I am not an athletic person. In fact, I am pretty much the opposite of an athletic person. I have no upper body strength, or lower-body strength, for that matter. I absolutely do not have any semblance of hand-eye coordination. I did not participate in high school athletics in the US. In Russia, I got my best friend’s dad – a doctor – to write a note which excused me from gym class for like three years straight.
But for as long as I can remember I had dreamt of riding horses like a pro. Well, if we’re being honest — more like a Musketeer. I watched way too many adventure movies as a child.
Apparently that kind of mastery is not acquired overnight. I started proper instruction the spring after moving to Russia. Within five months I had my first major accident and a back injury which caused me to take a break from riding until this spring. Now, about a year into weekly lessons, I…suck.
How am I not a natural at riding horses? Let me count the ways:
- It took me three months to stop dropping my reins and stirrups for no reason whatsoever. This is something that 5-year-old first-timers don’t have an issue with.
- Instead of just sitting properly on a horse, feeling the animal’s rhythm and moving with it, every 30 seconds I have to run a mental checklist on the proper positioning of my head, neck, shoulders, elbows, hands, fingers, spine, butt, thighs, knees, calves, heels and toes. By the time I’m done and ready to execute a command, at least a few of those body parts have forgotten where they’re supposed to be and what they’re supposed to do, and I have to start all over again.
- When I am advised to place my legs and feet thusly, so that my corpus (mid and upper body) automatically and effortlessly assumes the proper position (slightly backward-leaning, centered and grounded) and I follow through on those instructions, my body responds in the exact opposite way and I fall forward and fail around like a sack of potatoes.
- If I am told to work on my thigh control during the training trot and to hold my body relaxed and steady, I get all tense, curl up like a hedgehog in front of a fox and …flail around like a sack of potatoes.
- If there is a way to hurt myself doing the most routine canter, I will. If there is no such way, I will still manage to hurt myself. It is the only thing I do effortlessly while on a horse.
- If the horse slips or trips and I momentarily lose balance (which I do not have to begin with), I squeal like a piggy before a Texas barbeque. Which freaks out the horse. Which freaks me out. Which leads to more squealing. Which sets of an avalanche of neurosis that never ends in anything good.
At least all of this serves as a source of great amusement to my trainer, who has endless patience for me and all my flailing around. Also, I have never refused to do an exercise and would rather pass out than admit that I am tired or in pain or need a break. So he has faith in me. Or so he says.
My best friend – the one who races cars like she was born on a track – tries to help by telling me to imagine myself as a Highlands princess in a ball gown, effortlessly galloping across the glen, shooting arrows into the sunset.
Too bad she doesn’t serve 5 shots of vodka with that advice. That’s the minimum I need to buy into that fantasy.