Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Embroidery Horse-A True Fairy Tale

Author's Note: This essay was originally published in The Camden Equestrian Magazine

Janice waited nearly sixty years for her horse. A horse was impractical to her practical parents. Riding lessons were something for a wealthy girl. Food for a horse? Out of the question. It didn’t matter that Janice begged at every Christmas or birthday for a ‘pinto paint pony’ with a ribbon in her tail, the pony never appeared. Her parents prayed Janice would ‘grow out of it’. She didn’t grow out of it but she learned to keep her dream to herself.

Janice went to school, played, grew up, married and had children. She lived the life most live, soccer and play dates, wedding and funerals, movies and vacations, sadness and fear, happiness and love. She lived the normal life, the expected life and kept her dream to herself.

However, on a wall in her bedroom, in a small frame is an embroidery image of a black and white and brown horse on a little farm. Janice created the embroidery, lovingly stitching the image of the pony of her dreams with her tiny nine year old hands. She waited, no longer speaking her dream but keeping the image in the frame on the wall.

During the course of Janice’s normal life, she and her husband bought a house in ‘the country’. It was as close as she thought she would get to the life she lived amidst the threads in the frame. As Janice drove to her new home, her heart thumped, hard. One side of the road is crowded with new houses. Sidewalks and two car garages abound. On the other side of the road to her new home is the world of dreams. Horses scattered across velvet pastures, framed by beautiful white fences. All colors and sizes grazed and played.

Later in the dark quiet, Janice looked at her embroidery, trying to match the black and brown pony to one standing in the pasture. The large brown one, the grey or chestnut in the far pasture but none matched. None made the little thread pony come to life

Not knowing what she would do when she found the horse but nearing sixty, she knew time to bring the embroidery horse to life was slipping away. Her health was changing and not for the better. Her husband, Tommy, who knew the tiny horse in the frame, was also suffering the changes in life. He wanted his wife to find the ‘pinto paint pony’. He wanted her to find that joy from her childhood, extraordinary and perfect.

The pressure, the desire to touch the little horse, to feel it breathe under her hand and move down the trail was becoming intense. Janice could feel the warm softness of its breath in her dreams. She heard the quiet nicker and knew the embroidery horse wanted to come to life soon.

Janice drove by the pastures every day, going to and from work, shopping, living her day. She always slowed by the fence looking, carefully, hopefully. One day as she drove home, she spotted a new horse, a black and brown and white horse grazing in the pasture. Her heart pounded in her chest. The colors of the horse sang to Janice. Without hesitation, she pointed her car toward the farm house.

The farm owner greeted her and listened while Janice talked, asking the question. ‘Is the black and brown and white horse for sale?’ No. His wife’s new mare is not for sale.

That night Janice stared at the framed pony. It danced and trotted inside the tiny fence, tossing the delicate head and calling softly. A door had been opened, the gate swung wide. It was time, if there ever would be a time. If it wasn’t the wife’s mare then there was another out in the pasture that would free the thread bound pony.

She looked in earnest at all the horses in the pastures. Each horse was considered but Janice always came back to the black and brown and white mare. She stopped occasionally to visit the farm owner and his wife, hoping the spotted mare was for sale. The answer was always the same.

A year slipped away. Another Christmas, another birthday came and went. The pinto paint pony didn’t appear. No ribbon in the tail. No soft nicker. Janice began to lose hope. The old dream darkened, quieted. She still slowed along the fence, watching the horses graze but the embroidery horse stopped prancing inside her little fence.

Life takes strange turns. Just when you think the dream is dead; you find it is only asleep. Out of reach becomes a finger-tip stretch away. And so Janice stopped at the farm one more time. The black and brown and white mare trotted in the round pen, turning and spinning, tossing her mane and calling loudly. The farm owner stood watching her. Janice quieted her heart, but hope kept whispering in her ears.

She asked the question. Her ears buzzed. Yes. The mare was for sale.

