Rider Up!

I haven’t been on a horse for about a year, and I was getting that “Now or never,” feeling about climbing back in the saddle. I dislike “slow grief” situations, where you aren’t absolutely certain of a loss, but it’s looking more and more sure as time goes on, but there’s no closure, no ritual, no moment when you can say, “That relationship or role or aspect of my life is gone for good,” except in hindsight.

I was beginning to doubt that I’d find my way back to the saddle, despite all the great memories, the bond with my daughter, and the mental challenge that riding has given me. Instructors, understandably, are looking for students who will a) buy a horse, b) board that horse at the instructor’s barn, and c) have the ambition and athleticism to aim for the show ring, because competition entails hauling and coaching fees for the instructor (usually), if not fees for also riding the horse at show. Then too, teaching an old lady who mostly just wants to mess around is hardly the pinnacle of pedagogy for a true equestrian.

I observed a few lessons with local instructors, and ye gods and little fishes. So serious! So un-fun and dominance-based. My old trainer has long since moved to Florida, but I’d hesitate to ride with him even if he were available. I’m not in shape, and what muscle I had even a year ago has been compromised by weight loss. And the longer I’m away from riding, the more my courage for the sport ebbs. Horses are big, you know…

Fortunately for me, the therapeutic riding barn recently offered me the chance to ride in a class for volunteers. The horses get to do more than walk along the rail, and the volunteers can experience what our equine co-workers are like to ride. I was nervous, friends, and I’m enough of a horse girl to know that horses sense when we’re nervous, and then they can get nervous, et cetera and so forth.

I should not have worried at all. The instructor put me up on Mae, a sensible, mature Clydesdale mare, and twenty paces away from the mounting block, I was riding instead of fretting. Which is our bendy side, which is our straight side? How to approach contact with the bit when the horse is built to pull rather than push from behind? Will she move off my leg? Eyes up and soft, Grace. Remember to breathe…

The day will come when I will hang up my spurs, but I rejoice greatly to say, today is not that day. The saddle can still be a happy place for me, and my gratitude for that knows no limits. I danced a little nip-up in the barn aisle I was so stupidly happy. Texted my daughter. Cried in the car. I don’t yet have to say, “I was a horse girl.” My paddock boots and helmet are back in the passenger’s seat, and there they will stay for now.

Have you ever had the chance to revisit a previous passion? Is there a passion you’d like to revisit or maybe visit for the first time?

PS: Lord Julian’s fourth tale, A Gentleman in Pursuit of Truth, is now available from all the usual suspects, and mystery number five, A Gentleman in Search of a Wife, is available for pre-order.



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22 comments on “Rider Up!

  1. I hope to get back to quilting one day. I still get quilting newsletters and save the free patterns for someday… Unfortunately, I don’t have space to leave the sewing machine up all the time and it’s a big pain to put everything up, work a little, then take everything down so that we can eat. And since I enjoy reading as much, or more, and all I need is an empty chair to read, that’s what I do with my spare time instead. I actually gave away my standing quilting hoop last weekend since I realized I had never even taken it out of the box in 20+ years (where the heck did the time go?) and I’m not going to hand-quilt a large quilt ever anyway. So I guess that’s a bit of closure but I still have the rest of my supplies and fabric for the smaller quilts I hope to make.

    • A standing quilting hoop? That makes me have a mind picture of a regency miss sitting by a bay window working…
      And then the duke walks in.

      Good luck with the small quilts.

    • Twenty years… I think I hung onto my last piece of maternity clothing for thirty years (a black sweater). Don’t ask me why, when the whole pregnancy was queasy, exhausted, and stressed, but year after year, that thing sat on the shelf in my closet. I eventually gave it to Goodwill, but still… thirty years? C’mon, Grace.

  2. Pingback: Back in the Saddle!!! | Grace Burrowes | I believe in love.

  3. The phrase “slow grief” really resonated with me.

    You are volunteering with a therapeutic riding program. Certainly it is therapy of a sort for you and the volunteers. To ride periodically should be part of it if it’s safe for you and the horse!

    Our “Lady Jet” (hockey player) died this year at 100 and still took to the ice albeit in a wheelchair!

    And maybe someday you and your new grandson can go riding together.

    • What a lovely thought… his mom has already taken him out to the horse barn to meet Titan, her Belgian draft buddy. The horse’s head is larger than the whole baby…

  4. While I wouldn’t describe it as a “passion,” the skill I have just started to revisit is driving. As I’ve had a series of TIAs over the past few years, I had given up driving, fearful that I would suddenly lose vision, as happened to me 4 times. However, my new meds seem to be working as I have not had an “event” (as my cardiologist terms them) for a little over a year. So, slowly, I have started to drive again. As we are both mostly retired, my husband has been a dear about driving me everywhere, but to lose that sense of independence has been sobering. So, starting small, I’ve been driving to my part time job about 2 miles from my house. I feel like I did when I had just learned to drive and went out solo for the first time! A regular virgin motorist! We’ll see how that goes and I hope to extend my range little by little. It’ll be nice to feel like an adult again! Stay safe. Stay well everyone!

    • We are such a car-centric society… it’s hard to stay connected without wheels. Good on ya, Tina, for getting behind the wheel in safe, manageable increments. My mom had a stroke, and by law had to re-qualify for her license, but California has a version of the license that’s surface streets only–no interstates. That was perfect for her at 87. Dad drove until he was 92, but that was only by the grace of vastly overworked guardian angels.
      I found as the pandemic wound down, I was nervous about driving four-lane highways, and I still am to some extent. Practice has made for less anxiety, but I still have a way to go.

