Lost as I have been in joyful appreciation of the Here and Now, I seem to have jumped ahead. Spring will bring you to the present like nothing else, I suppose, with all its exultant aliveness. Before I jump back, however, to 2004, Whidbey Island, and the Husband-Horse-Who-Wasn't, let me say this: this husband of mine can ride.
Mat's premarital experience with horses was limited to one brief and unhappy trail string experience as a sullen teen. The rented horses failed to spark an interest in him, and he never went back.
I finally put Mat on a borrowed Paint retiree last summer, more for my pleasure than his own. He submitted to my eager invitation, donning a helmet and mounting in an appropriately manly Western saddle that I'd scrounged up for the occasion. I turned my husband and his steed, the subdued Polychrome, loose in a roundpen, expecting a hurky-jerky walk around the perimeter and some occasion to call, "heels down, dear! Don't hang on the reins!"
If I had wanted to scream directions, I was to be disappointed—Mat was a natural. He rode like he'd been doing it all his life, with the comfort and poise of a true cowhand. We were at the Cowboy Campsite, a Lyman, Washington facility for trail rider camping, and had just celebrated my 30th birthday. My birthday guests, horsewomen all, crowded around the rails and admired. "What a great seat," claimed one, and "lovely hands!" another. He was a vision of competence.
Mat questioned the sincerity of those compliments, feeling like the brunt of some horsie wives' joke, but I convinced him on the car ride home that we'd meant every word. We had been impressed. We had been admiring, not teasing. We had seen something in him: a gift.
There are horsepeople who get on and seem immediately at home—hips following the motion of the horse, hands moving in quiet reciprocation. There are others who get on and struggle, but who find, through devotion, effort, and practice, a long-sought harmony. There are some, even, for whom riding is not natural, who flounce into the saddle with great anticipation but find the experience so alien, so difficult, that only a deep love of their mount will keep them there.
I thought that the grace with which Mat mounted, walked, trotted, steered, and stopped was sure to light a burning desire. I guessed that he would, at least, have had enough fun in the roundpen to warrant a followup trailride. Instead, his debriefing on the ride home revealed a continuing disinterest. "Horses," he said. "Meh. I don't see the point."
I am not offended, nor sorry. He is a father, a husband, a carpenter, a boater, a gardener, musician, fisherman, and mountain biker. He neither needs nor wants another expensive hobby, and I enjoy the quiet contemplation in which I can indulge when out on solo trail rides with my Fenway Bartholomule. I am proud, however, and happy to have watched the man I love enjoy such an easy communication with that splendid beast, the horse.
(disclaimer: I acknowledge that the pictured horse, who had just changed hands, was in need of a hoof trim. It was for this reason that we restricted his exercise to the forgiving footing of the roundpen.)