Last night at Ava’s lesson, while sharing a step stool with one of the barn cats, I casually watched another lesson at the other end of the arena. The rider was a young girl, quite lithe and graceful, riding bareback on a lovely bay with all the skill in the world. Her instructor (also my instructor) was seated in the corner, doling out commands and praises, and sometimes reprimands. As I watched this young rider I was completely entranced by the way she looked on top of that horse, and found myself wanting to be like her; a silly notion given the span of years that separate us (possibly twenty, or more).
In the grand scheme of horsemanship I am but a mere beginner with so little knowledge that I couldn’t possibly judge the skill level of another rider just by watching. All I have ever known about horses is just to get on and ride. There was no skill involved, no communication with the horse, and my horses were most often tacked and ready for me from the get go. I had no relationship with the horses, no insight into their minds or impulses. If a horse wanted to do something it did it because I had no solid understanding of how to handle a horse properly and be the leader a well trained horse needs. They took advantage of me, probably because I was taking advantage of them by just coming along for the ride without learning much about them first.
After my first few lessons, my instructor found a command that my body responded to without any help at all from my brain. She calls to me, ‘find your dancer’, the second I begin to get sloppy and somehow it works to correct every postural shift, every lazy stride, everything. She asked me, once, what I did when she called that command because as soon as she does, my entire body shifts and transitions into that ‘dancer’. I gave a brief ‘I don’t know’ with some vague explanation, but the truth is that I don’t know. I don’t know. It just happens. It’s just natural.
Once I was a dancer. My body was trained to be graceful and fluid. I was once light footed and sure of myself, coordinated and posturally perfect. I was never thin, never gifted with the body of a dancer, but I was built, and toned.
At my first lesson my instructor mentioned my natural poise on a horse and I had explained to her that I had ridden before and that I had been a dancer for many years when I was younger and that my posture had been meticulously honed as a result.
My last lesson was the most moving for me. I found my dancer and posted my trot as though it was natural, for more than just a beat or two, for the first time in my life, and it was so cathartic that I don’t even think I can put into words how I felt in that moment. Like Wally and I were one and we were moving together in harmony. We were happy together and it was exhilarating. Like no other feeling I’ve ever felt before. No pleasure ride, no crazy gallop around the ring, nothing compared to this feeling. Having felt that, and hearing my instructor’s praise, gives me hope that one day I can be like the girl on the bay I saw last night, moving in graceful bareback harmony with my horse the way she was with hers.