  5. Brava, Grace! I’m so glad that you found a way to ride again. After reading so many of your books, I have acquired a love for (reading about) horses that is completely new to me! Sometimes when I have gotten increasingly stuck in avoidance, I think about a comment made by the director of my kids’ school: “there is no growth in a comfort zone.” It has become a mantra for me, and is reinforced by the feeling of accomplishment I feel when I step out of that comfort zone.

    I grieve over a passion I felt it necessary to renounce. I have always loved baking for family and friends, fundraisers, and the like. Nothing fancy, mostly cookies. I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes a few years ago, and I haven’t baked since. I know I could continue to bake for other people, but I haven’t summoned the resolve to do that. I gave away all of my special ingredients and boxed up my baking books, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to regain some much-needed counter space by storing my stand mixer. So it … stands … there, and makes me sad, waiting for me to do something with it.

    • Diabetes is a curse, and I gather you can do everything right, for your whole life, and if your genes tend that way… it’s a matter of time before the affliction befalls you. I can understand why the baking had to go, but also understand how you miss it. I used to bake all of the bread in this house. Now… what’s bread?

  6. How wonderful to be up on a horse again! For me, hockey was something I was denied when I was kid once I was old enough to be able to play on a team instead of just with my brothers and neighborhood kids. Figure skating is a fine sport but wasn’t what I wanted, but it was what I was allowed. I am unable to take the physical risks with hockey, or even just skating, anymore, but going to women’s college hockey brings me great joy and sometimes tears. I sit close to the rink and feel the action and the speed vicariously, and I cheer loudly and love it.

    • What a cool way to reclaim a dream. That’s me and the therapeutic barn. I cannot imagine I will ever again canter a course of jumps, which–when it goes well–is about the best feeling on earth. But I can rejoice when a child gets the hang of the posting trot, or rides without a horse leader for the first time. I can still rejoice…

  7. Your getting back on a horse gave me the greatest feeling. I’m so proud for you. Becoming a horse girl was never going to happen for me when I was a youngster, but I always had the ‘pie-in-the-sky’ wish in the back of my mind. So I lived vicariously through my son when he had the chance to take lessons when he was young.

    There are a number of things I wish I could still do, like getting down on my knees to garden, or do a certain kind of needlework (dang arthritic fingers.) But the thing I’ve slowly grieved over the most is swimming. After a shoulder injury about ten years ago I switched to water aerobics in a class for people who had some limitation or other. A downsize move, a hip replacement, COVID, and I’ve still not been back in the pool to swim laps. I grieved at first, always thinking I’d get back to it, missed it with a pang. I am about 97% over it. But every once in awhile I watch the lap swimmers in the big pool at the gym and miss that zen moment that happens when you think you can swim for another couple of hours, when in reality your body is only going to hold out for another fifteen minutes. Ha. It still feels amazing. I look at them and think, that water is too cold, and my shoulders are already going to give me a whole lotta grief tomorrow for working them so hard this afternoon. 😀

  8. Dear Grace,
    It makes me so very happy to see you happily enjoying riding again. Believe me, I understand the mental as well as physical challenges of life (I’m in my 70’s). I read somewhere that getting older isn’t for sissies, and I couldn’t agree more! I have a Pilates instructor who believes. “Train the body not the age (much to my despair at times).
    I returned to scuba diving after a 3 year hiatus thanks to Covid. I was a mess beforehand, but remembered my skills and rejoice every time I “fall into wonderland.”
    Live joyfully.

  9. I am so overjoyed to read about your love for riding! As a youngster, I accompanied my friend, (rich enough to own a horse and board him near me) every day after school. For the chance to exercise an available horse, I muck stales, swept floors, and empty wheelbarrows of “poop”! My love for horse riding never wavered even after being thrown from an expecting mare, I always went back. Due to career changes from kid to adult, my horse riding ended but my desire to ride again never ended. At 83 I can’t see myself ever getting back on a mount but my dream lives on until I get to that place where all things are possible! After being united to all my loved ones my first action will be to God’s barn and mount again!!! How I look forward to Junilan’s next adventure which includes “horse” themes. His work on finding lost dogs made me happy.

    That’s why I read! An author like you can take one to all kinds of experiences free of the sometimes guilt of wasting time daydreaming. Thank you, Grace. I wish you many happy days of taking us places we will never reach in reality!

  10. Rejoice indeed, Grace! A lesser person would have lost her enthusiasm upon seeing the “un-fun and dominant-based” options for riding. Good on you. Far less skill is required for my sport, scuba diving. Despite being landlocked, I’ve treasured the times I’ve made my way to salt water to experience the beauty and bliss of a deep dive. But the hassle factors are daunting: time, air travel, diving equipment, reputable guides – and the aquatic rewards are rapidly declining due to climate change. At 69, I’m running out of time – and not ready to hang up my fins!

  11. Oh Grace! You capture my current emotional state so well. My beautiful mare, horse of my dreams, has had pneumonia. Will we ever ride together again? Is this the end of my horse girl self image? If I retire her will a trainer let me lease and ride if I have no intention of showing and paying those fees? My husband longs to be free to travel and that means being not only pet free but horse free, too. A crossroads. Grief. Hope.

  12. Pingback: Comfort Ye | Grace Burrowes | I believe in love.

  13. SQUEEEEEEEE! I’m so glad you got back on a horse! I take vicarious pleasure in other people’s good news. Congratulations and thank you for making my day!