I cannot remember how old I was when I first fell in love with horses. I know I was very young, because it feels as though the desire to ride horses has always been with me. Unfortunately, I didn't grow up in a family who could afford riding lessons, and my copious pleas for a equine friend, fell on semi-deaf ears. Any, and every opportunity I had to ride, I'd take. As a youngster, there were but a small handful. Eventually, I accepted that I would probably never be able to learn how to ride and jump like Gonda Betrix or Anneli Wuckerpfennig.
Life goes on, but I never lost my love for horses or my desire to learn to ride. History has a way of repeating itself, and in my home it was no different. My little girl starting asking about riding. Inquiries were made and then something truly wonderful happened. The Olympics. And Mr Hiroshi Hoketsu. From the first moment I heard about him, I was awestruck. Mr Hoketsu was the oldest Olympian to compete. 70 years of age. He may not have placed very highly in the rankings, but the minute he entered that arena, he became a winner to me. Here was someone who defied the norms, worked hard and followed his passion. He was the epitome of, "You're never too old." He was the inspiration that gave me the courage to seek riding lessons as an adult. In the riding world, I am considered a "green" rider. Totally wet behind the ears and having to play catch up with youngsters who have been riding since birth. There are days, I admit, when I look at the teenagers my trainer works with and hear that little whisper, "what are you doing here!"
It's not for me to question why things work out the way they do. It is for me to embrace it though. On this journey to fulfilling a dream, I have met some wonderful people. Some have helped me and others have inspired me as much, as Mr Hoketsu did. One friend has been riding since she was quite young. I love watching her work with horses. The fluidity of her movements, the ease with which she is able to melt with her horse until they become a single entity. A team. Both learning. Both improving. Watching her train her animals is just as fascinating. With seemingly very little effort she teaches her ponies or horses exactly what it is she wants them to do. Most of the time they give it to her, without argument. But every once in a while, they dig their heels in and an argument might ensue. She never gives up, never loses her seat and always manages to stay calm. Watching her work with her horses, inspires me to want to try to aspire to become better, more knowledgeable. Then there's my trainer, Lauren Romanelli. An amazing woman who can make me feel like a million dollars even on the days when that little whisper is nagging at me. She patiently teaches, encourages and corrects. All while still taking lessons herself, because a really GREAT trainer is never done learning. They are always trying to improve their skills. Pushing themselves as hard as they push their students. I can actually feel the difference in how I am riding now compared to when I first started. She too started riding at a very young age. Unlike most kids who get to start out on ponies, my trainer had to start out on Thoroughbreds because that's all they had at the riding school she went to. Needless to say, there were many falls. After each one, she'd get up and determinedly get back on her mount. In college she studied Equine Science and has gone on to make a career out of her passion while becoming an amazing Eventer. Her love for what she does and for horses, is infectious and you can't help but feel as enthusiastic and determined when you are around her. Both these amazing ladies have inspired me to be confident. To try. To never give up. To work hard. Stay focused. Keep practising.
Which brings me to the day I had Wednesday. At the moment, my friend and I are taking care of a sweet Thoroughbred for another friend. The terms of the agreement stated that I would be responsible for keeping this sweet boy socialized and exercised. It's here that I have to digress a little. You see, as little experience as I have had with actual riding, I have never been afraid of horses. EVER. I have been kicked, bucked, been run off with, reared with, lost my stirrup and come off and still, I have never been afraid of horses. Not even the horse that may have just acted out with me. I know that there are some "monsters" out there, but I tend to believe, probably very idealistically, that even the "monsters" can be convinced to become civil, if paired up with the right rider.
Rico (the Thoroughbred), was no stranger to me. His owner and I use to ride together. I had gotten on his back once, while on a lead line, to feel what a canter felt like. On the ground, he is a real puppy dog. Follows his owner around, will do anything for treats and likes to play. The next time I tried to get on him, was after being away for a month. I had not ridden and was feeling a little nervous. Rico, being the sensitive soul that he is, picked up on my nervousness and immediately thought something must be wrong and became all twitchy, which in turn, unnerved me and thus began a vicious cycle that resulted in me getting off his back and swapping mounts with my friend. The instant I did that, I reinforced this nervousness of this horse in my heart. So even though I had access to ride a sweet, albeit, sensitive boy, I convinced myself, I couldn't. Rico wasn't being ridden much, or socialized really and we were trying to find him a new home. It's to his credit that every time someone came to look at him and ride him, he behaved well.
Still, it bothered me. I have NEVER been so afraid that I wouldn't at least try. This feeling of fear for a creature that I was fond of, just didn't sit well with me. On Monday, after thinking about who I am, who I want to be as a rider and the goals I would like to achieve, I came to a decision. I was going to get back on that horse! It's the number one rule in riding. If you get thrown off, fall off, dragged off, you have to get right back on and ride. By Tuesday, a plan had formulated, and by Wednesday, I was able to summon the needed courage to go face my "monster." I won't say there wasn't an ounce of trepidation, there was. But courage isn't the absence of fear, it's feeling the fear and pushing past it. I tacked him up, did a couple of rounds in the round pen first and then took a very BIG step and headed for the trail that leads to the south side of the farm. With each step, I felt confidence return and I could feel Rico relax. The moment of arriving on the South side was made all the more meaningful to me by having witnesses to my feat. My friend was over on the South side exercising her horses. As was my trainer. They both got to witness my exercise in courage and Rico's exercise in trust. It would be wonderful to say that Rico and I went through our paces and all was well and we lived happily every after. It would be, but it wouldn't be true. You see, in the horse world, Rico is considered to be a little "green". He is still learning how to listen and respond to cues and sometimes he still gets a little mixed up. Add a "green" rider, who is still trying to find proper form and learn how to communicate properly with her mount, and you have a recipe for mayhem. Yet, even the mayhem taught me something. Firstly and most importantly, I STILL have LOTS to learn and while confidence is important, it's never a substitute for correct riding technique! Secondly, Rico is a very willing horse. Point him at a four foot fence and he will do his best to jump it, even if you didn't mean for him to do that. He's a great little horse to ride, but he's not my horse ... and that's okay too.
On Wednesday I learnt that life is not a journey meant to be taken alone. It is filled with people, who in turn, inspire you to reach for things you might have thought unreachable, and who you, in turn can encourage and inspire. Life is full of "muses." Bright souls who cause us to reach deep down inside ourselves and find treasures we had no idea we possessed. To the muses in my life, the unfailing, sometimes, unrelenting cheerleaders, two and four-legged alike, I thank you ALL!