The pain and joy of horses. And other things. But mainly horses.

by Mhairi Simpson on May 18, 2012

This week’s been a bit hard. There was the car, of course, but before and after that there was the writing. And the job. And the looking for other jobs. It’s not been a happy week. Not a happy few weeks, to be honest. And as I sit here trying to think about something to write about that isn’t me whining, I find myself nearly at a loss.

Those of you who know me, however, know this is a state that never lasts for long. Which is why, today, I would like to talk about… horses.

I love horses. I started riding when I was five, and I still remember that first time up on a horse. To five year old me, I seemed to be one hell of a long way off the ground, and I was rocking from side to side, seeing the loam floor of the riding school loom on each side with every step my steed took. I thought, this isn’t going to last. I’m going to fall off any minute now…

I didn’t.

I did fall off plenty of times, though. Thinking we knew it all, we’d bandy around such sayings as “when you’ve fallen off seven times, then you’re a rider” and keep score of our sudden, uncontrolled descents. What did we know? I fell off seven times in one hour once. It hurt.

I’ve been trodden on by horses. That hurts, too. And once I came off a horse going along a beach and landed squarely on my head. That hurt most of all. I was most put out when, on hearing my tale of woe, my father told me “You didn’t hold on tight enough. You weren’t scared enough.” I was only fifteen at the time and insulted by his total lack of sympathy. Years later, at the age of twenty-eight and hanging off a horse which had just collided with a cow, his words would return to me. Or rather they returned later on. At that particular moment, thrown halfway from my saddle by the force of impact (we were going full gallop a moment previously), and staring down at a rock-studded dirt road, I had only one thought in mind.

“I’m not letting go.”

Horse-riding isn’t all about the pain, although there’s plenty of that. For me it’s actually got nothing to do with the pain. That’s just the price I pay to ride a horse. For me riding is about seeing the landscape roll away while the horse moves beneath you. The breeze lifting strands of hair off your face and the gentle clip-clop or rhythmic thud of horse hooves, depending on the surface you’re travelling over.

You can take a horse to places you can’t take another vehicle. And I’ve known horses who sensed when their riders were losing balance or had lost a stirrup while travelling at speed and slowed down without being asked. I have known horses lose a shoe and part of their hoof during a run and give no indication of it. I knew one horse who was blind in one eye but wouldn’t slow down because all she wanted to do was gallop.

It’s the partnership, for me. A horse is a sentient creature. Thoroughbred-types weigh around 1000-1100lbs. If they so wish they can dump you on the ground, trample your insides out and leave you mangled in the dust, all without breaking a sweat.

But mostly they don’t, and that is the wonder of it. That such a huge, powerful creature lets me ride it is a source of joy. When you’re heading at the gallop down an open (dirt) road, or across a grassy valley, or a desert plain, your mount stretching out its neck and legs, reaching for the speed and moving ever faster… The wind rushes through your hair and stings your eyes. You can’t hear anything but the air going by and the rhythm of hooves beneath you. You can only feel your head and face chilled by the wind of your passing and the bunch and release of a massive body carrying you to… wherever. It doesn’t matter.

I think this quote says it best:

In my opinion, a horse is the animal to have. Eleven hundred pounds of raw muscle, power, grace, and sweat between your legs – it’s something you just can’t get from a pet hamster.
Author Unknown

And yes, I can relate this to writing, and life in general, although I’m not sure I should. But getting up to the gallop, and the sense of all-encompassing joy that comes with it, is quite rare on a horse. Hitting the ground is also mercifully rare. More often you’re walking, trotting or cantering. Life in general is like that, and so is writing. Most of the time it’s a wander, a partnership no one really understands but which is as essential as breathing. Occasionally it hurts like hell. And sometimes, just sometimes, you’ll have those moments of transcendental joy which make every other moment in your life up to this one utterly forgettable. At that moment in time, all that matters is the present. You and the horse, or you and your story, or you and your life, racing forwards so easily it’s like there is no ground to fall on, like this could last forever.

It doesn’t last forever, of course. I think we’d all be exhausted if it did. But it’s those moments that make everything else worth it.

PS. I forgot about the whole “when you fall off, get straight back on again” metaphor, but I’m sure you don’t need me to explain it.

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