I rode Tessie through fear the other day and kept thinking about the old lines by Percy Shelley, “Oh wild west wind, thou breath of autumn’s being” only this was early June and the wind roared hard from the north. Our hay is dropped and they were calling for rain. I had seen dots of rain bowing down from the north on the weather map, but the wind was so fierce and the air was so dry I was pretty sure it wouldn’t reach our ground.
These thoughts glanced away from Tessie. Over and over I had to remind myself to drop into my legs, all the way down to my heels. I had to unlock my back and my wrists, and breathe through the acid nerves born of that hard wind, too much caffeine, too little sleep and weather changing. I asked her to circle, moving off my leg and rein especially the outside leg and outside rein which becoame a fluid fence holding her to the circle. But I had to drop weight onto my inside stirrup, to push her out. Outside leg, inside leg pressing. Ring finger twittering on the reins. Trying to see how subtle I could be.
The wind blasted around us with energy that rattled me more than my horse. I breathed, and breathed again. Ever since I was a little girl I have stretched out my arms, asking to be lifted up. The wind has pummeled me, sapping my breath.
I have stretched out my arms as a little girl, hoping to be swept up. I’ve written poems about flying like a hawk over the country, and lifted my eyes whenever I saw one. I have imagined my feet lifting off the ground just a tiny bit if I’d given my brother the farm. I have imagined being a baby hovering just below the ceiling in my first bedroom, the paint scraped off, the naked boards frightening, my mother beating me down with a broom, that flight buried deep as a forgotten memory. And Orion has taken my hand, hoisted me on his shoulders, lifting me as high as a crop duster might fly before I whispered in fear, “Put me down.”
Imagining is one thing, but the fire in my belly, lifting my feet off the good earth, is something entirely different. I am no saint. A mere canter on Tessie, or Morgen’s trot breaking into a canter, when there’s a long straight away where she could safely move out scare me. I’m afraid of Tessie stumbling, pitching end over end, afraid of being out of control that fast. I’m afraid of Morgen leaning in and running hard, the carriage flipping when we have to turn, and so I try to hold her back and she shakes her head, furious, but still she listens, comes back to a jig, then a walk.
My trainer saw this fear cross my face when she suggested I ask Tessie for a faster trot. She called us back to slow. Encouraged me to ride fast and rhythmic in small bits. On this day I breathed to ease the fear and Tessie felt it, slowed to a jog.
Roaring, windy days are not good days to ride because you can’t hear the world around you. Because there is so much energy around you. The Spirit blowing where He will. And blowing hard. But I heard the redwing blackbird hovering over me like she always does when I ride this patch.
If Tessie doesn’t want to go where I ask, if she doesn’t want to trot, she will curl through that outside shoulder and keep moving towards the long grass at the side of the pasture. Unconsciously I will pull her head around to the inside of the circle, and she keeps walking to the outside. If I sweep up into my thoughts, she knows I’ve gone somewhere other than her back in the pasture. She’ll go where she wants. I don’t blame her. I’ve checked out. She has been gentle, running away at the walk, showing she moves off my legs as a favor to me, if I stay present. I catch myself and fight her to come back or turn her the way she wants to go and head back in the direction I’d planned.
If I am awake, I can feel her step to the outside and catch her with my outside leg and hand, dropping my weight onto my inside stirrup and she circles where I want her to go. There’s an old admonition that says we need to wake up because the night is nearly over, and day is about to dawn. It seems to me that we’re in that dark time of night, just before the faintest whisper of light. It’s been too easy for me to sleep by reading about the election, our government, and how very out of control we’ve gotten to be, shooting each other at the drop of disrespect. It’s been too easy to be caught up in people’s opinions on Facebook that my own thoughts simmer down, go dead.
But Tessie, who runs away at the walk because the grass looks better than trotting, is calling me back to my body, back to talking to her through shoulders, seat, legs, and hands that need to stay pliable. It’s Tessie telling me to wake up, drop out of my head, into my body. She’s telling me to be present.
The wind roared me into fear and I breathed and let Tessie carry me kindly. Then I got off, no sense in reinforcing that fear, because fear can swell if you push against it too hard. I think about the good rides, how good I feel when I get off, washed like after a shower. I look across the field to a grain bin, the train singing to the east, coming this way.
Beautifully written! I love the descriptions of the horse’s response to the rider’s movement and attention, or lack thereof.
Thanks for sharing!
Thanks so much. I’m becoming more and more impressed by how closely Tessie reads my body and breath. She knows when I fly out of my body into my head…