Saturday, October 2, 2010

A good hurt

Today, for the first time in a very long time indeed, I rode a horse.

The back story: In 2005, I had an accident that injured my neck and spinal cord; this led to a botched surgery in 2005, a corrective surgery in 2007, and, just last fall, a third surgery that we hoped would improve my grip and balance and ease at least some of the chronic pain. As you can perhaps imagine, I am heartily sick of doctors, neurologists, and pain specialists, although I love my surgeon, a rider herself, who has coached me and motivated me through the worst five years of my otherwise fairly cushy and comfortable life.

None of that matters today. It's not behind me, but it doesn't matter.

This morning I rode Prince, the lead character in my book, Conversations with a Prince, and, thanks to a set of adaptive reins and a patient teacher, I was able to produce an almost-acceptable twenty-meter circle. This doesn't sound like much, I know,  but Prince is a squirmy, amiable mess, so this was an accomplishment.

At first I couldn't find the the sweet spot--I felt like I was hovering in the right general vicinity of a real seat, but my crooked, weakened body would have none of it. My coach Jeannette talked me through that part in her way, and Prince talked me through that part in his. Slowly, I was able to balance on my seat bones and get my midline in the middle of my horse; I doubt there is anything nicer than that quiet moment when you feel yourself find   physical harmony with a strong, trustworthy creature who speaks a little human and you speak a little horse. And using my cripple reins--reins I  could actually hold onto--I felt for the first time in a long time that light buzz of contact electricity that, for me, signals the arrival of complicated joy. I rode at the walk and rising trot for half an hour.

Now everything hurts--neck, shoulders, arms, and (weirdly) the bottoms of my feet. But it's a good hurt. I am also dirty, covered with a sheen of silvery-yellow hairs. But this is good dirt--after I got home I spent several minutes just smelling my ratty black schooling gloves.

I've seen dogs show this same kind of focused, olfactory interest in my riding clothes, so dogs and I agree--horses smell nice, a complex mix of ammonia, dust, sweat, and something else--cardamom? Marzipan? I've never been able to identify the sweetness, but it's something you would gladly put into a batch of cookie dough.


  1. I'm really glad to hear this. May every day astride bring less pain and more joy.

  2. I loved reading this because I'm still reading "Conversations" and it puts it in real time for me. You know that disconnect between the world of books and the online world? This post just bridged it for me.

  3. Interesting about the disconnect--it's all continuous to me, of course. But there is a one-to-one correlation for me between happiness and horses. My husband's theory is that if I can ride, I will write another book.