I dreamed of riding a horse when I was a little girl. My brother had a horse on the farm. Her name was Mona, but they said I was too young to ride her. When Daddy died Mona was sold and we moved to the city. I had a little white porcelain horse that I placed on the mantle in my bedroom. Mother struggled to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. Riding lessons would have been out of the question. I knew better than to even ask for them, my heart ached for my father and all that I had lost.
When I was invited to return to Australia by my partner I was determined to learn how to help with the horses, and maybe ride one. I took lessons from a horse whisperer in Door County, Wisconsin named Leslie Leline. I really wasn’t sure about riding because I am over 70 years old. Falling off a horse isn’t a good idea at any age, but at my age? I drove up to Leslie’s farm every week for four weeks, grooming the horses, walking them around the yard and picking out their feet. Then I mounted the horse and rode around the coral. It felt wonderful. The horse moved and I moved with him, just relaxed as one. Leslie said, “Are you sure you haven’t ridden before?”
“I did ride once, on my honeymoon with my now deceased husband. I rode for two days to get to our job which was lookouts on Lookout Mountain in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness outside of Yellowstone National Park. I got motion sick from riding.” I said surprised by her question.
“Do you think I’m ready for group lessons in Texas?” I asked anxious to get in more riding.
“Absolutely, you are totally balanced and relaxed on the horse. You look like you’ve ridden for a long time.”
I went to Austin, Texas and called Maverick Horseback riding to ask about group lessons. I filled out the form and paid money online then I got a phone call, “Are you sure you want to do this? You are over 70. Most of my older riders have trouble balancing.”
“I’ve been riding up in Wisconsin, I’m very flexible, and I don’t have any balance problems.” I responded not appreciating being judged by a number.
I talked them into letting me go on trail rides in Texas, but now I was in for the real riding test in Austalia. My partner, Wal, invited some of the neighbors over and we were going for a Sunday morning ride. He repeated what he’d said before,” I can never teach anyone to ride. I just know how. I started riding bareback as a kid.” He’s 78 now and still more at home on a horse than on the ground. He instructed me carefully, nervously repeating things Leslie had shown me. “Stay close when you walk behind the horse so they won’t kick you. Let the horse know where you are.”
It was a perfect February morning only 70 degrees with a slight breeze ruffling the trees. Cicada buzzed in the bush. My heart pounded as I stepped around the cow pies in my riding boots I’d purchased in Texas. Wal grabbed an old dusty saddle from the machine shed, and we made the short walk to the horse’s stable. He’d closed the gate that morning after he’d fed them. He brought Karen, the dark red Australian stock horse up to put a bridle on her. I found a curry comb in the tack room and started to brush her. “Remember to stay close when you walk behind her,” Wal repeated again.
Karen’s coat was soft red suede the exact color of my hair. As I circled the curry comb dust rose in the air, she stood completely still. Was she just tolerating me, or did she like it?
Indiana, the paint horse, leaned again the gate, worried that Karen was going out without her.
Wal proceeded to put a saddle on Indiana and she immediately calmed down. Ranger stood on the far side of the corral, obviously hoping he’d get to sit this one out. After he finished with Indiana, he brought Ranger in and saddled him up too.
The neighbor, Cam, buzzed up on his Suzuki cycle with his six-month-old dog Banjo following close beside him. Banjo smiled from ear to ear as his tongue hung out one side of this mouth and, his golden coat shown in the sun.
Wal said, “Lead her out between those two logs out there.”
I saw the logs and I took Karen by the reins carefully thinking what I’d practiced, Look where you want to go, not at the horse. As I stepped between the logs Karen stepped over the logs, not following me. I circled around and tried again, this time she stepped to one side of the log.
Wal took the reins and guided her between the logs, turning to face her and direct her to stop just right. I started to just get on, but Wal pulled her through and made me do it. This time I watched her and made her stop correctly. He demonstrated how to get on with the log, and then let me do it. I’d passed the first question with redirection only.
He attached a lead and asked me to get her to go forward. I used a slight motion with my right leg and she stepped forward. He unclipped the lead, “Ride her around in a small circle.” I used the reins just as I’d been shown by Makayla in Texas, look where you want to go, as soon as she responds let up, Karen responded easily. Wal nodded his head and tucked the lead in his back pocket. I passed the second question without correction. I breathed a sigh of relief, as we proceeded down the hill into the lush Queensland Valley.
We rode single file on that first ride, down the hill, and across the creek. Then we proceeded down a trail through the bush, tall tropical trees towered above us. The bell bird’s gong echoed in our ears as we swayed along the trail, my heart pounded as I marveled at the privilege of seeing this beauty in such a serene way.
The dog Banjo raced ahead of the horses leading the way. The Ding, ding is the sound of the Bell bird, the human voices are a murmur below it.