I’m guessing you’ve heard the saying “Like a fish out of water?” Well, for this read I’d like you to visualise that fish and keep that saying right up in the front of your mind. When you see the fish, don’t make it a playful dolphin that smoothly rises and falls from the water, skilfully manoeuvring itself in the boat’s wake and never straying from its intended path. Nor a majestic whale powerfully thrusting itself from the deep depths into the bright sunlight, twisting its huge body in such a way as to appear graceful before returning to its underwater haven. No, no… I’d like for you to picture a shiny, pink snapper with bulging eyes and frantically flapping gills, gasping and heaving as it flops around after having been dragged from the water, desperately trying to flip itself back into safe, familiar surroundings.
I was very surprised to find that I felt a bit like that fish when I first got back into the saddle; the gasping, desperate pink version, not the skilful, graceful one. I had been wistfully expecting to feel an immediate sense of homecoming, of belonging in that saddle but instead it was all strangely unfamiliar and even a little bit scary. Don’t get me wrong – I was as excited as a 6-year-old that’s been told Christmas is going to come twice a year and the grin on my face stretched from one ear to the other, but I really did feel a bit out of place.
My daughter had trained our little mare beautifully to stand quietly at the mounting block and she stood rock solid as I sort of climbed, sort of hoisted myself into the saddle, then stood patiently while I took a few deep breaths to calm the frantic, flapping fish that was flipping around inside me.
I’m not sure how long we just stood there and savoured the moment, but it was a while. It had taken a big commitment to get here and I had no intention of rushing it.
And then, with a gentle squeeze (and a click of my tongue, which she ignored), we moved off.
It was brilliant! This is ok… I’m ok… We’ve got this!
Until I tried to turn.
The frantic fish started it’s flipping about again, reminding me I was out of my depth. All I wanted to do was turn, surely that was do-able? My ever-patient daughter reminded me that I needed to use the outside rein to turn and I suddenly realised that the thousand hours I had spent watching her ride was worth exactly nothing when it came to putting theory into practice. The outside rein!? What the…!?
Without her guidance I’m sure we would have continued our sort of crab-style walk down the length of the arena until we had nowhere else to go, but she broke it down and before I knew it, we were indeed going in a whole different direction. Let’s just assume it was the direction I had intended.
We kept up with the walking, turning (outside rein!) and halting (we were pretty good at that one) for the rest of the ride, choosing to keep it simple for the time being. Despite having to be constantly reminded to ‘push my heels down’ (seems that the flipping fish has a very short memory), we did ok. I did ok. I took great delight from watching the little mare’s ears as they flicked back and forth, trying to tune in to what I wanted from her. With every step and movement of her powerful shoulders, it all began to seem more and more familiar, more and more like coming home.
And then came the moment that none of us had prepared for – it was time to get off. I had watched my daughter dismount this little mare countless times, always with agility and grace; taking her feet from the stirrups, swinging her right leg lightly over the back of the saddle, dropping quietly to the ground beside the horse with both feet at the same time.
But now the ground seemed a really, really long way away. My basic grasp of physics told me that the extra kilos I was still carrying, coupled with natural gravity, had the potential to create a force that might see me punch a hole in the ground like a pole driver and cause my body to crumple like an accordion. Would my ankles hold me up? Would my knees survive? Was my hip even still working?
Trust me that the result, while successful in terms of separating myself from the horse, was less than graceful and was more like the clamber down that you see when a child decides to awkwardly come down the ladder instead of swooshing down the slide.
But we were still in one piece, the grin was still in place, the legs were still working (although tomorrow might be different) and the little mare seemed happy enough with my basic efforts, so only one question remained…
When can we do it again?
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