rapid circles, Flash begins to trot and I bounce out of the saddle and land down hard. I try to thrust forward. It’s a subtle hip thrust. But my timing is still way off. Flash moves forward, and I land down and pike forward seeing the ground under the horse’s feet. I start to feel hopeless again; my legs are stiff and sore.

Pam stops.

“Jane,” she says. “Don’t even move until he kicks your butt out of the saddle. Relax and follow his rhythm.”

Now I’m tired, frustrated and too angry to be scared. “Okay,” I say. We begin the circles; I relax myself in saddle, heels down. Okay boy, I think. You show me. I’ll follow you. I wait; Flash builds a trot and knocks me upward. I begin to move with him, dropping back down into the seat and then rising up. “That’s it, Jane,” yells Pam. “You’ve got it. You’re doing it!”

“He’s doing it,” I say over my shoulder.

“No Jane,” says Pam. “You’re doing it together. You’re following one another, not fighting one another.”

Flash thrusts me out of the saddle and I come down, and begin to follow his movements.

I’m still afraid, but I trust him, and I follow.

The more I held on and tried to control, the more I struggled and got nowhere. The more I relax and take the ride, the safer I feel on the horse. Secure your seat, and follow the rhythm of your ride.

Flash and I walk off the last part of this lesson. High Tech Helmet marches in lock step on the other side of the ring. Her seat and form are positively regal, but they never move.

I need to move. Where, I don’t know, because right now I have no road map for the rest of my life. I want control where there is none.

I cannot control that my life is changing. I cannot control the fact that my children have now grown up. I cannot be with them every second protecting them anymore. I cannot control the fact that I’m getting older. I can learn to trust, though, and maybe believe that someone somewhere is watching out for me.

When I ride this horse, however poorly, I learn to hold on and accept the ride, and all its uncertainties. This horse is over ten times my size and fifty times my strength. I have to trust him though, and work with him. I just have to, if I want to ride.

And riding is fun, but scary too.

It’s kind of like life. However you delude yourself, in the end you have no control. You can only trust and have a blind faith, or a guardian angel that gets you through every day.

This is what brings me to this horse. I’m learning to ride him, but he’s teaching me how to live my life now.

Friday, November 12, 2010

It's not about your body....

My daughter has been sick all week at college. She is homesick and tells me she just wants to sleep in her own bed. I need to visit my mom this weekend, she has Parkinson’s disease, and I don’t visit her nearly enough.

I call my daughter and make sure she goes to health services to make sure she doesn’t have a sinus infection. I call her cell and it goes immediately to voice mail.


She calls me back. “Are you coming tomorrow?” she asks. Her voice is still raspy and she sounds like she’s inhaled cement.

“Yeah,” I say. “I’m coming. We’ll go to lunch, have soup, and go to the market to get you some stuff for the weekend.”

“Good,” she says. “You know you don’t have to.”

“I know I don’t. I love you—I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

I don’t understand myself at all. One minute I miss her to the point of unpredictable tears, and the next I feel that I need to let her go, work through this. It’s just a cold; she’s seen the university’s health services. I have the day off tomorrow, and I could go see her, but I’m pulling back. I know it’s just a cold, but she sounds miserable and it’s only a three hour drive round trip. I’ll be home in time to have a cocktail and dinner with Dave. I can visit my mother the day after. I’m lucky I teach four days a week. I don’t know how women who work a full time job do this.

I fit a ride in today and I am beyond terrible.

I practically steer poor Flash into the side of the barn. Every time I get him up to a trot, I’m like a deranged jack-in-the box. I keep trying. I keep getting scared and failing. My left shin is killing me. I think my instructor must think I’m hopeless.

What if I just can’t do this? What if I never get this? I’m just tired and discouraged. I want to just walk with Flash at a slow gait and give up.

What a fraud I am. Truly.

When my lesson is over my instructor tells me to not take his saddle off. As if I’d even know how to do this.

