Saturday, July 23, 2011

I go to the barn because I like the horses

Blue sky. Green Hay. Chestnut horses. Red berries. It is the colors of summer Mondays that leave the lasting impression.

We trot the first edge of the property. I squeeze with my calves, and feel my mount move infinitesimally faster. I squeeze again, and he pushes off with his hind quarters. He is not a hot horse, but I know how he can move when given the right encouragement. I post slightly faster, rising and falling in my stirrups just out of time with the beat of his trot. He gets the message, and falls into rhythm with me.

As we round the first corner our ride really begins. A mile stretches in front of us, with green hayfield to the left and white fence to the right. My horse sees this and picks up his front feet, showing me his big, bold trot that can keep up with the canter of some of his companions. It is a hot day, and I am glad of the breeze that our increased speed creates. We coast along. I lay my head along his neck as we go under the low hanging branches of the walnut trees across the fence, smelling his sweet, dusty mane.

Past the trees I straighten up. I touch my horse's flank with my right calf, and kiss at him with my lips. In a single beat his gait changes, from the up-and-down of a carousel horse to the back-and-forth of a rocking horse. I settle into his canter, reminding myself to sit up straight, point my toes up, and breathe. Now we really fly. I let a laugh escape my mouth. I am no adrenaline junkie, nor do I have any kind of need for speed. Horseback riding is the one exception. Little snorts escape my mount's nose in time to his canter, and I use these to keep time, keeping my position in the saddle.

We near the end of the long straightaway. I tighten the fingers of my left hand into a fist, and apply pressure with my right leg. My horse's velvet nose bends to the left, becoming visible to the side of the curve of his chestnut neck. I coax him into a circle, then a smaller one, then a smaller one; soon we are moving no faster than a trot, but at a beautiful, smooth canter. Collection, or something like it. My abs protest as I force myself to work on these precision exercises; it's so much easier just to loosen his reins and fly.

We halt in the middle of our former circle. Despite all of the kinesthetic sensations I am experiencing, it is the colors of the day that threaten to overwhelm me. The sky is so blue. The hay is so green, a green that I never would have believed existed in my former life in which I did not frequent hay fields. My horse, my wonderful mount, is such a shiny gold-red in the sun that I can't resist leaning down to hug his neck. His chestnut-tufted ears swivel back at me quizically.

The third edge of the property is uphill; ideal for going fast. This is my favorite part of the ride, but I can't let my horse know that. We trot toward the hill, then canter a bit, and then trot again. I know he wants to run, but it needs to be me who tells his when to begin. As the incline increases, I take my reins in my left hand. With my right hand, I grab the red saddle pad that is peeking out over his withers. I give him the smallest kiss, and he picks up a lovely left lead. We climb, and we fly.

When our ride is over, and my horse is brushed and picked and kissed and put back out to pasture, where he plunges his nose into the water trough, I clean the barn at a leisurely pace. Catching sight of a plastic bowl, I rinse it out and tote it to the property line. There, in patches between the trees, are the largest red raspberries I have ever seen. I hum to myself as I pick,eating one berry for every three that go into the bowl. It is quiet here. I move slowly, and listen to my own breathing. I can smell horses and sweat on my person, but there is nobody here to smell me. I pick for hours, until the 'plunk' of a berry into my bowl disappears into silence as the bottom of the bowl becomes obscured, and finally, disappears.

Sore muscles. Sunburnt skin. Juice-stained fingers. Relaxation. These are the impressions that summer Mondays leave me with, long after my memories of what I said or read or did have faded.