Today Janice grooms and bathes, feeling the mare breathe under her hand hoping she is taking good care of the embroidery horse. She takes riding and horsemanship lessons. She reads and questions, absorbing all she can. When she feels the sweet breath of the pinto paint on her cheek or relaxes into the rhythm as she rides down the trail, Janice makes up for the nearly sixty years of waiting.

No more keeping the dream to herself; Janice shares it with all. Friends and family visit the little mare. The barn is the first place she brings them when they arrive. The mostly non-horse people marvel at Janice’s independence, at her new found confidence. They comment that she is a different person.

Everyone admits they thought she’d grown out of it. She hadn’t. She just kept it to herself until the embroidery horse came to life and found life outside the little thread fence.

The End

Yellow Flies (or And I Thought The Humidity Was Bad!)

I start this tale by saying that I am new to riding in the South. I have ridden many miles in the Sierra, the redwoods and along the coast of California. But I have returned to the land of my girlhood recently and found the riding to be very different. The sandy wide trails, the ancient oaks covered in Spanish moss and the very flatness of the land are all new to me. One of my first trail rides in the south began with the guide telling me “If you come across an alligator on the trail, don’t ride over it”. I thought to myself; You have to tell people this?! Add in the humidity and the afternoon thunderstorms and it couldn’t be any different from the trails I’ve ridden in the West.

The weekend is going to be warm. For some reason, I think that North Carolina is going to be cooler after all it is NORTH Carolina. It might be a nice treat to get out of the city and have some quiet time. Mom and I head to the barn. Yes my 70 year old, very arthritic mom is going with me. I hook up the rig. Mom offers to help but retracts when I give her 'the look'. I bathe my gelding, Dakota. I get him and his food loaded and off we go. The truck is running great, Dakota is quiet, Dru (my dog) is asleep and mom is happily reading the road signs. I have directions from the internet. It’s a pretty straightforward trip, mostly freeway until we get to the campground turn off.

Everything is going smoothly but not for long. An accident closes I-95 to one lane. We lose twenty to thirty minutes but that’s okay because I have directions from the internet. And it’s a pretty straightforward trip.

Past the accident, slowly, and we are on our way once again. We haul down the freeway, me, mom, my dog and the horse. The campground is near the tiny teeny tiny town of Everwild (the name has been changed to protect everyone) and I have mistakenly asked the amazing internet for directions to the town and not the campground. Unfortunately, I don’t know this…yet.

Mom, who has been reading every sign for the last 100 miles on the road STOPS....and I sail at 60 miles per hour past the turn. In truth she did say I needed to slow down. We turn around three miles later because the rig is 35 ft long and, even with a gooseneck trailer, I prefer a football field when I have to turn around. We get back to the original turn and turn the wrong way.

Quickly, we are in the little town with no place to turn around. We roll through the ‘main’ street and I notice that pretty much everyone owns a pit bull. Dru is slunk down in the seat. He’s met pit bulls before and these look like they mean business. At least I don’t hear the theme from ‘Deliverance’ strumming in the background. Mom keeps telling me that we are going the wrong way. How does she know?

Finally in the spirit of women, I call the camp ground. The lady is very helpful but in giving directions feels it is necessary to give the entire history of the inhabitants of Everwild. I mutter ‘huh huh’ while trying to keep the directions straight.

We get turned around, again. And carefully following the directions from the owner of the campground, we find the place at last. It’s lovely. Quiet. The stalls are small but okay. I get everything settled but we are missing a lot of needed items in the rig and mom doesn’t have a clue where anything is. The rig is too small for anyone other than me and one other person who is agile and can move quickly. That lets mom out. Let’s add the dog to the mix. Getting a good picture?

It’s HOT and HUMID. I have to run the A/C the entire night. It sounds like the Starship Enterprise is landing on the roof of the living quarters. Mom, under a blanket and a minus 40 degree sleeping bag, is a frozen Popsicle in the morning. I suppose it was a blessing that the dog felt the need to sleep with her. Bless him.

In the morning (six a.m. because there is no point trying to sleep with the Enterprise hovering just over head) I feed and water the horse. Mom makes coffee. I pull out the awning and set up the TV so she can watch while I am riding.