“You can still brush him for awhile afterward, though,” she says. I think she senses my frustration. I walk Flash up to the barn.

But I forget all the things I remember now. Like how to dismount without holding on for dear life, like holding the reins properly, still, how can you ride a horse if you’re afraid to bring him to an even slow trot?

I bring Flash into his stall and we don’t stand in the corner for thirty seconds like we’re being punished. I turn him around Amber, a student at my school, comes in and tells me, “I’m supposed to show you how to take his bridle and bit off.”
“Okay, honey,” I say. I will myself not to cry in front of this child. I’ll frighten the daylights out of her. “See, it’s like a tiny belt buckle,” she says and begins to unfasten Flash’s bridle. She’s so tiny she can barely reach his muzzle, but she is all business.

I tell Amber, “I’m going into the tack room to get Flash’s brushes.” “Okay,” she chirps like the darling thing she is. I go into the tack room to get Flash’s brushes and take a few deep breaths.

You’re just discouraged I tell myself. Think of how far you come. I get discouraged all over again. What did you think you were going to be able to do in three lessons, become a jockey for God’s sake? That ugly, ugly voice whispers in my ear.

‘You’re never going to get this.’ Self-doubt clenches around my heart like a fist.

“All set,” Amber says. “Thanks Amber,” I say, “do you have a lesson now?”

“Not for awhile,” she says. “I just like being here and helping and stuff.”

“Well, you’re doing a hell of a job,” I say.

I have just cursed in front of a child that goes to the school where I teach. She looks at me and bursts into giggles.

“Mrs. DeWitt did not just say hell,” I say shaking my head.

“You said it again!” she squeals

“We both start laughing. “Oh Amber,” I say. “I’m so sorry; Mrs. DeWitt is just an idiot sometimes.”

“No you’re not,” Amber says with such earnestness I want to cry all over again.

“I’ll see you later, honey”

I begin to brush Flash. I rub his forehead and he drops his head close to mine. “Flash,” I say looking over both of my shoulders, “I am a F—king idiot. But I am your idiot this afternoon.” I brush him in long strokes. He nuzzles me much more today. “I’m falling in love with you, you know. Don’t encourage me.” I stroke his velvety ears and give his neck some long strokes. Flash pokes his nose in my neck and snorts softly. “I told you don’t encourage me. I think the donkey in the next stall could ride you better than I do.”

I bend down and brush his legs. I hear voices. I woman of about mid thirties comes in with a young girl and an older man.

“Hi,” I say.

“Hi,” she says smiling. “Is he your horse?” she asks.

“God, no,” I say. “I take lessons on him, though.” I look at her daughter. She has a riding helmet on. She looks about twelve or thirteen. I imagine the older man with them is Grandpa. I’m hoping anyway. These days you never know, and I’ve learned the very hard way not to ask anymore.

“Do you ride Flash too?” I ask the girl. “No,” she says. “I ride Pumpkin.”
“She cantered around the entire ring today,” her mother says. The mom says this almost shyly, not obnoxious at all. She is genuinely thrilled with her daughter. “I told her she could get new riding boots,” she says.

“I think that earns you your own horse,” I say winking at the little girl. The mother looks momentarily terrified. “I’m teasing,” I say. I look at her daughter. “But you certainly did earn those boots.”

The little girl smiles, and moves a hair closer to her mother. Her mother rubs her back. It’s a small thing really; it’s over in a blink.

Like childhood.

That catch in my throat comes back. I go back to brushing Flash.

“You seem so at ease with him,” the mom says to me. Something begins to flicker in my mind.

“With him, not on him, I’m afraid,” I say. She lifts her hand tentatively and drops it quickly back down.

“You can pet him,” I say. “He’s very gentle.”

“No,” the woman shakes her head. “He’s beautiful, but he’s awfully big.”

“He is at that,” I say. “And extremely handsome, aren’t you my love?”

