Thursday, April 1, 2010
Riders, Here's How To Be Happy
FarmWife has been happy as a part-time lessee, as an owner, and as a borrower of equines, but the key component of her happiness has been trust. She trusted Shorty, the headshy pony that taught her to tack up and post, and she trusted Panda, the dauntless pinto gelding that taught her to really ride. She trusted Dor, the anxious off-the-track Appy, and rode him bareback and bridleless at a hand gallop when he had proven himself too fretful for other uses. These were the horses that she will remember, and whose memory warms her spirit.
FarmWife came into my life as a horseless housewife, but she was not unhappy. She was riding a New Zealand thoroughbred, an upper level eventer in semi-retirement. Enjoying a bit of ringwork several times a week on the generosity of his owner, FarmWife was having fun. This gelding was a fussy horse, a hard keeper, and accident prone, but sensitive and honest under saddle. He had skills enough to allow her to focus more on her equitation and strength than on personal safety and boogie monsters, and a kind enough temperament that he was a pleasure to be with despite his nervous energy. He was a good egg, and he helped FarmWife through a cash-strapped and lonely period of stay-at-home parenting.
FarmWife enjoyed my companionship, over the fence, when I still belonged to her neighbor, but her riding needs were met by this thoroughbred. As his owner's schedule changed, however, this free opportunity dwindled, and by that first winter of our acquaintance FarmWife was lonesome and restless. Horselessness was taking its toll, making her anxious about money and irritable with her family. That was when I decided to step in. Being the property of a generous couple, I was loaned out to FarmWife for one splendid trail ride. Not being used to the anatomical peculiarities of mules, she managed to gall me behind the elbow, and yet I enjoyed her company. She visited, guiltily, each day for a week thereafter to see how I was healing, and that was nice too!
A year later, FarmWife was riding a borrowed horse that she did not trust. He was a horse of aptitude, and a nice enough fellow, but a lazy bastard and prone to playing dirty tricks. He was beautiful.
Now, to cut to the heart of the matter, here is how to know when you are doing this riding thing wrong—when you get in the saddle, and come down saddened, you know. We are here to cheer you, humans, and to lift your spirits. We are your friends and partners, and not your adversaries. When you go riding and come home tense and worried, and when every bad ride requires that you decompress in a teary counseling session with your neighbor's mule over the fence, you are not in the right relationship. Your stomachache is there to tell you something.
FarmWife took me for a second trail ride that winter, and it was then that she decided something. She decided that, for her, riding was about being happy. It was about trusting her mount, and feeling safe, but also feeling like the ride was mutually enjoyable. Forcing a snotty horse through his tantrums or spurring on a kick-along plug might have resulted in a satisfactory ride for some, but for FarmWife there is pleasure in being together, and in having fun together. We are friends, and ride for the pleasure of one another's company.
This does not mean that FarmWife won't occasionally ask me to do something that wouldn't have been my choice. After all, she does me favors in mucking my paddock and grooming my hard-to-reach places, and it's only fair that I indulge her with a canter when I'd rather trot, or a hoof trim when I'd rather graze. Her smile makes me happy, and my happy bray is all the reward she needs for her little kindnesses. Our rides, she says, are icing on the cake.