There’s something about women and horses that men will never understand. Men see horses as a tool, a means to get from one point to another. A woman who loves horses sees a horse as a sentient being, a friend and confidant. Oh yes, you can ride them too.
The Lovely Louise is a horsewoman. When she lived in England she had seven horses and rode them constantly through the New Forest, a spectacularly beautiful place that I believe was created for riding horses.
Louise is not a trained rider, and she knows little of the technical aspects of horsemanship. But she’s simply one of the best riders I’ve ever seen. She knows the animal inside and out, and can effortlessly control the beast by always being one step ahead of it. The woman can flat-out ride.
Me? Not so much. When I was about fourteen years old I ran a riding stable at Mt. Snow in Vermont. I did everything: I fed them, I groomed them, and I learned about them. A big part of my job was taking people out on trail rides, and I was good at it. While I’ve never been thrown, I’ve been stepped on, kicked, bitten, and shoved by more than one horse. I learned like Louise did. I got to the point where I could handle a horse as well as anyone who had no idea what they were doing. I even got to know their individual personalities—and trust me, they all have them.
In the last few years I’ve been riding with Louise several times. Once in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where we toured the battlefields on horseback. Here in Florida, we’ve been a couple of times through the Florida puckerbrush. These have been mostly walking tours, although we’ve trotted frequently, and a few times we’ve gone into a canter. I’m not ready for a full gallop yet, but fifty years ago I galloped all the time. There’s really no experience I’ve ever found to compare with galloping on the back of a thousand-pound animal.
Now that I’m no longer fourteen, though, I have some concerns. I have trouble trotting. Typically in a trot you want to sort of semi-stand, moving up and down in a rhythm with the horse. When you get it right, it’s easy and comfortable. If you can’t get it right it’s sort of like riding the mechanical bull at Gilleys in Texas. Trotting is easier for women than men. Men have bits that women don’t have, and if your timing is wrong when you’re bouncing up and down, you can accidentally crush one of those bits, and the whole world goes black. I know this for a fact, and it only needed to happen to me once to convince me that I don’t like to trot.
Cantering is a different story. Its much easier to find the rhythm with the horse, and there’s a feeling of freedom that’s hard to explain. Maybe I’ve just seen too many westerns and I’m picturing myself riding off into the sunset after having killed the bad guys and rescued the fair damsel. I lean over, smile at her, tip my hat and ride off like the hero I am. Yup, cantering is for me.
Galloping is another whole plane of existence. You’re flat out hell-bent-fer-leather racing across the ground on the very edge of completely losing control. You’re not so much riding the animal as you are going along for the ride. I’m not ready to gallop, because at my age I simply don’t bounce like I used to. If I ever do gallop, and I fall off, please remember that I don’t need a headstone; just a simple wooden cross inscribed with the words “He galloped” will do nicely.
I haven’t yet mentioned the worst part of riding a horse, and that’s at the end of the ride. You think you feel fine, but as you dismount your legs tell you that they’ve quit and gone home without you. That’s the reason why cowboys walk funny: they can’t feel their legs. Not to worry, a day or two of BenGay and you can take normal strides again.
I don’t really enjoy riding anymore. Walking is boring, and I’m not good enough anymore to do much more than that. When I’m done, my body from the waist down feels like it belongs to someone else, and I really need to use the men’s room. I’ve decided to leave the riding to Louise, who can trot to her heart’s content because she doesn’t need to worry about her goolies.