The softest, most calm voice curls around my heart and then my mind.

You’re not afraid of him anymore.’

Thursday, November 11, 2010

It's not the horse....

Today I get really scared and discouraged for a few minutes.

I am anxious today and don’t know why. I just am. I’ve grown to accept these waves over the years. Today I’m going to feel like shit. Tomorrow will be better. Put the key in the ignition and go. It’s just always been that way.

I go to work. I love the kids, how they effortlessly distract me from my arbitrary self. I am running to replenish paint. They make miracles and giggle. We listen to Soul Sister by Train. They sing along and paint their Starry Nights. There’s a part of me that never wants to leave this room.

And they pay me for this. They should be billing Blue Cross for my therapy.

Class ends and the kids head out. One of the para-professionals, the veritable rocks of this elementary school, says, “Go ahead Jane, I want to take the kids out for recess, before writing and vocab.”

Writing. This is a kindergarten class.

I sneak out a few minutes early and head to the farm. I have put two carrots in with my boots and helmet in my car. I will find a way to make friends with Flash. Bribery is an age old tool.

I pull into the farm. My Honda’s suspension is rocking. I know my Dave is going to tell me from now on to take the truck. I like my little Honda, though. I’d love to tell you it’s about being green; but quite frankly, I got sick of driving around an enormous vehicle that resembled a school bus, only black. My taxi service days are over now, anyhow.

Still, that sharp spark of longing.

I head down to the barn. I give Flash his carrots. He is wildly receptive. Go figure. But the really cool thing is I stroke his forehead, and like a human being—his eyes droop with peace.

“I know what you like,” I say and laugh. Finally. Carrots and a forehead stroke; I can do this.

A little whisper of a girl comes in and puts Flash’s bridle and bit on. I watch. Once again I marvel at how fearless this tiny girl is.

“Wow,” I say. “You girls are something else.”

“Well,” she says shyly, “I’ve been doing it awhile.”

“You’re still very good,” I say “Are you competing?” I’m learning the drill here.

“I am, thanks,” she says. She hands the reins to me. I bring Flash down to the ring. I hold the reins tightly to myself; I keep myself perpendicular to Flash. I’m in charge.


My instructor is waiting for me. I bring Flash to the block. I mount him and still have difficulty getting my feet properly in the stirrups. I learn the hard way today that this is important. One’s stirrups hold the weight of your balance. Ignore this, and it is as if you are standing with no ground under your feet. You will fall forward, grasp the horse’s mane in total fear, and wish you had tried Tai chi instead of this. This is where today’s moments of terror and bruising self-doubt creep in. Big wave of discouragement, and the once again, ‘what the hell am I doing here’ feeling takes hold. I hear my dad’s voice, ‘shake it off, Janey. Shake it off.’ I’m trying. I know I’m easily discouraged.

I post up a bit. Bounce awkwardly a lot more. Then finally I tell Pam, “I’ve got to watch you, I won’t understand what you’re telling me until I see it.”

She smiles. “Okay,” she says. She mounts Flash with no mounting block. Brings him to a trot and posts up with a grace that is nothing less than beautiful. I swear Flash is smiling. I know he’s got to be relieved not to have my hopelessly awkward body on his back for a few minutes.

“Okay,” I say. “I want to try again.”

She dismounts, and I bring Flash over to the mounting block. I climb on his back, struggling again with my outside stirrup. But I know now, I’ve got to get this right. Take my time to get it right. Slide my boot in and brace my heels back and down. Lean back in the saddle and rock forward to Flash’s gait.

So much easier said than done.

Pam begins to talk to me about things other than my form. I slowly, slowly relax, because God knows I love to talk. And Pam is nice and easy to talk to. I just try to rock with Flash’s gait. I can’t get him up to a full gallop because I’m still afraid. But we move, talk and I practice rocking back and forth. It’s a subtle movement; hips forward not the upper body, heels down, up, brace the saddle and back down. It’s not an acrobatic movement, not even near a contortionist’s, it’s simple.
But I’ve got to relax, follow Flash’s lead, and trust. This is my struggle: trust and feel the horse under me; move with him not against him.