I get my gelding ready. I am going to ride early because of the heat and humidity. Unbeknownst to me there is another thing I haven't considered. Bugs.

A couple of nice men (one deaf and the other in his 80s; "I got a lot of health problems you know") ask me to ride with them. Why not? I've never been here and it might be safer. After a long lecture about something called a 'yellow fly' we start down the trail toward the forest. Being from California the lecture means nothing to me but being raised politely I listen and nod. I’ve hauled a long way and not just to sit in camp!

We ride about a mile on an asphalt road. I don’t like it because it’s hard on the horses’ feet but hey...the forest is up just ahead. I can almost feel the coolness against my skin. We ride into the beautiful, verdant forest (I am sighing softly right about now) and get swarmed, SWARMED, by yellow flies. Biting and buzzing down my shirt, in my hair, my mouth, my ears and they bite leaving quarter sized welts when they do! They bite my horse. They buzz his ears. He is getting crazy, stomping and bucking. Dakota rarely misbehaves but this is something else. NOW the lecture about ‘yallah flies’ means something.

One of the gentlemen I am riding with comes up next to me and hands me a slender tree branch. “Use this to brush them yallah flies off yah horse". I have now discovered an essential piece of gear while riding the Carolinas; a small branch with the leaves on the end. Dakota found some relief as I rode along brushing his ears and face and all other reachable parts of his body. Pleasure trail riding. Yeah right.

Finally, I give up. Forty minutes into the ride I turn around. Anyone who knows me knows that is NOT something I do. The Granite Stair Case at Echo Summit didn't cause me to turn around....but bugs...biting stinging bugs...that’s it. I tell the gentlemen I am riding with that I am returning to camp. They also turned around. I’m not the only one who finds these flies too much.

I ride back into camp and start stripping the gear of my gelding. No yellow flies so he stands quietly. My mom comes out of the rig. I can hear the question before she speaks.

“We’re outta here.” I don’t hike. I don’t swim. I don’t catch sun in a lounge chair. I ride and if I can’t ride I’m leaving. It sounds petulant but it’s one of the little truths about me that I won’t hide.

I pack the camp up in forty minutes. That has to be a record. Mom is in the truck with the dog, the horse is loaded and I haul on down the road nearly turning right when I should have turned left but mom-mom (I don’t own a Tom-Tom) caught that one before we had to hunt for a church parking lot to turn around in and we are on the road. Interstate 95 south toward Charleston. The weather is cool. In the south, in the summer that is usually a bad sign.

We roll down the freeway. Mom is quiet and I am happily following a motorhome that is going my perfect speed. I get lulled into a kind of hypnosis, following the sway of the coach in front of me. I’m humming and thinking about yellow flies, the cost of diesel and going to work on Monday when my mom quietly mentions, “This is our exit right here.”

Now when my mom says “right here” she means right here. It’s a good thing that gelding of mine stands up in the trailer with his feet spread because the exit to I-26 came up quickly. I nearly missed it and would be in Florida by now still following the motorhome. But I make the turn. I don’t know what possessed me not to go on to the next exit but when my mom said ‘right here’; I turn.

I hear my mother gasping as I make the turn and head south toward Charleston. Tires squeal. I make a mental note to have the brakes checked on the rig. At least they aren’t smoking. This time.

I relax my grip on the steering wheel. What more can happen? Through my windshield, ahead in the distance is the blackest, meanest thunderstorm on the planet straddling the freeway. Will this fun filled weekend never end?!

It sits over the interstate; a monster waiting and like a moth to the flame I haul myself, my mother, my dog and a 35 foot aluminum lightening rod toward it. The storm is right over head. The lightening strikes and crashes at the same instant. I am IN a lightening storm. Mom is trying to comfort the dog. He is shivering and his teeth are chattering. Mom is, with the same words, comforting me. I've slowed to twenty mph with my flashers on. I’m thinking about pulling over even though I know better when twenty feet off the right front of my truck, lightening strikes a pine tree and it explodes. Dru now wants in my lap! I want in my mom’s lap!!!! Dakota is hopping around in the trailer. The air is hot and every hair in the rig is on end. Mom later tells me I was talking a mile a minute and white as a sheet. She also mentions that I might want to unclench my jaw.

