But what a mess of emotions lie beneath them: Fear, uncertainty, doubt; resignation to reality; stubborn refusal to capitulate; shaky determination; tiny but satisfying triumph.
It was June of 2011 when I wrote this:
I’m afraid to ride my lovely, sweet, well-trained, well-mannered Thoroughbred.
I may never get on him again. If I do, I may never again take him out of a walk.
And from then until today, I did not try again. Oh, I’d think about it, now and then; I’d toy with the thought, but always there was some excuse, some reason why “Not today.” I might have tried it last spring, I was so close to doing it -- but Ben blew his suspensory and that, it seemed, was that. Never mind that Ben healed just fine from it; still there always, always was some reason not to try. If Commander had been ridable, I’d have been happy to get aboard him; but Ben? Too big, too strong, too quick when he spooks; not today, anyway.
Today, though, became The Day: The day I put up or shut up; did or did not; pushed past fear or forever surrendered to it. Finished with chores, I was looking out the barn window at Ben and Commander below, and thinking about getting on Ben, maybe, might, possibly. The weather was conducive; the bugs were gone; he’d had his lunch so he wouldn’t be thinking about it; nothing was going on that might spook him.... And the thought came oozing in: “Now or never. This is your last chance. Ride today or give up.”
So I went to the tackroom, brushed the dust and the cobwebs from Ben’s gear, carried it down to the run-in; led my mildly surprised horse to the fence, did a quick grooming, and tacked him up. Ben was (as my rational self knew he’d be) unfazed by the whole thing. So what if more than a year had gone by since last he’d had all this done to him? No big deal. I led him out, led him up and down the drive for a few minutes to let his back adjust to its unaccustomed burden, then brought him to the mounting block and swung aboard.
It felt strange and utterly familiar. It felt mildly scary and quietly satisfying and precarious yet secure. My body remembered and did what it knew how to do. Ben yielded to light cues as easily as if he’d been in daily work for the last decade. We walked around the ring, up and down its length, Ben stumbling a bit at first on its uneven surface, then settling into a relaxed walk. He didn’t seem unsettled by the tension coiled within me, and the tension gradually uncoiled and trickled away.
When we’d walked a few circuits of the ring, I made my next choice: I closed my legs on Ben’s sides. He broke into a little jog, unworthy of the word “trot”, and I sat to it for several strides, then seat-shifted him back to walk and told him what a wonderful fellow he was. After a few more circuits, we did it again, walked a bit more, then I rode him out of the ring, slid off onto shaky legs, and told him again what a marvelous horse he was. The whole grand adventure couldn’t have taken more than ten minutes – if that.
So, that’s my triumph today. It’s such a small thing, such a foolishly unremarkable thing – but it was big enough for me.
Will I ride Ben again? We’ll see. But the odds of it happening have gone way up. And who knows? Maybe I'll even get as brave as I was in 2006: