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Here’s Many Brave Fools in a nutshell! 

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Keeping an Open Heart

I was talking to a pal the other day, about a bunch of things that are going on for me at the moment, and in conclusion I said, ‘Well, I’m keeping an open heart.’

The thing is, I know I was going to say that I was keeping an open mind, and… I didn’t. I mean, I could feel the word on my tongue. It almost made it all the way out, but then this other word slipped out of my mouth, and I realised that this it was a good thing to say, and a good way to live.

This concept has been on my mind for the last week or so. I’m working on what I’ve been calling my ‘horsey-divorcey’ book, a post-divorce, pony-mad, codependency-recovery memoir. I’ve been working on it for the last forever, or at least it feels that way, and it’s another reason that I wasn’t posting very often in the last year or so. I was having a hard time switching from blog-brain to book-brain, and I feel that since I’m halfway done, and have also nailed down the memoir’s raison d’etre, I can do both at once.

One feeds the other. Each chapter features a number of posts culled from here; this post is inspired by some things I’ve been thinking about lately that have come up from the book writing. In one chapter, the main thrust of which is falling, I talk about how much I wanted to be a rider and I recount the first seven falls that were meant to ‘make’ me a rider. [All seven posts can be found in the Catalogue of Falls category.] Someone had told me that it took seven falls to make a rider; I had some fear around falling, and the notion of turning it into a goal kind of took the sting out of it.

It occurred to me that there was no way in heaven or hell that I wanted to call myself codependent, and I couldn’t imagine how I was going to take the sting out of that. I have done so by mainly turning it — the concept of it, my reality of it — into a hook in a book. By extension though, through that kind of distancing, it’s easier for me to hold the notion at a healthy distance, from which I gain perspective. It makes it easier for me to look at my behaviour in my unsuccessful marriage see how I can heal, and move forward.

But was it unsuccessful? On Saturday, I woke up a bit tired, and what with my ligament thingie still bothering me, by the time I got to my lesson, I had already reckoned on the kind of lesson I was going to have. And I had exactly the lesson I thought I’d have: not stellar, largely featuring inconsistent jumping on Connell, who wasn’t doing anything but giving back to me exactly what I was giving to him, an hour in which I went in and out of focus, in which I corrected something only to let something else go by the wayside. A lesson in which, at the end when the instructor gave us all feedback, I was literally and figuratively often unbalanced.

I was not fully ‘successful’ in that lesson, but I can look at it and realise that it was successful in that I knew what was happening going in, and got what I thought I was going to get. I now, completely and utterly, understand that I bring myself to this horseriding lark, and that it’s not up to the horse to ‘make’ it go well. In this way, I can look at the things I am looking at, as regards my codependency, how it manifested in my former marriage, think about what I’ve learned and how I’ve used that knowledge, has enabled me to sit here right now, a horsewoman-in-progress, pulling all the bits of my life together and bringing it all forward.

That’s the only kind of enabling I’ll be doing now, but even as to that, who knows? I’ll do my best, and I’ll keep an open heart.

***

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This is still a good lesson – yes, even and especially the part that happened in the actual arena — and I did a quick scan of the last few years and realised that the stronger I get [mind, body, spirit] the less hard I have to work. There’s a difference between working hard and working well, and the latter only comes with repetition and practice and breakthroughs and mistakes and plateaus. And those last two are the frustrating places where the transformations take place…

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So, despite my promise to write about the myriad books I’ve read about horses, and natural horsemanship, and the esoterica of the mythology of the horse, etc, I haven’t, but believe me when I say that I’ve read a lot. I read before I rode. I read before I do just about anything, to be honest. So I’ve been through your Monty Roberts, your Linda Kohanov, your Chris Irwin, your Linda Tellington-Jones. I’ve absorbed the teachings, and would have been trying them out, all this time, but hey, no horse, and it’s unfair to schoolies to give them a little bit of something without consistency. I’ve ridden a variety of horses over the past two and a half years — I think the count may be up to fourteen? Fifteen? — and I haven’t encountered the kind of horse I’ve been reading about, the kind that is sensitive to me, as rider and as person, and who will demonstrate, to me, in a holistic, yet non-nonsense, and if I’m being truthful, creepily prescient way, how I need to grow.

I’ve never met that horse, until now, and it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Read the rest of this entry »

…ahhh, just can’t resist, though.

I am off for The Christmas in seven weeks. I have — hang on — 12 lessons left. ‘Sue!’ I am shouting at myself, ‘Don’t!’

I have only come off Connell three times this year. I came off Connell three times in one lesson, once. Holy moly, that was a bad hour! It was a Tuesday night in winter, the floodlights were on, and there was something up, all the horses were acting up, even the most reliable ones were stopping at the double over X, and we were making up stories/excuses about the shadows being cast between the fences…

Anyway, despite there still being a healthy number of hours left in the year: only three times. One fall taught me to show him a fence if I thought it might look funny to him (and to me); one was when he seemed to have taken against one of the cross country fences, unbeknownst to me until the last minute when he ran out and I went flying; the last was my bad decision to let him go at another fence in the field and he slipped. The last two, I was off balance; the first, I am sure I communicated my own nerves to him and he just went, ‘Eh, no.’

The thing is that after that shin tear/pull from last year, it is as though I have started from zero again, in the best possible way. I feel like having to take my time with myself in order to stay healthy has finally dropped a load of pennies and my riding’s improved, I’m more clear and definitely stronger in the leg, and we just… go, and we jump and we’re fine. Canter transitions: excellent. That dressage test in the summer: wowee. Flat work: has come on immensely (leg yielding is still something of challenge, but turning on the forehand is getting there.) I’ve been a bit wary of participating in the showjumping league lately, so I have to get my head right before I give that a go.

12 to go — I think we’re going to be grand!

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I just came across this, as a draft labelled ‘2013/02/06’* Is that June 2nd, or the second of the sixth? No, I think it’s February, as this is an American platform, is WordPress. I wonder why we do the dates differently, here? Today is the 24th of the fourth, or 24 April. As we would say.

Anyway, we did this last year. The lesson was indoors, so yeah, probably February, although after the weather we ‘enjoyed’ this winter — rain, rain, rain, which made sandy goop of the lower arena, which made no odds as we went out in it anyway — it must have been incalcuably miserable outside.

The fences weren’t big, but they were tricky:
THE SET UP

Because after the crosspole, you kind of had to jump sideways. Or maybe you ended up jumping sideways because you didn’t approach it correctly.
THE FLOW

What is amazing to me is that I look at it and I remember it, but I know if I had to do it again, it would be easier to do than trying to write about it.

If you do as you’re always told, and look at the next fence, your body sends much of the information the horse needs. Keeping the inside leg on would help here, as well. I remember there was a bit of confusion on the part of Connell and I the first time we attempted the right rein straight, a ‘Where did that come from?’ moment that ended in a cat-jump.

Looking where I was going really helped with the left hand straight. ‘Looking where I was going’ seems like a no-brainer, and it is, but you’d be surprised what happens when you get up the back of a horse, how common sense often goes flying out the arena door.

Going down to A and all the way back around to the right hand straight at M was easy peasy and made sense to both of us, and then made it easier still to do the whole thing over again, a little bit higher {probs no higher than 70, 75cms} {maybe 80?} — but then the added twist of having to take the crosspole in reverse pissed Connell off, who was using his head quite enough for one evening, and I actually couldn’t get him to do it.

I remeber it was one of those nights when a person new to the lesson was all, ‘I’ve never seen Connell go like that!’ — in fact, ah! he wouldn’t do the crosspole in reverse, and was feckin’ speeding away from it, and I said, ‘He feels too strong,’ and the person new to the lesson was gobsmacked. Which is good and bad.**

I remember also that the straights felt like they were that close to the wall, but there really was loads of room.

I love these sorts of exercises, because I do have to look where I’m going, and when I look where I’m going, I’m not so focused on trying to read the horse’s mind, and we just do the thing, and it’s liberating, and it feels like total collaboration. It’s like, we’re both just minding our own business, and it’s fun.

Less than a week to go…

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*YYYY/MM/DD is in fact the international standard, says Google Answers. Huh!

**Good in that he was listening to me and being forward going, but bad because I wasn’t accustomed to said forward-goingness and I wasn’t very good at bringing him back.

***

I should have just taken the fall. Read the rest of this entry »

… which is not entirely inappropriate, as our Mercury was a famous TV star, playing Henry VIII’s primary mount in The Tudors. The shrieks that ensued the first time I saw him on the telly! [Mercury, not Jonathan Rhys-Meyers.]

The sad news was shared in the yard today: Merc, who was probably around a thousand years old and crippled by arthritis, was put down this week. He was the first horse I ever rode in a lesson, properly; fittingly, here’s the first post I ever wrote on this blog, below. It’s seven years to the week that I took to horseback, and if it wasn’t for Mercury, I wouldn’t still be here writing about it all. Heart U, beastie.

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9 SEPTEMBER, 2006 The wee girls circle round and round, legs pounding the sides of their ponies, and I am feeling breathless.

As excited as I was to take my first horse riding lesson, I’d actually have to be on a horse to take it, wouldn’t I, and they’re big, aren’t they, and watching those kids flying around the ring, I feel increasingly fluttery and anxious. As little as I know about horses, I knew this anxiety was a bad thing. On top of all this, I was already feeling under the weather: I had a headache, a scratchy throat, exacerbated by the heat of the day that had turned the number 63 bus into a trundling sun trap… ah, hell, I could always come back another time…

I can’t come back another time. I spent the entire week, in the run up to this day, talking about it to the girls at work. I have been yearning for this for years. A month ago, I got the yen yet again, and the day before I finally Googled equestrian centres in Dublin, I saw: horse statues on a house on the coast road that I’d never seen before; a horse trailer; an actual horse; and on the way home from work, my iPod opened the evening’s commute with Land from Patti Smith’s Horses.

Okay, okay. I get it.

So I’m here. I walked up the long, long road to a long, long hill. I don’t know where anything is, I don’t know who to make myself known to, I don’t— I need a helmet, I know that much. I wander a little; I’m an hour early, thanks to the bus. I’m intimidated by the thoughtless ease with which a clutch of girls in white hard hats inhabit the entrance to what must surely be the barn. I can’t go near them; I don’t have the right.

I drift back to the door of the inside thing, the ring, whatever. Parents chat amongst themselves and happily compliment their daughters as they pass. These kids are jumping, effortlessly. Jesus God. I drift away again.

Then an older bunch of riders come back from somewhere, the horses enter the inside ring place, everyone slips effortlessly to the ground, ponies are lead away, voices are raised simply to be audible, I back away — I need a helmet. I go to the portakabin again, and the guy in charge is there, I say who I am, he says, “You’re late,” and a helmet, stinking with hours and hours of strangers’ sweat, is jammed on my head and I’m told to go back to the arena (ah), and I do, and the teacher asks me who I am and have I done much riding, and I tell her my name, and none, and she says get on up on a black horse, and I do, and she shows me how to hold the reins, and I hold them, and she tells us all to walk on, and—

And the horse takes one step, and I think to myself, “Fuck,” and he takes another and I think, “Fucking hell get me the fuck offa this fuckin’—” and another step and another and I am no longer a human woman but a sack of frozen potatoes sporting a fetid black hat.

I don’t even know the horse’s name — how am I supposed to bond?

I can hear myself breathing, air is whistling in and out of my nose, and it’s about all I can hear. I hear a voice shouting but it’s not language: it sounds like short, sharp raps, there’s a sensation that it’s the same series of sounds over and over — rap rap rap. The other people understand and are obviously responding to these sounds, because one minute, we’re going in one direction, and then we’re not, we’re threading our way from one corner of the arena to the other and going the opposite way — and I’ve yet to fall off.

And with maybe fifteen minutes to go (I can’t glance at my watch, because if I move my hands, or waver in my unstinting regard of the back of the horse’s head, something bad will happen) it occurs to me to maybe relax my stiffened legs a little, like, even grip the sides of the horse, with my calves? Is this is a good idea? It may have looked like I was doing it— my legs weren’t sticking out at ninety degrees from either side of the horse— but it sure hadn’t felt like it, so I do it, and I’m no longer hyperventilating. The teacher doesn’t seem bothered that I won’t do anything but walk (“Sue, want to give the trot a go?” “No.”) and I can sense that my lesson mates are still where they’re meant to be, on the back of their horses, not writhing around on the ground clutching shattered limbs… and I relax.

This relaxation, and the action of the calf tightening, the action of this intuitive (common sensical!) decision, results in a somewhat straighter spine. I’m sitting better, and I can hazard a look around, and drop my elbows, a little, although my arms are so tense you could break concrete breeze blocks on them, my hands so thoroughly clenched on the reins that I have surely broken all my finger bones.

Suddenly, those staccato sounds become language: “Turn in and give them all a big pat— feet out of the stirrups— swing your leg around the back— drop down,” and I’m on the ground and a there’s a name tag on the horse’s bridle and I whisper in his ear, “Mercury. Mercury! You are great!”

I walk down the long hill to the long road, my hair having fully absorbed, via the helmet, the honest sweat of women like me, women who have ridden a horse. I haven’t got a trace of flu, of a headache, of a sore throat, nor of a single critical thought, of a single bad thing to think about the thing I’d just done, swaggering like a cowboy (there’s a good reason why they walk like that) and all I think is I did it, I did it, I did it!

I’m fairly sure I’ve never been so delighted with myself in my entire life.

***

MERCURY and ME

Merc: well known for his dapper mustache.

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I’ve written about this before, but things have changed. Read the rest of this entry »

I know that weather is only weather, but holy wow, the weather. It is horrible. As of this writing, the sun is breaking the stones, but that’s just for now. Who knows what it will do later? It could — because it has — turn into November in July in the snap of a finger.

Not that is stops me, or any of us, showing up on Tuesdays.

On Tuesday afternoon, it had looked like the gray, the suffocating gray that has been hanging over us like a shroud, was about to blow off, out to sea… and then it didn’t, it started lashing rain about half an hour before we were to begin, and ach, looked like we’d be stuck indoors.

Now, this is a huge improvement for me, and I am not sure when this happened, but I used to prefer riding indoors. I think the walls made me feel safe. It’s not so much that I feel unsafe indoors now, it is more like I now feel safe out of doors; also, the outdoor arena is bigger, and I felt like jumping. Not like we can’t jump indoors, because we do, but — bleh. We’ve been very, very lucky in our Tuesday night weather, even throughout the winter, and this just — it was crap, just like the weather.

And it’s not like we all haven’t ridden in onslaughts and downpours. Did I post about that time I went on a ride out in Bath, England in a deluge? Yeah, so once, I went on a ride out in Bath, England, in unbelievable, relentless rain. I was doing a residential school week in Bath University as part of my psychology degree with the Open University, and we had free time, and I went to the equestrian centre to which I had gone the previous year at the other res school week I had to do for the degree. I got the same horse, Colt, and off we went, myself and the ride leader, and it was insane, complete and total lunacy, but I needed to be out on a horse; too much head-stuff going on, doing the course work. I was soaked straight to me knickers in three minutes. We passed a car that had helpfully stopped to let us go by; the driver rolled down his window, looked up at me, and said ‘You’re mad.’

That is one of the best memories of my life thus far.

Anyway: so, it’s been done, riding in the rain, but who wouldn’t rather be outside in clement weather?

We went out anyway. The rain had turned to mist, and as we warmed up, it was an exceedingly pleasant feeling to have cool water falling on the skin. Plus, Connell and I were on it: bending like nobody’s business, clean strikes off the right rein in the canter — brilliant. We started jumping, and it was… it was effortless. I was in the space where I was doing what I was meant to be doing without really thinking about it, and Con was juiced to jump. In fact, I had to circle him before we headed for the fences, he was so juiced.

I was happy with all the jumps, which hardly ever happens, and I was doing the thing where I look in the proper direction whilst in mid-air over the second fence, and hey, it really helps the horse get the correct lead upon landing.

It was such a great hour. I think I’ve still got the endorphins floating around in my system. It is so great when it is great. It’s okay when it’s not, even though great is preferable; it’s okay when it’s okay because it’s still being there, on the horses. But when it’s great! When it’s great, nothing matters. Locusts could have started raining down upon us, and it would have been fine. Well, the horses might have been bothered. Right, okay, no locusts.

But is it so great when it is great, when it is effortless, when everything I’ve learned to date seems to be there in my actions, and I don’t have to think, and everything goes.

Wish I could be out there now, in the sunshine…

Something unexpected happened on Saturday.

On Saturday, I was still feeling a little ‘boo hoo hoo’ because my weekend away in the South of France was now in the past; a little sleepy — this ‘living closer to the yard’ thing is great, honestly, but I see now that I really used the second bus journey to wake up; a little stiff from having fallen off Con on Tuesday. It was not a big one, although my back was sore. So what do I go and do?

I ask if I can take William. Read the rest of this entry »

Our usual instructor was off on her holidays, and our substitute was fab — and I’m not just saying that. I remembered that I had only worked with her once before, in a private lesson, and it had been with Rebel, and as we chatted during mount up, on one of the other tracks of my mind I wondered how long ago that had been?

Anyway, I asked about Himself, and P didn’t have any new news (still out on grass, still has been taken out of half-livery), and then said, ‘But remember how well he went that time? In that private lesson?’ and I was gobsmacked that she even remembered.

We had an excellent hour, and I really managed to stay out of Connell’s way as we jumped: just one fence, but it went up and up to 85cms, and all went well, mainly because — imagine this! — I did as P said, kept my eyes on the tree line and didn’t even flick my gaze down at the fence.

Okay, I did, but just the one time, mainly because I hadn’t trusted myself that I was counting the strides correctly.

As I lead Con away after the lesson, I thanked P, who said how she hadn’t seen me ride in a while, and I was going really well, that I was really together, and that there wasn’t a bother on me. And then we tried to figure out when that private lesson was? And was it three years ago? Three years? Really?

Really. Three years ago. And in fact, eerily enough, to the very day.

How weird is that????

FIGURES OF EIGHT

Ten years on from my first ever riding lesson, these posts are still wandering round and round, a figure of eight starting with today, probably, and yesterday, definitely. It's the antithesis of how I usually do things, but... that's horses for ya.

TACK ROOM

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