We make it to the barn. I unload. Unhook. Take care of Dakota. We drive home. The sun is shining. The next day is Sunday. I watch NASCAR and paint cabinets in the kitchen for my mother. I don't complain. I'm just happy there are no yellow flies at my mother’s house.

Yippee Ti Yo!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Long Haul

Author's Note: This essay was originally published on the website www.militarystables.com

The Long Haul
by Julia Edwards-Dake

I grew up a Navy brat. My parents hauled me across the country more times than I care to remember. Hwy 40 and Route 66 are not just names to me. I know them. The sights and sounds. The motels where my family slept or the diners with shiny counters and plastic booths that always offered ‘French toast’. The Painted Desert and how big Texas seems in the back seat of a hot car are clear childhood memories.

Just as clear is the memory that each time my family picked up and moved to a new station, I left something or someone behind; a best friend, a school or a pony. The best friend and the school I could forgive but the pony? The pony was the unforgivable.

As an adult, I hauled my horse all over the west, riding the mountains and the coast. However, circumstances often dictate changes in our lives and after 35 years in California, I found myself once again on Hwy 40, traveling east toward South Carolina. This time however, I didn’t leave the pony behind.

The decision to haul across country wasn’t made easily but once made left me both exhilarated and a bit frightened. I would be doing this alone, a 50 year old woman, alone. Two thousand forty seven miles with a dog and a horse, staying in strange places with nothing but the amazing, blazing internet and the experience of others to guide me, I was planning a real adventure!

I started my journey with research. I searched the internet, surfing the websites, reading and planning. I found places to stay with links to the various horse motel websites. My favorite and most used sites were www.horsemotels.com and www.horseandmuletrails.com. I followed links to other related sites such as www.usequestrians.com and found more information.

I emailed people at the various facilities along my planned route, getting directions and distances. It is important to know what one can expect as far as roads, conditions, and when the weather might turn bad. I determined that I would haul no longer than six hours per day with half hour rest stops every two hours. Layovers of a day or more were planned to give my horse a real rest from the vibration and noise of the road.

Professionals, such as my vet, counseled me making certain I had the correct health certificates as well as ownership/brand papers. My gelding’s vaccinations were all up to date and he is microchiped. I updated that information. Lastly, I had him freshly shod as I planned to ride during the trip.

I spoke with professional horse haulers, most of whom were willing to answer my questions. I needed to know what to expect on such a long haul. The consensus among the professionals was to ship the horse. The trip could be made in four days with a day layover. My horse would ride in air-suspended luxury with the best of care. Interestingly enough, in 2006, the cost to transport professionally and the cost of fuel to cross the country were about the same. But why haul an empty trailer? I was going anyway so why not ride some of the places I’d only read about in magazines.

On such a long haul, there are a myriad of things that must be attended to, some of them so mundane as to risk being forgotten. I included in my ‘travel kit’ a power of attorney both for myself and my animals should an accident leave me unable to direct medical treatment. I had ‘In Case of Emergency’ information about my horse, my dog, and myself in the travel kit. I wanted authorities to know who to call. I also purchased roadside assistant from U. S. Equestrian, designed specifically for those of us who haul horses. I used the service twice while on the road and then again when I reached my destination.

I would never have considered this haul if I’d not had a large horse trailer and a big safe truck. My rig is a three horse slant with living quarters. I haul with a Dodge 3500 dually diesel 4x4. The rig is comfortable with good suspension, well padded and well ventilated. I have fans over the horse slots to keep the air moving during rest stops. The slot for my gelding is wide and safe. (The only change I would make is to pad the side of the divider to ease the right hip. Dakota bumped the right hip for nearly 3000 miles. At the end of the journey he had a significant bruise that took some time to recover from.)

