One morning during water aerobics, our instructor Sherry said, “Wow, I’m so sore from riding yesterday.” I assumed she meant bike riding, so this was my inner monologue: “Mmmm… I sure miss my bike … I especially miss riding my bike in Laos. Sure wish I could do that here, but too many potholes, cows, cars, and the air pollution would kick my butt. Dang, I just can’t cope…”
Sherry’s voice interrupted. “… so we kept trotting for a really long time.”
(Insert sound effect of screeching needle on a record.)
Wait. Trotting? Maybe Sherry hadn’t been on a bike, after all. “When you say ‘riding,’ do you mean HORSEBACK riding?” I asked her. Sure enough. Sherry leases a horse at a nearby stable. For about $200 a month, you can LEASE a horse! A handler feeds it, grooms it and exercises it every day. If you decide to go for a ride, the handler saddles up your horse and then sticks around to put everything away and give the horse a bath after your ride. All of the fun and none of the work? Where do I sign?
Friend and fellow water-aerobicizer, Holli, also expressed enthusiasm for horse leasing, so we joined Sherry at the stable a few days later. Side note: The stable is located in a district called Race Course, but Holli and I mistakenly went to the ACTUAL race course, which is a creepy place full of desperate men and absolutely no women … other than us. We quickly realized we were in the wrong place and jumped back in the car for the short drive to the Children’s Riding Club.
That’s right. The CHILDREN’S Riding Club.
Holli and I inquired about leasing horses, but ultimately decided to take lessons instead (on borrowed horses). We clipped on our new black velvet helmets and joined the line-up at the mounting block. Sherry, Holli and I joined about 6 youngsters in the arena for a riding lesson. The youngest, atop a white pony, appeared to be around 5 years old.
I’m pretty sure my assigned horse, Magic, rolled his eyes when he saw me coming. Despite years of lessons and horse ownership in my pre-teen years, I flopped around like a fish in the saddle. The stirrup straps pinched my flailing calves, and my girl parts took a beating. Even more humiliating, a handler held Magic’s bridle, walking and jogging alongside until I smiled and asked, “What’s your name?” He muttered, “Arif,” and hastily dashed away. “Thank you, Arif,” I called out. Maybe he thought I was dismissing him, but really I just wanted to express my appreciation. I completed the lesson without Arif and, thankfully, without incident.
There was no denying we were still in India. To reach the arena, we walked past what appeared to be an ancient ruin, but large dumpsters overflowing with garbage blotted the landscape. Dogs and dog-sized crows rummaged through the rubbish while we breathed through our mouths. However, the riding club itself was clean and well-maintained with scrubbed concrete stalls and small smokey fires to deter the nasty biting flies. The horses – all retired race horses! – seemed healthy with shiny coats and high spirits. The arena was smallish but served the purpose, despite several large trees springing out of the middle (anyone else foresee a cartoon-like distracted rider trotting along, looking backwards just in time to get smacked off her horse by a tree branch?). A large pool of mosquito-breeding water worried me in this season of dengue fever, but it was filled with fresh dirt within a week.
The riding school director, Anu, was a small no-nonsense woman who stood in the middle of the arena barking out instructions and correcting our form. At times, she got frustrated with the children who lazily let their horses call the shots, but I appreciated her genuine love and concern for the horses.
On our second visit, the handler saddled up a large gelding named Grey Gaston for me. The monsoon season brings out some nasty flies, which were driving the horse insane. When we were moving, he was compliant, but whenever we stopped to hear Anu’s lesson, he kicked, twisted and writhed around to elude the flies so much I thought he might toss me.
At one point, Anu shouted, “Check your diagonals!” Hmmm… diagonals? That sounded familiar, but my brain must have locked up all my horse vernacular with the rest of my junior-high wisdom (maybe in a cerebral box titled “Braces and Home Perms”). Fortunately, Anu explained: Diagonals refer to your posting position when the horse trots. When the horse’s inside leg is forward, you come up out of the saddle, and when the outside leg is forward, you sit back down. Right! I knew that!
Back in the day, my horse Princess threw me countless times. Scrapes, nasty bruises and concussions were a regular part of my adolescent life. These days, I know my body would not recover quickly from a fall, so that fear lingers. But by the end of our second lesson with Anu, I was starting to feel more confident. She provided some guidance that kept me from flopping around so much, and I could feel myself panicking less and enjoying the experience. It was all coming back… The more I can relax my mind, the more I can dredge up that junior-high understanding of horses and the beauty they can bring to my life.