One of the main draws of the Erie County Fair, at least for my family, was the stables which housed the Clydesdales. Granted, they were not the same ones which pulled the sleigh in the snow-covered classic holiday commercial from Budweiser, but they were the most beautiful animals I had ever seen. I loved the horses and I respected them. Sounds like an odd combination for a 10-year old, but that is how I felt.
Since that time, I’ve wanted to go horseback riding. It wasn’t exactly a burning desire. I didn’t do anything active to make it happen, except for once when I nervously called a local stable in order to try and earn the horse-inspired Girl Scout badge. But I was too afraid and unsure of myself to follow through. It wasn’t until recent years that I even started investigating the possibility again.
And then came Mark and my good friends on the board of directors of the Association for Women in Sports Media. The group wanted to get me a gift to thank me for my first year of service as the organization’s president and they turned to Mark for ideas. He suggested horseback riding. (To my surprise he didn’t know anything about my long-ago developed horseback riding desire. He just thought it was something I would enjoy.) Armed with an hour-long horseback riding session for two, Mark and I journeyed to Warsaw, N.Y. for a later afternoon Wolcott Farms.
The afternoon first started with another classic from the files of “Adventures with Mark” as we searched the town of Warsaw for a waterfall he has been curious about. I had forgotten my hiking boots. I should know better by now. Road trips with Mark always require me to have the follow: hiking boots, extra socks, bottled water, power bars, a sports bra. (This is actually one of the things which I love most.) While we found the creek, we didn’t get a chance to spot the waterfall as we ran out of trail, bridge building material and time. But I sense a future adventure in the works. On to Wolcott Farms and the horse ride. When we arrived we handed in our waivers and were told to read through a brief instructional binder and pick out a helmet that fit. Others arrived for the 5 p.m. ride and our group totaled about eight. Off we went to the stable, where I was the first to mount my horse, Jemma, with the help of a platform. (Thank God. I was scared to death I wouldn’t be able to get on the horse to begin with.)
For all my excitement, I was nervous once I got on the horse. My fears:
- That I would hurt the horse.
- That I would lose control of the horse and not know what to do.
- That I would fall off.
I sat in the stable as the others mounted. The woman who was the owner (I presume she was the owner. She never introduced herself or gave any kind of general welcome.) told me to talk to my horse. If I spoke to her in a nice tone it would soothe her and, more importantly, keep me calm. Mark wondered if she knew what she was getting herself in for by telling me to talk to the horse. After all, my friend Hitch calls me the “horse conversationalist” because when we pass horses on our bike rides I don’t just say hello, I chat with them. And so I talked pretty much nonstop to Jemma for the next hour.
We took off on a trail that followed the maple syrup lines on the property. It was a grey day with on-and-off drizzle, but we didn’t get rained on and the scenery was beautiful. It took some time for me to get comfortable with Jemma. I had the sensation I could fall off and I did not want to hurt her. At one point, she started diverting from the group for two reasons: 1. She wanted to snack on the leaves. (OK, I can’t blame any creature for wanting to snack.) 2. She was trying to avoid some of the mud. I kept trying to guide her as I was show, gently pulling the reign left or right depending on where I wanted her to go, but I didn’t know how much pressure was applicable and how much gentleness would be too subtle. I kept saying “left” and “right” as I pulled on the reign. “Amy, she doesn’t understand left or right,” the woman in charge told me. “I know,” I replied. “That’s mostly for me.” I needed to mentally understand what it was I wanted her to do.
Jemma and I were bringing up the rear which was just fine with me. After the learning curve, we seemed to work well together. I laughed when she stopped to eat and wouldn’t continue with the group. Gently, I tugged at her reign to go back on the trail and was instructed to tap her with my feet. And so we continued.
There was some pretty deep mud and a few steep hills. I helped her out by leaning forward on the uphills and sat back on the downhills. While Jemma did most of the work, I was a partner in this, too. Mostly, it was my attitude which would make the difference. I was not completely sure of myself, but quickly I became calm and even, trusting myself and trusting Jemma. I told Jemma she was the best horse since ever. And as far as I’m concerned, she was.
The hour-long ride went by quickly. We had trotted along the trail but the slow speed was fine with me as I got used to what if felt like not only to be on a horse but to work with a horse. My respect and admiration grew for the horses — along with the people who train them, ride them and compete with them. I had gone into the ride a tad bit sore from my return to training this week, so it’s difficult to tell how I physically was affected, but I definitely felt my leg muscles were used as well as my arm muscles as I tried to keep the proper posture the entire time.
I said goodbye to Jemma and Mark bought me a souvenir horseshoe. Will it bring me luck? It will remind me of the day I got to go horseback riding, when I did one of the things I always wanted to do. How could that not be lucky?