We could be here for a long while.

“Jane, take your feet out of stirrups and lean back and walk the ring a few times. He needs to cool down.” I want to ask from what. But I do it. Pam drops back to the far side of the ring. I give Flash my weight, lean back and just let him walk. I lean over a couple of times to pet him.

This I can do.

I dismount much more easily now. I’m sure there’s a graceful way to do it, dismount, but I just want to not feel like I’m jumping off the Empire State Building.

“Can I take him up to his stall?” I ask.

“Sure,” she says. I lead him as another sweet girl from the barn reminds me. “Grip the reins with one hand, and hold the slack with the other, you don’t want to trip on reins—they’re longer than you think.”

I make a strong mental note. This is definitely something I’d do. I lead Flash into his stall but have trouble turning him around.

We stand together like a couple of dunces in the corner of his stall.

“No,” the girl says. “Turn him around. I lean my body into him in this small space and hold my breath. He follows. God damn is this one nice horse. I get his brushes and brush him lovingly, ever watchful of his feet, while he eats
There’s a kind of Zen thing in this barn. Kids mill in, largely ignore me, but are always willing to help if I have a question. Cats are everywhere, as well as two border collies, who bark little, and wander about leisurely.

It’s blissfully quiet. Being an elementary school teacher, I relish the quiet. Children are noisy and well they should be. Noise is expression, and with young kids it’s often joyous, but loud. My biggest issue with education these days is that with mandated testing, schools are beginning to hearken back to a Dickensian like drudgery. However, like most teachers, at the end of the day, I appreciate the quiet.

I talk to Flash while I continue to groom him. I tell him what I’m going to make for Dave for supper, how I miss my kids terribly, what funny things the kids at school say, how I really like my colleagues, but hate the administrative politicking.

Flash eats and listens. I walk out, lock his stall, and tell him good night. The anxious buzz that was in my head this morning muffles and stills.

I think I’m getting it, maybe just a little bit.

I hope.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Dinner with Flash

“You picking up your daughter?”


“Your son”


She looks at me quizzically.

“No,” I say. “I’m here for me. I’m taking riding lessons.” It feels funny to even say it. Let alone be doing it, still. But I am here for me.

I feel good saying that.

“Oh good for you!” she says condescendingly. “I rode for many years, we had horses, once even an Arabian, and of course a farm. Asheville North Carolina, are familiar with it?”

“Yes,” I say. “I’m from Vernon, Connecticut. We had a dog and shed in the backyard.”

“Ahhh,” she says. Like I just quoted Shakespeare. What an idiot. Her daughter comes around the corner. She is flush- faced and sweet. I am sorry that she has to go home with this pretentious ninny of a mother.

“Well,” she says to me. “I guess we’ll be seeing you again.”

Not if I see you first, I think. “Yes, I hope so,” I say. “Have a good day.”

I tell myself for the millionth time that I’m going straight to hell when I die.

I have come down to the barn to see if I can take an additional lesson this week. I have some extra time off from work with the holiday. Pam schedules me in and I ask her if I can go and say hi to Flash. I tell Pam I’ve bought the yoga ball, been doing squats (God help me) and have been bouncing on it. I look out my windows while I do this, bounce, realizing people can easily see me, being well, me, which is, at any given time, nuts.

The bouncing is a lot more difficult than I think. My husband times me. I ask him if I’m done after one minute. “No, you’ve got four more minutes,” he says.

“What? Jesus,” I say. He smiles. He waves out the window to one of our neighbors who has come to a complete stop in front of our house. He looks in our window. I wave, and continue to bounce. Our neighbor moves on.

But today I am visiting my new boyfriend Flash, and I am as goofy with him as I was in middle school, high school, and college, for that matter, when it comes to males.
“Hi Flash, remember me?” I ask coyly.

Flash is circling his stall nervously. He’s ignoring me. I remember this feeling from way back when, way before anybody wrote a book about him ‘not being that into me.’

“He seems nervous,” I say to the girl who’s working in the barn today.
“Well, yeah,” she says not looking at me, “I’m feeding the horses; he knows the food is coming”

I am relieved. Flash does not hate me. He wants to eat, not have a silly, gushy chat with me.

“Can I feed him?” I ask.

“Sure,” she says, “there's hay’s in the wagon over there.” She nods her head over to the wagon. She is about my daughter’s age. Maybe a little younger. She gives me little regard, which is fine. I’ve heard horse people can be weird. Having just since encountered the Stepford mom, I’m beginning to believe it. I grab a huge armful of hay; it spills all over my tweed topcoat. I sneeze loudly. I toss it into Flash’s stall and he goes right to it. The girl working here, who I’ve deemed weird, brings a bucket over to me filled with what looks like dog kibble. “Here, give him this,” she says. I inwardly chastise myself for judging, once again in my life. She’s a nice kid, who gets it that I want to get to know the horse. She’s relaxed and cool, even generous about it. I deem her as weird. I’m the one who’s weird. She disappears around the corner.

Flash is saddled up with an English saddle. He is all business and continues to eat. I try to reach out and pet him. He jerks back. I jerk back. Self doubt rushes in like high tide.

Big time middle/high school flashback.

I decide that if I were hungry I would not want some annoying woman petting my head while I try to eat. I stand back, but stay there. I realize that when he jerks back and snorts that I am still well afraid of him.

I provide dinner conversation then.

“Well, it seems I’ll be riding you twice this week,” I say with warm enthusiasm. “I’m really looking forward to it.”

Flash eats, stomps his foot, with a loud assuredness. It’s about the food I know, but I gave him the food, and okay in my convoluted mind, I decide it’s about me too.


I try again to pet his head. Big jerk back again. I want to tell him ‘hey, it’s me. We rode last week. I brushed you—you pissed on my new boots. I thought we had a moment there.’

He continues to eat.

It is a cold rainy day. I’ve got to get home to make dinner for two, but I will connect with this horse. I will get over my fear of him.

I’ve got time, I wait him out. His feed goes down. He lopes his head over the stall door. I pet him, and he does not jerk back.

I look around the barn. It seems empty. I begin to talk.

“Okay boy,” I say, “I don’t know anything about you, and you don’t know anything about me, but let’s try and be friends, anyway. I want to be your friend, but you are one big guy, and you scare me a little bit. Okay, you scare me a lot, way more than I would like after meeting you three times and riding you. But I want to be friends.”

His head comes over the stall door. I pet his neck. I marvel at the softness of this huge creature. I pet him more; he eats his hay. I think he likes his mane scratched and I continue.

A girl of about twelve comes in with a helmet and a rain coat on. She is thin and small, but goes right into Flash’s stall. Does not inquire as to whether he has finished his dinner. With an ease that I envy, she slips a bridle and bit over his head. She pulls the rein in front. She puts her fingers in Flash’s mouth like it was nothing. She can’t be more than twelve, if that.

’Wow,” I say to her. “You do that so well.”

“I have to, for competitions,” she says matter-of-factly. She is all confidence, but I can tell she appreciates my comment.

“Can I walk with you and Flash down to the ring?” I ask.

“Sure,” she says. She pulls the animal behind her like he was a feather. Flash follows her without protest. I still watch his feet, and his head, and his large body, lest he trample me or this brave girl.

I continue to pet his back as we walk. She pulls open the large door to the ring, says something I can’t make out to Flash, and starts to walk into the ring. I watch the girl and think about myself when I was twelve.

All 75 pounds and five feet seven inches of me.

I was a freak on two feet.

My saving graces: clear skin, a badass older sister, and the ability to run fast.