I didn’t wrap my gelding’s legs as he is not used to traveling that way. I didn’t tie his head. I don’t believe in tying, thinking that a horse is better off lowering his head and having a good cough. Nor do I travel with shavings in the horsebox. The dust fills the air and the lungs. These are my personal preferences gained from years of hauling this particular horse. Another horse with a different temperament and I might have made different choices.

At each rest stop, I offered water but no food. Because my gelding loves watermelon, I had several in the bed of the truck along with hay, bran and pre-measured grain. I would offer him slices of the melon to keep him hydrated and encourage him to drink. He eventually took water at each rest stop. My biggest concern, hydration, was eased within the first two days of travel.

Having the living quarters meant I didn’t need to stay in motels thus saving money. In addition, I was able to stay on the site with my horse or leave him and the trailer at the horse hotel to explore. The Cowboy Hall of Fame and the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame were nice stops along the way. A guided tour of Native American ruins was one of the highlights ranking right up there with the nights in the Painted Dessert. I spent one night in Amarillo with the Budweiser Clydesdales in a beautiful facility. My quarter horse suddenly looked very, very small.

While on the road, I never pulled my horse from the trailer. The risk of losing control of him due to a spook or something equally silly was too great. So Dakota stayed in the rig until we reached our nightly destination. Once at my destination, I would unload and walk, giving my horse (and me) the opportunity to settle from the road and get his legs under him. I would water him and, if the facilities allowed, would turn him out to roll and relax.

Parking the rig, hooking up to electricity if available and cleaning out to horsebox portion of the trailer takes up the next hour. Keeping the mats clean and dry makes the road more comfortable and safer for your horse. Eventually I am able to tend to my dog. He was welcomed at every horse motel at which I stayed, as long as he was well behaved (I always checked with my hosts before I hauled in). An invaluable companion along the way, Dru never once criticized my driving and he was always happy to finish off a meal.

Dakota would be stalled for the night. At some facilities, I provided my own bedding. Others provided a varying quality or type of bedding. I provided my own alfalfa hay and, as the trip progressed, slowly changed to the hay I would be feeding once I reached my destination. A warm bran mash to compliment his hay inevitably ended up in his ears or on his knees but he enjoyed it and again got plenty of moisture.

Finally, I would find a moment for myself; dinner, a glass of wine and time to unwind. My very own shower topped off the evening followed by television or, if the horse hotel offered it, a surf of the web. I kept my friends and family updated via evening emails and uploaded photos.

I followed this routine for nearly three weeks. Unlike the breakneck races across the country with my Navy parents, I had the luxury of taking my time. No new station or posting awaited me. No children wailing for a bathroom break or the tee pee motel in the desert, the rumble of my truck and the occasional country music station was the sound I enjoyed as I hauled my pony and my dog to a new life.

In retrospect, I am struck by the difference between crossing the country in the 21st century and crossing the country via Route 66 in 1966. Cell phones and wireless laptops, food chains and horse-friendly motels make the trip safer and a lot easier. I didn’t see a single road sign that read “Next services 400 miles” but I remember such signs. I also remember my parents taking the advice seriously.

What would I do differently? Fewer clothes and more food come to mind. Definitely more hay. I’d also take more time to ride and ride more of the places I passed. There are never enough pictures when you get to the end of the road. I am sorry I don’t have a picture of myself and my dog beneath a Route 66 sign. I would also include a real, paper map in addition to my navigation system.

As a woman traveling alone, I would remind others traveling alone; if your intuition nags at you or screams at you, pay attention. A ‘horse motel’ in Alabama comes to mind along with the twang of banjos and the theme from ‘Deliverance’. I turned around, hauled out. I called my mom and tasked her with finding me another place to stay. Later that night, in beautiful Leeds, Alabama, I blessed the folks at Heather Farms for welcoming a stranger into their midst even though they were not a horse motel or even a boarding barn.

Planning with more depth and following the plan would have made a few moments a bit less harrowing. I missed rush hour in Amarillo but hit it dead on in Atlanta. I spent several hours on a ‘detour’ because I missed the turn back to the freeway. On the other hand, I consider spontaneity to be the chocolate syrup of life. Three extra nights in the Painted Desert are still with me. The trip is a little sweeter with a drizzle of chocolate sauce.

