When I was a child I rode with no fear.
I would always ride without a saddle and sometimes even with just a halter. When I was a child I could ride with no hands. I rode with the wind. I would jump anything in my way. I was one with my best friend, my horse. With him I found my peace through the ups and downs of childhood and adolescence.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. It seems so unfair, as we age, no matter how often or how much we ride, that our confidence starts to wane, our joy is a bit dulled by the realities of adult responsibility, the loss of youthful athleticism, and the development of worrying about what other people think. Nor do our horses seem so perfectly well behaved as they were back then. Or is it that maybe now we just know too much and expect more?
This all came to my mind as I was driving down a country road the other day. As usual, I was lost in my cares of all the things I had to get done on my never-ending to-do list, the stress washing over me. And then, all of a sudden, my peripheral vision caught a glimpse, on this surprisingly sunny February morning, of a child riding her small horse down her driveway. My eyes were momentarily taken from the road as I watched her and it seemed I could feel exactly what she was feeling, as she rode towards me. I even found myself beginning to feel a bit of envy until my own childhood whooshed back upon me.
My stress fell away. Those childhood memories blurred though my mind as they were replayed in fast motion: how I couldn’t wait to get home from school and jump on my horse for another adventure on the trails right outside my back door. The elation of once again being freed of the constraints of school and home, and ready to explore my world by horseback – running away as fast as we could go. Carefree. Just my horse and me.
The week before this epiphany, I had attended the Washington Horse Expo, where Craig Cameron’s Extreme Cowboy competition required competitors to remove their saddles and ride around the arena at a canter (or faster) as part of the event. The eldest competitor was a 67 year old cowboy – galloping his round. Also speaking at the expo was national clinician, Julie Goodnight, who told the audience that she has gone back to riding bareback again. Like me, she had not done it in quite a few years. She says it was surprisingly hard the first day, but each day she did, it got a little easier. We are of a similar age. If she can do it, I think I can too I found myself perusing bareback saddle pads in a vendor booth right afterwards. Maybe I am not too old to have that amazing feeling of easy balance and confidence once again.
I want to not just remember that carefree joy, I want to relive moments of it. Sometimes responsibilities and cares need to be purposefully set aside. Training and lessons can go by the way, just for a little while, too. While not throwing caution absolutely to the wind, feeling that uncontainable thrill of just riding and being can be the only goal, if only for a little while.
Do I want to relive my childhood? Never. Do I want to ride like a child again? Absolutely. Don’t you?