In an attempt to broaden my horizons and have more hobbies that don’t involve eating popcorn, I recently decided to return to horseback riding. The first time I rode a horse, I was four years old. The horse’s name was Thunderhead and what a magnificent name that was. The horse-girl magic happened, as it so often does, and I was in love.
For the next seven years, I took lessons and campaigned my father to buy me a horse. This involved many foot rubs, many cards, and many snuggles, until, on my 11th birthday, I got Jenny. She was a half broke Appaloosa mare, way too much horse for a kid, but I didn't care. Jenny could jump any fence, which she proved by escaping from her field and running sometimes miles from home. She had a special preference for our down-the-street neighbors' magnificent green lawn. Many were the times when I was paged in high school by Sister Mary: “Kristan Higgins, come to the office. Your horse is out again.”
Jenny stayed with us until her death 20 years ago. My horseback riding became limited to National Park trips. But I missed real horseback riding and the special way a person interacts with nature that way. I missed the squeak of a leather saddle and the comforting snuffles and snorts and smells of the horse,. And so I sought out a situation in which a horse needed some love and exercise.
Which brings us to Wednesday.
I had met Gracie, a beautiful bay mare with a white blaze. We had meaningful eye contact and blew gently on each other, and she whickered when she saw me, sensing my adoration. I made an arrangement with her owner, and on Wednesday, I went to the farm for my first ride. Before one can ride a horse, one must first bond with her, so I spent an hour grooming Gracie and talking to her and telling her how beautiful she was . I gave her treats and leaned against her and scratched her itchy spots. Then I put her saddle and bridle on and lead her up to the paddock.
There in I found the problem. Gracie is 17 hands, which means she is wicked tall in the horse world. Not being used to a western saddle, I was having a little trouble getting my foot up into the stirrup. Finally, I did, only to have my boot slip out . With one foot in the air and the other on the ground I hopped backward, fell, and heard a noise I hope never to hear again in my life. It’s bad, I thought.
Gracie looked at me with her big compassionate brown eyes. I looked at her, stood up, and draped myself over the fence so I wouldn’t pass out. Well, shit, I thought. You broke your wrist, Higgins. Being a veteran of broken bones, it was easy to recognize that special, hellish pain.
However, this was my first time at the farm, and I did not wish to make a bad impression on the owners. This is always the first thought of a Catholic…It’s my fault, and I’m sorry. So I took a few yoga breaths, patted Gracie, who had come to stand next to me in concern, and led her back to the barn. I tried to take the saddle off, quickly learned that my right hand would not help, and did it one-handed like a total badass. Then I put Gracie in her stall, gave her a snack, and called my husband, who did not pick up. This is often the case in times of emergency. I called my son instead, and said, “You and Dad need to come get me. I just broke my wrist.”
Then, because it was hot, I sat in my car. I called the bookstore where I was supposed to sign books and told them I was on the way to the ER instead. I called my friend and cancelled our plans for that evening. En route to the ER, I called Gracie's owner and apologized for not putting the tack away as neatly as I would have ordinarily, and also for breaking my wrist. She was extraordinarily nice. Horse lovers usually are.
And so, I get to spend the next five weeks in a sweaty cast. I am learning the dictation feature on my computer and how to shampoo one-handed. I will have a new scar from where the surgeon had to put in a plate.
I can’t wait to get back to Gracie.