Always Check Your Cinch, Unless You’re Looking for an Existential Crisis

I slept thirteen hours straight that first night. I woke up just early enough the next morning to shower, put band aids on my blisters and get back to the stable on time.

No one had forgotten me this time. In fact, there was almost tangible amazement in the air as I limped toward the corrals, halter in hand.

Horses were caught and the day began just as the day before. I was stiff and incredibly sore footed, having had no choice but to wear my too small boots again. Still, my movements were a little surer. I wasn’t fast, but my body was beginning to understand its job. I even successfully saddled a few horses.

The pens were cleaned, the waters were filled and there was a steady stream of rides throughout the day. During a few of the slow spells I was given the opportunity to go on little rides around the yard. Bit by bit I started to get a little better at the joystick basics of the horses. Stop, go, right, left.

Things slowed down toward the end of the day and I was told to grab a horse. Some of us were going to go out on the trail!

I moved as calmly and steadily as possible over to Joe, a big, sorrel, appendix gelding. His ears twitched more than any of the other horses when he drank and because of this he had become my favorite.

I put his headstall on him, just as I had been practicing. Somehow, I clamored up on his back and pointed him toward the others.

Just like that the smell of ponderosa pine enveloped me. The horses lined out and we disappeared into the woods. Scrub jays screeched, squirrels jabbered, the wind whispered in the leaves.

Joe’s movement underneath me lulled me into a sense of peace, the like of which I had seldom felt before. I tried to stay alert and observant so that I could memorize the trail. When the time came for me to take out my first ride I sure didn’t want to get lost! (Don’t worry, there will be a blog about me getting lost later!) I tried to etch every tree, rock, and bush into my brain, but really, my only memory I have left of that first ride out is of looking at Joe’s ears and thinking to myself, “Huh, his ears twitch with every step, just like when he drinks!”

It ended too soon. As we slipped back out of the woods and reached the dirt road that led us back to the yard we changed from riding single file, to riding abreast. Just before we made it back Joe pinned his ears at the horse along side him.
“Don’t let him get away with that, take your reins and smack him!”

So I did.

Ego would like me to say that the reprimand caused a wild bucking fit that I almost rode but failed out of fear of the horse mucking out a litter of newborn puppies.

The reality was the horse stepped quickly to the side, the saddle, having never been properly cinched, slid as I lost my balance, and I tumbled off of the horse with the same amount of grace as I did most things in my life. (That would be none in case you haven’t figured that out.)

Nobody seemed overly surprised at the events that had just taken place.

Holding back tears I pulled myself up off of the ground and made my way to the bathroom. Someone had already caught Joe and tied him back in his place. He didn’t look terribly concerned either.

In the dark, little bathroom I wiped gravel out of my eyes and mouth. I avoided my own gaze while I cleaned myself up. Doubt began to creep in. I wasn’t sure what had just happened, but I WAS sure that it didn’t scream of job security.

I’ve allowed myself to entertain doubts about the minute details of my life many times. In fact, doubt is exactly what this blog is about to me. The direction I need to go with my horsemanship is pretty vague to me right now. I’ve spent this entire summer “trying on” different horsemanship fits. True, I’ve learned A LOT, but it has been in spite of doubt and lack of clarity. I’ve felt lost at sea these past few months, and while I am looking for a shoreline that I know is there, I still don’t quite see it.

Even though I’ve felt a huge lack of direction this summer, once and only once have I ever doubted I was supposed to do SOMETHING with horses. It was in that bathroom, that day.

Finally I raised my head and I looked myself in the eye. It was time to be realistic. I was a clumsy, naive, city kid. Or at least that’s what I had been a few days before. That day I was a very sore, tired, dirty, clumsy, naive city kid. My tight Walmart boots dug into my feet, and my feet screamed in agony and agreement with my self doubt. I could and should go back to Phoenix, move in with my boyfriend, and settle down there. After all, inner pep talks only go so far when you’re picking yourself up off of the ground.

I stood, examining myself in the mirror for a long time. The minutes ticked by. I began to hear sounds of the afternoon moving on without me. Just like that the decision was made. I went outside and threw in with unsaddling.

Maybe I’m supposed to say that all of my life’s roads flashed before my eyes and I suddenly knew for sure this was the path I was supposed to take. Maybe I’m supposed to say that my heart gave my mind and body the strength they needed to forge on. Maybe I’m supposed to say that all of my childhood dreams flooded back to me and renewed my faith that it would all be worth it.

The fact of the matter is, standing in that tiny bathroom while everyone else was outside working just felt wrong. When I came back to myself I WANTED to be out there with the others unsaddling, currying sweaty backs and loading hay. It wasn’t a dream. It was what I was meant to do so I should probably go out and do it. So that’s what I did.

And I kept doing it day in and day out for three solid years at that stable, and really every day of my life since then. Through blazing summer heat, snow chest deep to a horse, lightening and even wildfire, I just kept doing it. But you know what? I have never, ever, EVER stepped on another horse without checking my cinch first.

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