Here I am years later, over fifty pounds heavier and shy height wise about an eighth of an inch. Still, never too far from dorkville. But I care less about it now, and I guess that’s the trade-off for the wrinkles.

I wish I could have been here thirty-eight years ago, but I’m here now and hoping it’s never too late.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

I really didn’t expect my butt to hurt this much, then the backs of my knees, then finally, and viciously, my back. Today was my first horseback riding lesson. I rode Flash, or really, he tolerated me sitting on him and strolled.

My lesson started as things usually start with me. Less than perfect.

I went down to the stable and saw Flash’s head poking out of one of the stalls. “Hello Flash, I’m a little nervous, but here I am, and if you’re patient with me, we can ride,” I say. Flash sniffs rather aggressively at me, I try not to pull back. Make friends, be nice. I say to myself. I put my hand out. He just wants to sniff me. Miss Pam, my riding instructor, walks up, and smiles at me.

“Watch out for him—he bites,” she says. She gives this horse a wide berth as she passes him. “But isn’t this Flash?” I ask. “No,” she says. “That’s not Flash.”

I do not even recognize my horse. We met last week for God’s sake.

I like Miss Pam or Pam as she tells me to call her. She looks sturdy, and confident.

At least someone is.

She gets Flash out of the right stall and leads him down to our track, which is inside a huge barn. The ground is covered with sand. I begin to wonder if this is in case I falI. I get nervous all over again. I hold Flash’s reins.
“I’m sorry Flash, I thought that other horse was you. Not that you all look alike or anything. I only saw his head, and well, you are similar,” I say. Flash follows Pam. I can tell he loves her. I am a third wheel here as far as the horse is concerned. Pam looks me over. I pass inspection and I am grateful: jeans, flat heeled boots, and a thick hooded sweatshirt.

“Where’s your helmet?” she asks.

“I don’t have one,” I say. “The owner said she’d have one I could borrow.” I don’t want to tell her I didn’t want to spend the hundred bucks in case the horse terrifies me. Which he is still doing. He still looks huge to me.

“That’s okay,” smiles Pam. “I’ll get you one.” Flash stands politely. I start again. I talk to him like he is one of my dogs. “You are so handsome, Flash,” I say. “What a handsome boy”

Please don’t kill me.

Pam leads Flash over to a block. I am so relieved. I don’t even have to pretend that I know how to get on this horse. It seems I will have a step block reserved for four-year-olds and middle aged women.

I get on Flash without too much difficulty. Pam has to adjust the saddle and stirrups. I am trying to get used to being this high up.

“Heels down now,” she says. “Sit up straight in the saddle.” I am still terrified that at any moment this horse will bolt. Can this little woman control him, because I know I can’t.

“How do I make him stop?” I ask.

“He is stopped,” she says.

“No, I know,” I say, “but that is what I want to learn first.”

“Well he’s got to move first,” she says.

How do I explain to this woman that I really first want to know how to stop this big animal before he moves at all? It was the same as when I learned to drive a car. My father had the same reaction, although not near as polite as Pam’s.

“Where’s the brake?” Was the first thing I asked my father, when we got in the car in the Big Y parking lot. “How about we drive two feet first, sometime today too, the Giants are on,” he said.

Pam instructs me how to get my feet in the stirrups and she has to adjust my saddle. She shows me how to hold the reins properly. I get used to sitting on Flash. The idiot in me wants a picture of me on my mount. Here I am—I’m on the horse. Aren’t I cool? Okay, let’s go home and have a cocktail. Mid-life crisis over.

“Okay,” says Pam. “Squeeze your heels in to get him moving.” Must I? I think, we’re doing so well just kind of standing here. I need a minute. But Pam is all business. “Go ahead,” she says. “Squeeze him.” I squeeze my legs in and inwardly pray that Flash does not take off like a bolt.

