Sunday, July 3, 2016

Reflections on Riding Fear

Something that needs saying about riding Ben: That I owe Friday's and Saturday's rides to Finny, and Royal before him, for their steady calm reliable nursing me through of nerves at getting back on any horse, let alone great big powerful (elderly, yes; out of shape, yes; but still immensely powerful) Ben. And to Hillary Prime's endless patience with my irrational fears and dithering over whether to go ahead and ride one of her patient schoolies.

I've always lived with fear when riding, probably a relic of one or two scary crashes in my late teens/early 20s, coupled with the fact that I didn't have much formal instruction back then, went a couple of decades without riding at all, and took it up again as basically a beginner around age 40. I lucked out in Nick, my first horse, my 43rd birthday present to myself, even though at first he put me on the ground more than once; once I learned to ride better, and discovered the unparalleled security of an Australian stock saddle, our trail riding partnership blossomed. Toward the end of our time together I'd even bareback him.

By the time I met Ben I'd developed (through painfully tedious effort; I'm not a natural) some decent riding skills, and with the aid of Sue Edelen, an excellent dressage instructor, I forged a fine partnership with my great spiderlegged Thoroughbred. It helped that Ben is naturally placid, easygoing, eager to please, and had superb training put into him before I got him. We rode all over the local trails, with much enjoyment.

And yet....

And yet, over all the quarter century of my adult riding career, fear has niggled at the back of my mind, no matter how much I knew and loved and trusted my horse. Irrational, sometimes barely discernible, but never wholly absent. After Nick's death in 2005 at age 23, though Ben was still in his riding prime, just age 13, I found myself riding less and less; somehow there was always some excuse or other not to ride this day or that. For a while, a cruelly short while, I had a marvelous Morgan I'd putter about on, till founder lamed him and finally took him, and sometimes I'd pop on him for a short ride and let Ben continue loafing.

Then, five years ago, before my hip went to hell and needed replacing, before the long layoff from physical activity and slow recovery of whatever strength and agility survived, this happened.

And my riding courage, never sturdy, finally and fully deserted me. The hip surgery a year and a half or so later merely reinforced what was already a painful reality for me. Ben's own physical infirmities have offered a convenient excuse not to ride him, but the truth was, I was just plain afraid. Afraid, once I was back on my feet, to get on any horse at all.

And yet....

And yet I did miss riding. I did think wistfully of all the amazing, exciting, lovely, fulfilling, wonderful rides I'd enjoyed over the years, and wish I could do it again. So finally I decided to start again, start with something safe, safe, safe, dear sensible little Royal. At a walk. Eventually at a trot. For brief ring sessions -- I wasn't fit for more.

Then, after Royal's tragic passing, along came wee red Finny, safe, safe, safe, in the ring and hacking out, and my tiny riding horizons expanded a wee bit.

And I began to think about riding Ben again.

Now, as I've said before, Ben and I will never again go hacking out for hours at all gaits; neither one of us will ever regain that kind of fitness; but if the fates are merciful, we will enjoy a twilight renewal of sedate rides.

And I will not fear.

Or not very much.






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