by Jennifer Stevenson
After swimming for two years every single day, I fell in love with a new sport: horseback riding. My husband and I began taking lessons at a hunter-jumper barn, which means they wanted me to sit on top of this enormous animal and then ride it at a fence and, presumably, go over the fence with the horse, staying on the whole time.
This terrified me, but I wanted it sooooo badly. Unlike swimming, riding is a high-impact sport—higher than I want it to be sometimes—and if I mess up, I might hurt the horse as well as myself. So the stakes went up significantly.
But many good things have come of my riding.
o I am now sorta-kinda coordinated. That is to say, I can walk, chew gum, play guitar, and do the Limbo all at once. There are about twenty-three messages a rider can send a horse at any given moment, and only five or six are called for. The trick is learning to give just the ones you want to give, and not flood the poor beast with disinformation.
o I’m also not afraid of anything, broadly speaking, that a horse can do around me. Or, if they are about to start doing really wack stuff, I know when that is liable to happen and I get the heck out of the way pronto. I still get surprised when a horsefly bites a horse when I’m in the stall with him, for example, and occasionally by mean horse tricks. There is no defense against cataclysm or calculated meanness…the first time. I once bit a horse back who bit me. Startled heck out of him, and he didn’t do it again.
o I’ve gotten to know how horses think. Most of them are very generous, good-hearted creatures. They tolerate my mistakes and they reward my good behavior in a very humble, mellow way. Thank goodness. A humble, mellow gesture from a horse is still a lot of gesture, because they’re so darned big.
o I don’t mind the dirt that comes with horses. Horses are like babies, in that they radically revise your standards of cleanliness. If your sandwich falls in the aisle, you have five seconds to pick it up and brush off the big chunks before it is officially inedible.
o I started doing sit-ups every day. This was because I realized that if I had no abs, I couldn’t stop myself from thumping the poor horse on the back with every stride. They grunt when you thump their backs, you know. A piteous sound. My love for animals compelled me to build up my core.
o I have a kind of physical confidence that I never had before. There’s nothing like making a 2,000-lb animal obey me. It’s awesome! Plus, with time, I have come to no-longer-suck at riding. Horses who once scared me are now fun to ride.
o I get to watch girls age seven to twelve do the stuff I’m doing—and often better—and see their confidence and strength and coordination blossom. English-style riding is a 99% female world. Female empowerment perfumes the air. My heart bursts with pride for them.
Have you learned anything from a horse?