Now is the Time
By Betsy Kelleher
It was three months since I’d been on a horse. Way too long! Not riding for awhile always raises my fear level about getting back in the saddle, even though I’ve ridden for 33 years! I know all too well what can happen. I don’t want to come off again, and I don’t want to get hurt. Anyone else feel that way?
Safety is a major concern at my age, and I’m more cautious than ever! I wouldn’t think of getting on a horse and going off down the trail my first time back on. I’m thankful for an indoor arena where I can make sure I remember how to ride! Yes, I know how to groom a horse and put on a saddle and bridle. I know how to mount and give cues to go forward and turn and stop. I’ve worked with several different horses over the years, and I feel I have a measure of ability to “read” a horse and stay in the saddle when it spooks at some unexpected noise. Telling myself I can handle it sometimes helps to lessen the fear.
My aging body’s muscle memory needs re-awakening. My left hip has been hurting and I’m concerned it might bother when mounting and dismounting. And yes, I know it’s just another excuse, like the weather and being busy with other stuff. Riding a horse might actually be just what I need most!
I suddenly realize that thinking of “riding horses” in general is one cause of my hesitancy. Memories of past experiences are strong and my first mare was like a bronco every spring. But she’s gone, so let me focus on now. Lady doesn’t buck or run away in the arena. We’ll deal with the road riding and the tractors another time. Rocky is playful enough to run and buck on the lunge line, but he is a gentleman under saddle. He just needs to be ridden, and I’ll be fine after that first time on. And Traveller is still Old Reliable anytime. So the first key to courage is my focus.
The critical issue, however, is relationship. Not riding for three months isn’t the real problem. You can maintain a relationship even though you don’t ride. You can groom and do ground work and you can just be with your horse, giving loving care, to stay in relationship. You can maintain leadership with basic daily handling. But I was quite sick for several weeks and didn’t even see my horses, then it was cold and icy and I often fed and went home. As a result, I felt totally distant from my horses. And distance doesn’t build a good relationship.
When I first returned to the barn, I expected my horses to welcome me back. Rocky definitely did—reaching out and touching me with his nose, acting very friendly and concerned. And Traveller whinnied when he saw me, as usual. But Lady turned her head away when I tried to pet her. She obviously shunned me for a couple of days. I know she was mad at me for not being there for her for too long a time. With mares, you just have to understand their feelings. She got over it.
The weather was warmer, and I needed to get back in that saddle. I would start with Lady! But I took a couple days beforehand, for grooming and cleaning feet and loving on her, just to renew our bond. It helped me to imagine the scenario of our ride in my mind first, to “see” how good Lady always stands when I mount, to remember how she responds to my cues and to visualize her energetic smooth gait. And when I did get on her, she was calm and it was grand. She walked, she circled, she did a nice slow gait, and she stopped when I asked and backed up. She side passed over a pole each direction, and she took one step at a time when I asked her to. We were back to working together and I praised her for every good response. It was a joyful beginning of another year of riding!
I rode Rocky later that week, after ground work and letting him work off as much energy as possible the previous day on the lunge line! I tried to visualize a good ride, and we worked on familiar things during our first lesson this year. In spite of the wind and noisy distractions, we got through it. One step at a time, with careful patience, I will get back to riding regularly. Spring, I sincerely hope, is on its way, and I will soon be ready to venture out on the trail and the road with confidence!
I’m also excited about the upcoming Illinois Horse Fair! I have printed off the schedule and am marking the events I want to attend. I’m looking forward to learning something new or finding some great bargain. And I might sell a few of my books as well, in the Illinois Horse Network booth (downstairs in the Livestock Center building).
This year I want to work on my leadership skills, to help Lady and Rocky build more confidence and find greater security in trusting me. I am ready to sign up for some really good clinic to educate me about a better way. Maybe at the Horse Fair, I will find new direction.
I want to enjoy my horses more. Yes, having too many horses cuts down on the enjoyment. I wish Traveller was young again and my only horse! But I need to stop trying so hard to make Lady and Rocky be another Traveller. I need to move on. I’ve been reading Carolyn Resnick’s blog, and I’m starting to desire that sense of relaxed being together she talks about. I think now is the time to explore that concept and see where it leads.
My focus is being influenced somewhat by a book. It’s an old book, The Pursuit of God, by A.W. Tozer, that I finally decided to read. One passage has touched my mind and heart in a strong way. Discussing man’s purpose, Tozer used the phrase “to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” That word “enjoy” reached out and grabbed me like a giant hug! To enjoy God. Actually enjoy Him instead of feeling fearful distance. Forever. Wow. I was stopped in my tracks for a moment, just feeling that hug so warm and intimate, that moment of connection so real and strong.
One of my favorite passages is Psalm 91:1-2: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” I want to enjoy that dwelling place and know that belonging. I want to spend more time enjoying His Presence. Again, the critical issue is relationship! And distance doesn’t build a good one.
(Originally published in the March 2011 issue of the Illinois Horse Network)