That tall bay mare of mine? I am loving her more each day. I feel like these past few rides (and really, the time before and after the ride most of all) we are really starting to click. We are becoming one another's. We are creating routine and building trust. She looks up from her hay and comes to greet me when I whistle. I trace the little white swoosh on her forehead and briefly wonder why I didn't just change her name to Nike. I curry away any mud and Banjo drool as she works on her dinner (beautiful, fragrant, soft grass hay). I pick the shavings out of her mane. I run my hand down her legs, knowing now how they feel - warm, firm, the little jagged bumps of two old splints on her front legs. The little gray scrape on the outside of her right hind, all that remains of her injury. I fasten the white boots around her front legs, saddle and bridle her, sweeping her frizzy forelock over the brow band. I know which hole each buckle goes to, the comforting ritual of black leather and silver fittings. I back her away from her hay, assuring her that it will be there when she gets back, a satisfying snack after a workout. I don my helmet and gloves, call "Door!" as I pick up a dressage whip, lead her out in to the arena, tighten her girth.
night was our lucky thirteenth ride. I'm keeping track on my phone - there's
an app for that! She positions herself politely next to the mounting block.
We walk the perimeter of the whole arena for a while, she frequently
checks herself out in the mirrors and I say "Who's that pretty girl?"
every time, then decide I will add Madonna's "Who's That Girl" to Dani's
playlist. We do some walk/halt transitions and she responds to breath alone. I establish more connection, pick up my hands, stretch my
legs down and we begin our trot work, staying at the end of the arena
with the dressage letters. We do some small circles and figure 8's, she
reaches for contact and there are moments I feel like I am riding the
outside of the horse like I'm supposed to. I decide we are not going to do any canter work
because we've been struggling with it and I want to reward her work
ethic and not overface her. I know that she gets stressed out with the
canter and we might as well revel in the gorgeous rhythmic trot that she
has and establish more strength and balance there. From time to time
the mare gives me a glimpse of self-carriage. She actively seeks
direction and remains beautifully forward despite the wrinkle of
concentration above her eye, the flared nostril, the deep huffing
breaths as she tries so hard. In the mirror I catch her profile
looking indisputably Andalusian.
We do some leg yields, learning the
vocabulary of our new language and striving for the marriage of forward
and sideways. I sit the trot, allow her to feel more of my leg. Once to the left, from the quarter line to the wall, we get it. I see the correct
bend and the correct trajectory in the mirror. I praise her and toss
the reins to the buckle. She is done. We cool out for a few passes
around the arena, then I dismount, remove her saddle, unbuckle the flash
and let her follow me to pick up her piles. She noses the mounting
block endearingly, as if she's wondering if I'm going to get on bareback
like I did the second time I rode her. I'd have no reservations doing
so, but I like this quiet time on the ground. She stands patiently
while I maneuver the fork, and we make several trips to the muck bucket, her walking behind me with her head down obligingly. I can circle her with a point of my finger, a lean of my shoulder. We go back to her stall,
and I am able to turn her around and park her next to her water buckets with body language
alone. She waits for my release despite the remains of her dinner in the corner. I remove her bridle. Her eye is soft. She munches on her
hay while I rub her down, brush away the sweat marks. I close my
lockers after getting her peppermint treats - always two, four if she's
extra good. Tonight she gets four. She sucks my fingertips into her
mouth with the treats - she does this every time - it's funny and they
go nowhere near her teeth. I tell her goodnight. I smile as I cross
the sand on my own two feet with so much less grace than on borrowed hooves.