He does not take off like a rocket, but merely walks gently forward. “Good boy,” I tell Flash. “Nice and easy,” I say. “Can I make him stop now?” I ask Pam again.
She looks at me strangely.

I don’t care, this will not be the first, nor the last time, I receive the ‘What the hell’s the matter with you?’ look in my life.

“Pull the reins up tightly then release,” she says. Good, the brake, I think. I test it, Flash stops.

A very good sign.

Flash and I circle the large barn, while Pam stands near the center and directs me which way to steer. It seems okay. He’s not bolting, but he does dip his head down forcefully and jostle my balance.

“Don’t let him do that,” instructs Pam. “He’s messing with you, pull the reins back. Don’t let him get away with that.”

How do I explain to this woman that I have a husband, two children, two dogs, and at any given moment, twenty or so children who pull this same crap with me almost every day of my life. I’ve yet to get any of them to stop ‘messing with me’.

I try my best teacher/mother voice. “Oh no, Flash,” I say sternly, “that’s enough now.” I pull his reins back. He listens and stops jerking forward.
Again, I’m relieved.

A little girl of about seven comes in riding a smaller horse, but still a horse, with her instructor. “Post up,” her instructor tells her, and this little tiny girl sends her horse off in a trot, well past Flash and my sleepy gait.

“Watch out,” Pam says. “Flash likes to run—he’ll follow her.” “Flash likes to run?” I ask nervously. “Well, yes,” says Pam. “He is a horse after all.” Flash is being good though and keeps with my sleep-walking gait.

I test the brake again a few times though.

Pam then instructs me how to post-up. I need to balance standing in the stirrups. “Heels down,” says Pam. I feel so awkward, and plus it hurts. “That’s right,” she says. “Up, then down, easy.” I can feel the burn in the inside of my thighs and my butt.

I wonder if I still have my Suzanne Sommers ‘thigh-master’ at home. No, that got ditched after I got married.


“Okay, you need to dismount now.” Pam tells me. I look at her, look at the ground, and look for the block I used to get on. “No,” Pam says. “You’ve got to dismount; you can do it, release the stirrups, and hold on to the saddle…”

I cannot see the ground. I know it’s not near. I will myself not to fall on my ass. I hold the saddle, twist, push my weight onto my stomach and fall/ dismount, dropping back two steps and thankfully do not fall on my ass.

My legs are trembling though.

“Good,” Pam says. I am thrilled with myself. I did not die, and even better, did not fall on my ass….yet.

She starts to walk Flash out of the barn. “Can I do that?” I ask. “Sure,” says Pam. I lead Flash back up towards his stall in the other barn. A little girl comes walking down the trail. I get nervous, what if I let Flash go and he accidently tramples her? I hold Flash’s reins tighter to me and slow down. He slows down.

I could get used to this. For once in my life someone seems to be following my lead.

I get Flash in his stall. He is all business like most of the males I know; he goes right to his feed. The stable owner comes down. “How’d it go?” she asks. Good I tell her. “Can I brush him?’ I ask. “Sure,” she says, “but don’t get behind him while he’s eating. He could back up and knock you into the wall. I look at the hard stall wall, and the horse shit all over the floor.

“Right,” I say.

She hands me a bucket of brushes, and goes into her office. There are kittens in the barn. An old dog walks by. It’s quiet, a little chilly, but my new beautiful friend eats peacefully while I brush him. And he is so beautiful. He feels firm and smooth. I begin to feel more at ease near him. He really is a nice horse. I look around to make sure no one is looking. I give Flash a kiss on his neck, and whisper in his ear, ‘thanks for going easy on me, honey, this could have been really ugly.’ I brush him more, I lay my head on his back. “Good boy,” I say. He looks at me and I hear water running. I look down. The horse is pissing….a lot. It splashes all over my nice boots, which are covered with shit anyway. I liked the boots but I figure he has his scent on me now.

That’s got to be a good thing.

And I have an excuse to get new boots.

All and all, a good day.