Friday, October 17, 2008

Sassy China. by Patresa Hartman

I've been riding an Appaloosa named China. The white splotch on her thick left shoulder is shaped like the sickle and star on the Soviet flag. China is not completely into me, yet, but today she let me pick the dirt out of her frogs and shoes with a pointed metal digging tool, so I think our relationship is improving. China also let me brush the soft of her belly where the saddle was cinched too tightly for many years. "Bad horsemanship," is what my teacher, Dennis, says about the visible welts across the downward dip of her underside. He did not like the way China's previous owners handled her. He is a gentle man with calloused hands. Every direction he gives to China he calls "asking," and I like that. "Ask her to stop...Ask her to scoot back...Ask her to trot." She always complies when Dennis asks.

When I ask she rolls her eyes. She snorts and lips her bit, jerks her head toward my feet. China is sassy.

Her primary complaint with me, I think, is that every time I show up, she has to pull her nose out of the feed bucket. I am also confused about my heels and the position of my butt in her saddle while we trot. I am an awkward driver who does not fully understand the pedals. Dennis says I'm squeezing too tight, that I need to relax. He tells me to look where I want China to look, and to breathe the way I want China to breathe, and that if I relax and let it happen, we'll meld.

Dennis wears Wranglers and a cowboy hat and has gray hair and blue eyes. When he learned to ride, they didn't have saddles, so they learned bareback. He has fallen off and been thrown off; I guess that earns you respect from the horses. They follow him around even when he hasn't asked them to.

I don't want to fall off or be thrown, so I hope that China will respect me just because I'm nice and I use the softest brush in the bucket after our rides. I don't bring her apples or carrots. Dennis says the best reward for a horse is to be given a break.

I like the horse barn. I like its smell, its dirt, its gemetrical stalls. I like the creaking sounds of the saddle when I hoist it across her back, the filth on my hands after I've brushed the dust from China's coat. I like the even, heavy plod of shod feet on the dirt floor, the air that crisscrosses west and north from the wide open doors of the riding rink.

I like that although I annoy her, China continues to show up and give me sass. I am grateful for her willingness to teach me how to relax and sit upright in my saddle even when the terrain gets rough.


Kathryn Magendie said...

Oh, it's been so long since I've riden a horse! I used to ride bare-back -- without a bridle -- I'd sneak into the pasture by our house in baton Rouge (when it was a pasture, before the dang developers got to it) and I'd jump on the horse's back and grab his mane and ride ...wasn't my horse, maybe that was wrong, but I'll never regret it! The owners barely paid him any mind...but I loved him

Barbara Quinn said...

Lucky you! I adore horses.I used to love to ride when I was a kid..At night I snuck down to a camp near my house that had summer horses and rode them bareback. And then I rode some in high school and college, English and Western.I've been thrown once by a feisty fellow who also used to love trying to knock me off with low hanging branches. I do love all those smells you brought to life. Aww...give China an apple or a carrot and feel those soft lips and nose against your palm. There's really something special about the velvety softness of a horse's nose and when it nuzzles you and sniffs, pure heaven!

Angie Ledbetter said...

Wow, Dennis sounds like a true horse whisperer. Glad you got him AND China to show you the ropes. Hope you'll write again about your riding experiences.

Lisa G. said...

Ooooh - I was just in a horse barn the other day - they DO smell wonderful. What a fantastic learning. And your experience is informing me, in an unexpected way about a situation in my life right now. I'm remembering that a little sass never hurt anyone. That showing up with willingness, even with the sass, is what counts. Thanks P. (As always.)

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