The End

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Elephants in the Pasture

Elephants in the Pasture
A Tale of Partners

There are some riding partners who cannot be replaced. If you are lucky you’ve had such a partner. You’ve ridden beside the person with whom all your cogs and all their cogs just mesh. There’s a knowing without knowing. For me it was Debra.

Our partnership began in 2001, when a mutual friend introduced us. We clicked. Both married, working and both struck with the ‘sickness’; our love for horses. The give and take was almost immediate. We meshed.

The pace at which we did things together was perfect. We knew without saying what would come next. We drove down the road at the same pace. We rode with no hurry. No flurry. We moved down the trail in a quiet congress with each other. We knew when to saddle and head out. When to gallop or take the lunch stops all rolled together. Even knowing when to be quiet and just ride came naturally between us.

Our geldings seemed to understand. They would stand quietly, the tall elegant Arabian and the stout grey quarter horse, while we had a cup of coffee and watched the clouds slide past the hills. From the beginning, even our horses meshed.

Debra is one of the most natural and knowledgeable horsewomen I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and riding with. She has a common sense that comes from a lifetime with horses. To this day, she doesn’t comprehend the depth of her horse-knowledge. Few really appreciate it but when she shares it with you, you’ve gained a full measure as a horsewoman. Debra isn’t one to go about spouting information, flaunting her experience. She waits until the question is asked and then offers her answer. If you pick it up; you gain. If not, she doesn’t offer again and you lose.

I suppose the strongest basis of our relationship was her willingness to share her horse sense. She was willing to teach and I was willing to learn. She taught me how to haul my big gooseneck horse trailer and just how tightly you can turn. She taught me to trust her when she soaked the fenders of my brand new saddle in water and twisted them in place with a broom handle. I thought I’d die of heart failure during the night and day of drying time. I was certain I’d allowed my friend to ruin my new saddle but the stirrups turned nicely and my knees stopped hurting.

She might offer a simple thing like nail polish on Chicago screws. It takes a bridle coming apart on the trail one time to appreciate that kernel of information. I am amazed when I offer that information to people and they smack their forehead just as I did when she offered it to me. Duh.

Sometime it’s a big thing such as, ‘Don’t pick at your horse. Set him up. Set him straight and get on with riding.’ In the beginning I didn’t know what that meant. I treated my ranch-raised Wyoming quarter horse like a glass figurine. And he took advantage. Now, I set him straight and we proceed without a murmur. No picking. Duh.

Debra stands out as the eye of the storm during a crisis. I was thrown from a horse I had no business riding and broke my back. We were in the middle of nowhere, of course. She calmly called 911, directed the gathering of my gelding and all of this over my protests of “I can ride out….okay…I’ll walk out…okay I’ll crawl out but NO helicopter.” A half an hour later she is directing the helicopter to our location. I still laugh when I remember her telling the emergency transport personnel, ‘We are under the tallest tree.”

When I started riding again 4 months later, I bought a GPS. At least next time (please, no next time) she’ll be able to give the longitude and latitude. “Under the tallest tree”. Smack. Duh.

I am not saying Deb is perfect. No. Certainly not when it comes to objects in the distance. More than once she’s pointed out a bird or bear only to discover it is a branch or a rock. While she claims her eyesight is perfect those of us who know her know better.

One day she outdid herself in prime Debra-style. While hauling to one of our favorite trail heads we passed a ranch that always had a pasture full of exotics. Emus, ostrich, yak and long, long, long horn cattle. Deb points and says, clearly and truthfully, ‘Look. Elephants in the pasture.’ Silence. I look, after all the rancher has exotics. All I see are two huge downed trees with the root balls exposed. Silence. I drive down the road not looking at Debra, just nodding and driving.

I know the exact moment when she realizes the elephants were the root balls of the trees. Silence. I start chuckling, then laughing. I am laughing. Debra is laughing. Neither of us can say a word. Nor do we want to. We both rather like the thought of elephants in the pasture. What I really liked was Debra’s willingness to see, with her vivid imagination and usual flamboyant style, “Elephants in the pasture”.

