Confessions of a Re-Rider
And so it begins...
It's been over four years since I was regularly riding and training to event*. It's been a couple of years since I was on a horse at all, and in that time I've been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and a hypermobility syndrome disorder (yeah, that last one sounds like a weird one, but apparently having extra flexible joints isn't always great for riding and can cause significant pain problems....)
Me, on the horse of a lifetime, when I was riding regularly.
Horses have been a big part of my life, I have ridden off and on since I was first put on a neighbor's big gray gelding at the age of two and fell in love. But in these past few years, I haven't thought much about it.
Well, that's not entirely true.
It's not that I haven't wanted to ride, though my access to horses had changed, but more that I didn't have the drive to get back out there. I hurt too much. I was too tired. I had too much else going on. At some point, I filed my love of horses away, like another lifetime.
This spring my nine-year-old daughter got back into riding in a serious way. She's been riding at a fabulous barn in Tunbridge, VT called Round Robin Farm and is now enjoying some of their summer camps immensely.
My daughter, learning to jump at Round Robin Farm.
It didn't take more than the first visit for me to miss the smell of horses, the sights, the sounds of a barn. And by the second lesson, watching my daughter, I was green with envy.
But what if I got back on a horse and discovered it really did hurt too much to ride? What if I learned I couldn't ride again? I didn't want to know the answer.
I thought about High Horses Therapeutic Riding Center but the next session available wasn't until the fall and, as much as I didn't want to know the answer, I was desperate to get back on a horse. So I got in touch with a friend of mine who has two Icelandic horses and, as it turned out, was also on the board for and volunteered at High Horses.
Margot, the owner of the horses and my best friend from high school, and I decided I could probably try riding her Icelandic mare, Hremmsa, a beautiful, easy-going horse with way more woah than go. Hremmsa previously had even been a therapeutic horse at High Horses. At least if I had to climb right off again, I would be with my close friend for support and wouldn't have wasted lesson money.
Margot and her beautiful mare, Hremmsa
So that Friday I drove to her house, loaded with excitement, anxiety, terror, and a whole bunch of other feelings I can't describe. I drove up her driveway to see her working in the sun with two grazing horses standing around her and started laughing as a lot of my worry dissipated. Not only was it a lovely sight but Icelandics are smaller horses; the last horse I had ridden was 16 hands-high (hh), Hremmsa is approximately 15hh and a little less intimidating. Already I felt better.
Oh, how I fumbled in the barn, trying to remember all the steps for tacking up. And, of course, Icelandic horses wear their saddles differently and have slightly different bridles, just to confuse me more! But we got her ready and headed for the round pen.
With a leg up, I was in the saddle; and I grinned. I could sit there, and it didn't hurt! So I asked her to walk and like with so many different activities we do, my muscles remembered far more than I realized. I rode for half an hour or so, mostly walking, but I also started to learn how to tölt (a gait unique to Icelandic horses.) I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. It was real; I had the answer, I could ride! I could even get back off!
At least, I could handle the riding part, but what about the pain afterward?
*Eventing is a sport that has three different phases - Dressage, Cross-Country, and Show Jumping. The competition is rooted in traditional military tests when there was a cavalry. Dressage to show the level of communication between rider and horse, Cross-Country to prove the speed, endurance, and jumping ability of the horse over varied terrain and obstacles, and Show Jumping which tests the stamina and recovery of the horse after the endurance phase and shows that it is fit enough to continue work. - USEA Eventing