Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Moving On Up

Dolly is a lovely mover.  I'm a not-so-lovely sitter.
We're working it out.

f there’s one thing notable about experienced (I like that better than “senior”) riders, it’s that we are well aware of our shortcomings.  If we’re not, we tend never to get to be experienced riders.  We quit because we’ve done our bodies in or because we’ve reached a level of frustration that makes pretty much any other sport seem significantly more sensible than this whole climbing aboard a semi-wild animal bodily-damage festival that is Equestrian Sports.  I’m pleased to be in the group that never overestimated our abilities, and thus made it into the “old enough to know better” clan. 

And that’s not even close to true.  I put all that out there into the Universe in the hope that it will take pity on me.  But I have slowed down.

On one side of my desk is a stack of glossy horse mags with pages dog-eared to ads for cool horse stuff I haven’t yet owned and training tips I haven’t yet tried.  On the other is a stack of applications for Medicare Supplement Insurance.  I’m at a crossroads, and I know it.  I’m choosing to ignore it.  No, that’s not a subtle way of saying I’m senile.  I really haven’t forgotten my birth date or who is President now.  I just ignore those things, too.

As I type, I’m feeling a few aches and pains.  Some are just the ones I’ve gotten used to having, given nicknames too, and barely notice anymore.  A few can be directly attributed to Zip’s stall rest episode, from which we’re both healing nicely.  But there’s a whole new batch centered in my upper shoulders and forearms that are a gift from my new old horse, Baby Doll.  My real-world friends know her as Jess’s fearless eventing horse, Dolly.  My Facebook friends only know her as that pretty dark bay mare with the stunning smile I’ve posted a dozen pictures of since she came back home in May.

Dolly and Jess...a symphony to my rock band!

Discounting my parents’ insistence that I go to college without benefit of equestrian program which set me back a few years, I’ve never stopped riding for any protracted period, despite injuries of various quality, so I like to think I’m in pretty good shape and still competent in the saddle.  And I rode Dolly during her tenure in Pennsylvania.  I do love a good clinic!  It’s like a show without all the bathing and uncomfortable clothes.  So she and I are far from strangers.  Still, getting on her for the first time in my own ring, alone and without guidance or distraction, was a bit of a heart-stopping moment.  I reminded myself of a young 4-H’er I knew who would hold her breath through the whole jump course, then faint at the end.  I didn’t faint.  Yay, me!

We’re well past that now, and we’ve segued into small cross-rails and the occasional barrel run, but getting past my Fear of Flying was no small thing.  I’ve pretty much had my body’s limit of concussions (3), broken noses (2), and repairs to parts torn asunder (there’s no symbol for infinite on my keyboard).  And believing in my heart that there’s no such thing as a 100% safe horse didn’t help.  Don’t try to change my mind.  Even Leo, who likes to stand and watch the guys blasting with dynamite for the new road, has spooked under me once…only once in over a decade, but still….

But all that by the way, the shoulder aches are my proof that I reached outside my comfort zone and into Dolly’s world, where speed is of the essence and extra legs grow spontaneously at awkward moments, like during downward transitions.  At first, I was holding on for dear life.  There’s nothing more intimidating to me than a horse with a really long stride in a really short arena.  Visions of flying (alone) over the fence dance in my head.  But I’ve moved up a level now, and the shoulder aches are a result of holding the mare together for an hour of amazing fun and occasional brilliant moments.  I’m proud of me for that.

Yay for clinics!

There are keys to overcoming fear.  It helps (a lot) to have drugs handy.  I’m please to say I didn’t actually take any, but holding the Xanax bottle in my hand warded off some evil spirits nonetheless.  It also helps to have someone to talk to who won’t judge you too harshly.  My daughter is great for that.  Too great.  She was so supportive, I nearly considered jumping something higher than six inches! 

It’s helpful to have a back-up plan.  By that I mean someone on speed dial who can scrape you up and cart you off to the ER, and a basic scenario stuck in your head that can guide you should you feel too ill-at-ease to continue to stretch your wings.  Quitting should always be an option.  Yeah, it’s important not to let yourself become too dependent on that one.  You don’t want to quit in your mind before you’ve even begun.  But allowing yourself to back down when threatened is okay.  My first ride on Dolly here at home lasted maybe 15 minutes.  She did nothing wrong.  I did nothing wrong.  I was simply exhausted from the sheer anxiety that was causing all my muscles to contract, so I quit.  It was good.  We cookied, bathed, and hung out on the lawn.  The next time I didn’t have all that anxiety, so we did 20 minutes.  Before that ride was over, we were cantering without the speed taking my breath away.  

Not me.  Not now.  Not ever.
But it's nice to know Dolly can do this.

Now, probably 20 rides into this relationship, we’re actually bonded.  I found a bit and bridle she likes.  That was key.  (Jess, if you’re reading this, just putting your jumping tack on her was like red-flagging a bull….Jeez!)  We’ve got the saddle balance thing worked out, which was also key.  She’s a downhill horse, so I was perched on the saddle no matter how much stuff I put under it, and perchiness does not foster confidence.  We cured that with an awesome little ventilated gel pad I found that fits right into those little hollows on both sides of her withers.  And we’ve got the signals down.  Now I need to do enough water aerobics to get those shoulder muscles back into a shape they haven’t needed since Zip went on strike some  years ago.  

So up we go!  I’m still not interested in competing ever again, though a few clinics would be a nice thing.  But the internal competition is tough, and I’m pleased as can be that I’m winning against my fears and my age.  Here’s to all the experienced riders who are winning that same competition!  Ride on!

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