Together, Deb and I camped and dreamed, laughed and cried. We were together through divorce and death, money and living off credit cards. We fought and made up. We doctored sick horses. We doctored each other. We rode and when we didn’t, we missed the pleasure. We watched the stars, named the constellations and called to the wild turkeys. Miles of trails passed under our horses’ hoofs while secrets passed between two good friends.

Debra still rides in California and I now ride Carolina trails. Even after three years of living on opposite coasts, our friendship stretches the miles. We talk ‘horses’ at least once a week sometime more often. I call on her for advice and a laugh. She calls me for a laugh. And we remember the ‘Elephants’

Perhaps one day you will be on a trail in Northern California. You’ll meet a lean woman on a tall grey Arabian. Ask her is she’s seen any elephants in the pasture. If she says yes, give her a smile from me.

Julia Dake/January 22, 2007©

A Simple Statement

Author's Note:
I wrote this essay in 2006. It was originally e-published in the American Trail Horse Association E-newsletter. Since then it has been e-published all over the net (with some well meaning changes) and in Hoofprints, the newsletter of the NATRC. Here it is in its original form.

A Simple Statement

I ride. That seems like such a simple statement. However as many women who ride know it is really a complicated matter. It has to do with power and empowerment. Being able to do things one might have considered out of reach or ability. I have considered this as I shovel manure, fill water barrels in the cold rain, wait for the vet/farrier/electrician/hay delivery, change a tire on a horse trailer on the side of the freeway or cool a gelding out before getting down to the business of drinking a cold beer after a long ride.

The time, the money, the effort it takes to ride calls for dedication. At least I call it dedication. Both my ex-husbands call it ‘the sickness’. It is a sickness I’ve had since I was a small girl bouncing my model horses and dreaming of the day I would ride a real horse. Most of the women I ride with understand the meaning of ‘the sickness’. It’s not a sport. It’s not a hobby. It’s what we do and, in some ways, who we are as women and human beings.

I ride. I hook up my trailer and load my gelding. I haul to some trailhead somewhere, unload, saddle, whistle up my dog and I ride. I breathe in the air, watch the sunlight filter through the trees and savor the movement of my horse. My shoulders relax. A smile rides my sunscreen smeared face. I pull my ball cap down and let the real world fade into the tracks my horse leaves in the dust.

Time slows. Flying insects buzz loudly, looking like fairies. My gelding flicks his ears and moves down the trail. I can smell his sweat and it is perfume to my senses. Time slows. The rhythm of the walk and the movement of the leaves become my focus. My saddle creaks and the leather rein in my hand softens with the warmth.

I consider the simple statement; I ride. I think of all I do because I ride. Climb granite slabs, wade into a freezing lake, race a friend through the manzanita all the while laughing and feeling my heart in my chest. Other days just the act of mounting and dismounting can be a real accomplishment. Still I ride, no matter how tired or how much my seat bones or any of the numerous horse related injuries hurt. I ride. And I feel better for doing so.

The beauty I’ve seen because I ride amazes me. I’ve ridden out to find lakes that remain, for the most part, unseen. Caves, dark and cold, beside rivers full and rolling are the scenes I see in my dreams. The Granite Staircase at Echo Summit, bald eagles on the wing and bobcats on the prowl add to the empowerment and joy in my heart.

I think of the people, mostly women, I’ve met because I ride. I consider how competent they all are. Not a weenie among the bunch. We haul 40 foot rigs, we back into tight spaces without clipping a tree. We set up camp. Tend the horses. Cook and keep safe. We understand and love our companions; the horse. We respect each other and those we encounter on the trail. We know that if you are out there riding, you also shovel, fill, wait, and doctor. Your hands are a little rough and you travel without makeup or hair gel. You do without to afford ‘the sickness’ and probably, when you were a small girl, you bounced a model horse while you dreamed of riding a real one.

Julia Dake©