Yesterday, I was walking Annie around the mounting block, coaxing her into the right angle so that I could get on her. A friend called out, "Do you want me to hold her for you?"
"No," I said, "We'll get there." Getting Annie to stay still for mounting used to be an issue for us so this was a piece of cake. I preferred the two of us work it out rather than go back to depending on a third person. We just needed a little refresher course.
Then my friend said to Annie, "Vacation's over, huh, girl?"
"Vacation!" I said, "More like sabatical!"
What my friend was eluding to was the fact that Annie had not been ridden with any regularity for many moons. Since my illness relapsed on me almost two years ago I've ridden Annie a handful of times. She hasn't been neglected, she's a well cared for horse. Just not ridden much.
During that time, when I wasn't sick I was on a medication that made me feel sick. So I stayed off Annie, maybe more than I needed to, but I just didn't feel safe. I felt terribly vulnerable.
Having faith that I would know when it would be OK to get back on was tough. There were times when I doubted that message would ever come. Even after my doctor gave me the OK to ride again, I was still on the strong meds and I felt tired and weak. Vulnerable.
It's not as if I was bedridden. There were just other things to do, more immediate work, that needed my energy and attention. My practice, family, the home. Plus I had to take care of myself, eating right, exercising when I was up to it, sleeping enough, all of which we know takes time and effort to do right. Even Annie and my dog needed my nurturing. Anyway, all this took all the energy I had for the day. The extra power to feel like I could handle Annie safely from the saddle eluded me.
This summer has been a summer of restoration and I am so grateful. My meds were reduced and with that a slow but true return to feeling stronger. After such a long time, a switch finally flipped that allowed me to get back to important activities that give me a spiritual lift. Like riding.
I decided not to rush it. I'd get back in the saddle gradually.
First I started showing up at the barn more, just to say hi, to Annie and my barn mates, catch up on the news, give Annie a brush, maybe hand-graze her on the grounds.
Then I spoke with Pam, the owner of the barn and my riding instructor, about my fear of riding Annie after so much time off. She pointed out that it hadn't been that long. She reminded me of an email I sent her in November about how happy simply riding her around the indoor arena made me. I'd forgotten that late last autumn, before Thanksgiving, Annie and I walked around the indoor arena without any agenda other than the pleasure of riding, seeing the world from her back again. It made me so happy I had to share the joy so I wrote that email to Pam.
Pam said I'd be fine.
A week after Pam's pep talk I went out to the barn with the intention to ride. It was a coldish, rainy summer day which was kind of a put off, an easy excuse to procrastinate again. But I went out anyway and at the last minute decided to dedicate my time to cleaning up Annie's tack instead. It was time well spent. A rider has to completely trust the gear that keeps her in control. like a pilot needs to check the mechanics of their aircraft before taking off. Cleaning the bridle, saddle and cinch allows a close cross check of the equipment.
The next day I told myself I'd just tack Annie up and hand walk her around the grounds to see what kind of mood she was in. There was one little blip. As I put her bridle on, I forgot whether the noseband went over or under the bit which was a little embarrassing. It didn't look right the way I put it on her but I wasn't sure if maybe it was like when we say a word like 'drank' and wonder if that's right or should it be 'drunk' which also doesn't sound right. 'Have drunk'? But other than that little blip, tacking Annie up made be feel stronger. And she looked so handsome in her cleaned up gear!
Everyone, all my friends, were so encouraging. They always have been. Completely understanding that I couldn't ride but supportive now that I wanted to get on again. There were a lot of horses out and about which Annie loves, but as I hand walked her she was frisky. She tried to get ahead of me, trot when I wanted her to walk, butt me with her head or dip down and grab a bite of grass.
"No, Annie, get behind me. Keep your distance and your head up. Listen to me." If you can't get a horse to behave on the ground, you can expect them to misbehave when you're in the saddle.
After a while she settled down and was walking beside me like the easy-keeper she is at heart.
Her mood was good, and there were enough supportive friends around, equine and human, that I could hear the message: Time to get on. You can do it!
So we did. I just sat on her and walked around the barn yard for maybe five minutes but it was glorious! As I got off a trainer who comes to the barn occasionally to help people with horses who need rehabilitation for one reason or another, was beaming at me. Absolutley beaming! I looked around wondering if he was looking at someone else, but no, he was looking at me and Annie.
He also told me the noseband goes under the bit. Oh, well.
Other friends congratulated me as if I had just swam (swum?) the English Channel! I could feel the tightness in my throat that comes before tears. I gave Annie a good rub on her withers.
Yes, my Annie, this is happening. We're riding again. The sabbatical is over.