53: Back in the Saddle Again

53: Back in the Saddle Again

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life

Back in the Saddle Again

The essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us in contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit, and fire.

~Sharon Ralls Lemon

Was this what menopause was all about? I’d known there would likely be hot flashes. A thickening waistline. Mood swings. What I hadn’t figured on was falling into an ever-deepening funk as I moved further and further into my fifties. I’d scold myself when I’d become weepy for no reason. I had nothing to be unhappy about. I had a wonderful husband, three happy kids who are on their own, a roof over my head, shoes on my feet and no worries about where my next meal was coming from.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have enough to keep me busy. I had a too-big house to clean and a too-big lawn to mow. A garden to tend. Meals to cook and dishes to wash. I volunteered at church and at a neighborhood elementary school. On top of all that, my husband and I lived on a small farm. Though the cattle, goats and chickens that we’d once cared for were gone, we still had horses, cats, and Sophie, our three-year-old Boxer mix who clearly relished being a farm dog.

But Sophie’s waistline was thickening, too, and I knew it was my fault. Did I feed her too much? Yes. (Somehow it made it easier to justify my own overeating.) Did I exercise her enough? No. (Most days, I had no desire to walk through the woods behind our house or around the pond in our pasture. Surely, Sophie didn’t either.)

We did, however, climb the steep stairs to the hayloft in the barn every morning. I’d cut the rough twine away from a couple of hay bales and toss them, flake by flake, down into the horses’ manger. Then Sophie and I would descend the loft stairs and make our way back to the house. We were both out of breath by the time we got there.

Pathetic. It was clear that Sophie and I needed to find something to bring physical fitness — and, along with it, zest — back into our lives. But what?

On a sunny morning in early April, we headed to the barn as usual. And as usual, our three horses stood in the pasture and followed us with their gaze. But on this day, they didn’t sprint to the barn. Instead, they dropped their heads and tore at the new-green grass that had, seemingly overnight, begun to poke through the pasture’s brown stubble. When I got to the loft, I saw that the hay I’d tossed out yesterday still littered the barn floor.

I knelt down and threw my arms around Sophie’s neck. “It’s spring, girl,” I told her. “No more hay chores!”

Sophie wagged all over.

“How about if we take a walk?”

More wagging.

As we began our first loop around the pond, I noticed that Sunny, our palomino gelding, was following us. I stopped to scratch between his ears and discovered that his mane and forelock were matted with cockleburs. “You poor thing,” I told him, “let’s take you to the barnyard and get you cleaned up.”

Sunny stood patiently as I combed the burs out of his hair. He lifted his feet so I could use the hoof pick to clean out the dried mud and rocks. He practically grinned when I began rubbing the curry comb over his coat. As he grew cleaner and I grew dirtier, I noticed myself humming and wondering how long it had been since I’d groomed this horse. More than that, how long had it been since I’d ridden him? Or any other horse for that matter.

Two years at least. Not so long ago, I had ridden almost everyday. But I’d fallen out of the habit. Allowed other things to get in the way. Let myself and my animals get fat and lazy. Perhaps the time had come to change that.

Except that you can’t just jump on a horse and ride him as if he’s a bicycle. It’s important to make sure he’s in decent aerobic shape. Free of leg and foot problems. And safe to ride. (A horse that’s used to being a pasture ornament just might morph into a bucking bronco!) I needed to work Sunny on a lunge line for at least a couple of weeks to make sure he was sound. He seemed to have no objection. In fact, he seemed to enjoy our daily sessions. As did Sophie, who romped and played the whole time Sunny and I were working.

When it was clear that Sunny was ready to be ridden, I lugged his tack out of the barn. I draped the saddle blanket over a fence rail and beat the dust out of it with a broom. I cleaned the saddle and bridle and reins with saddle soap and rubbed them with Neatsfoot oil until they gleamed. I polished the bit until it shone like new. Then I got Sunny tacked up. He looked beautiful. And, as crazy as it might sound, happy.

The time had come to untie Sunny from the fence post and climb onto his back.

My fifty-five-year-old heart was beating hard. Was I too old for this? Were my muscles still strong and limber enough to mount a horse? Could I keep my balance once Sunny started to move? Did I remember how to use my hands and legs and voice to make him stop and go and change directions? There was only one way to find out.

I put my left foot in the stirrup, grabbed a clump of Sunny’s perfectly coiffed mane with my left hand, and sprang off my right foot into the saddle. It felt good. No, not just good. Wonderful. I relaxed my grip on the reins and squeezed Sunny’s sides with my legs.

“Giddy-up, fella,” I said.

And with that, Sunny and I headed for the woods, with Sophie following close behind. We rode for more than an hour that day, taking in the sights and sounds and smells of spring and having a perfectly marvelous time. I collapsed into bed that night with every muscle in my body groaning. They were groaning even louder the next morning. But no matter. As soon as my housework was done, I headed straight for the barn.

I whistled once. Here came Sophie. I whistled again. Here came Sunny. Both of them ready — just like me — to put a little fun back into our lives.

~Jennie Ivey

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