“Who wants to work with Armani?” Deborah asked, smile lines radiating skyward. There were six of us in her Women’s Intuitive Riding class at Blue Skies of Mapleview, mostly older women who, like me, have been out of the horse game for some time.
My hand shot up. Call me an eager beaver, but when I saw him—big and black—and heard he was part Friesian, I was fixated.
The drive out had been pleasant. Thirty miles of undulating asphalt, leaves starting to turn. I parked and stepped into a quiet landscape—fences and pastures with red outbuildings—and I felt at home. I inhaled, catching the scent of something fruity from a nearby grove of trees and perhaps a hint of dried manure.
An hour later I stood, helmeted, in my new paddock boots atop a mounting block staring at Armani’s broad back. What had I been thinking? How many times have I said, “I like ‘em short; not so far to fall.”
When asked us to mount up, I swung my right leg high and mostly succeeded in not bumping the horse’s back. I looked down at my classmate, who stood at his head with her hand on his lead rope, leaned over, and whispered, “I’m surprisingly nervous.”
“Well, it’s been a while,” she said. “You’ll do fine.”
We had paired up and would take turns, one riding while the other led the horse. My buddy would walk beside Armani and make sure neither of us did anything crazy. I held no reins. This would be an exercise in trust and balance—trust in the horse, trust in my partner, and trust in my ability to stay atop a moving animal. Look, Ma. No hands!
Deep breath. I had gotten back on the horse. I was as chuffed as I had been twenty-four years ago after absconding with a rented camel. I hadn’t meant to steal the animal, but the handler had taken her hand off the lead and I wondered what would happen if I cued the camel to turn and walk away.
Our instructor brought my attention back to the present. First, she had us do some limbering exercises. “Reach out with your right hand and touch your horse’s poll. Then swing to your left and touch his back behind the saddle. Now let’s stretch the other side.”
Despite the walking, the yard work, and the daily yoga, I felt a twinge in my left hip, deepening my anxiety. All my life, the girl who’d jump on anything, come to this.
My ground crew looked at me over her right shoulder, her gaze saying, “You’ve got this.” I nodded back.
Our coach soon gave me more to think about than my misgivings. We would work on transitions: walk and stop, walk and stop. Our partners promised not to interfere.
I filled my lungs, leaned slightly forward, and the horse began to walk. When it was time to halt, I exhaled and sat down. It worked, and my partner was quick to say, “I didn’t do that. You did.”
How fun! Soon we were braiding our horses around a series of orange cones using only our seat bones, shoulders, and legs. Midway through that exercise, I realized my trepidation had vanished. I had lost myself in concentration, in Armani’s giant stride, and in the blue sky above.
Our guide to empowerment was turning our group of equestrian wannabes into confident riders. But, beyond that, she was showing us how to love and respect her beloved animals.
How must it feel to transform so many lives? No wonder this woman is always smiling. Holy cow! I’d be grinning too. I am immeasurably grateful to Deborah for kindly sharing her horses and know-how when I needed it most. In a day or so I’ll be paying it forward, teaching Olivia, my own student, how to balance and trust, and showing her the many ways to love a horse.