The boy pulls on each boot as his father waits
grabs his helmet by the strap
lifts it from the dirt where he dropped it
trudges through the maw of the barn where the ponies stand in cross ties
and a thousand girls in jodhpurs adore them.
I prompt him at every step of the ritual tacking-up as he
swipes at the pony’s legs with a brush
broods at its refusal to lift a hoof for the pick
forgets where its bridle, saddle, and the stained pad are stored
even though he has been taking lessons all summer.
Here’s what he thinks about riding
and his father’s nostalgia for horses —
He drops the saddle on the pony’s back
with the pommel facing its butt.
Shady has always been “cold backed.” That’s what horse people say when the horse has a sore back, flinches at pressure, grumbles at being saddled or girthed, or exhibits any sign of unhappiness at weight or pressure on the back.
This gets in the way of riding. Unfortunately that’s how I saw it before I understood it. But I have finally seen that a prejudice about horses and what they could do for me got in the way of an appropriate response to my horse’s pain, or what I could do for her.
I was raised to presume any resistance on the horse’s part was unacceptable behavior. It never occurred to me that anything other than lameness or signs of colic was cause for a change in my behavior, not the horse’s behavior. I regret this but I have changed.
Now, a properly fitted saddle, steroid injections, correct shoeing, massage, layoffs and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory tablets are part of Shady’s routine care, and part of my own behavior modification.
Of course it’s harder in winter. But every now and then we have a near perfect ride, like yesterday. At 18 (her age) and 52 (mine) this involves much creaking and grimacing, but we still click. We have a long walking warm up and then I have to stay off her back as much as possible, giving her muscles freedom to support the spinal impingement. I post lightly in my seat for the trot, get up in my 2-point for the canter, and then she relaxes. My wonderful, beloved, dependable dead-broke mare replaces the resistance.
It’s hard on my knees and not exactly the kind of riding I wanted to be doing right now — I was doing training level dressage — but that’s life.
Once again my horse has taught me about my shortcomings, my capacity to change, and the need for sensitivity and compassion. Proving again that I need her more than she needs me.