Letting go of the IDEA – I am not her. And it’s not about appearances. It’s about how it FEELS.
I am never, ever, ever getting back on a horse again.
That was the continuous loop of thought as my ass wept quietly over the last nine days. The Tall Dude and I went for a two hour ride for his birthday. He loves horses, and I love the idea of a gift that doesn’t require a power supply cord. It had been a long time since I was on a horse. In my twenties I decided to begin lessons and progressed to the point of jumping. Nothing crazy, nothing super regal, but I could get in a two-point stance and sail over some wood with the help of the horse.
This activity was never a natural fit for me. I was in love with the idea of being able to ride horses.
(I had to pause to laugh-cry. There isn’t a single athletic activity that is a natural for me except distance hiking. And that’s only because it’s pretty much just walking. And even that I don’t do especially gracefully.)
Every time I took a riding lesson I was nervous. My mind became scattered trying to make it all work – tighten my core, loosen up, grip with my thighs, relax, heels down, toes in, quiet hands, Why are his ears back?! And why did I pay cash to spend an hour tweaked? Be one with the horse? How can I pull that off when I slow dance like I’m a rag doll and regularly can’t feel below my neck?
When I first started riding I took group lessons with a friend from high school after we moved back to our home town post college. He was fearless. And super quirky. The horses loved him. The horses did not love me. I’m pretty certain they judged me as high-maintenance and skittish.
After 10 weeks of lessons we were to graduate to the next level. Except I didn’t. I was held back.
Held back at riding camp.
Not scarred at all by this…no…
I swallowed my pride and dealt with it. My main fail was not riding Oscar. Because he was the meanest, scariest horse ever. And he had pink eyes. That followed me wherever I went. I hoped they didn’t notice that I never volunteered to get on his back. I also did everything I could to avoid him in the ring. I was in a perpetual state of Where’s Oscar? No wonder I ride like I’m inches from live wires on both sides. They did notice, however. One of the teachers stood in front of me as we all lined up against the barn wall to receive our diploma and said, You didn’t ride Oscar. Everyone has to ride Oscar to move on.
Hence, no diploma for me.
Mortified, I continued with lessons, and survived an hour on Oscar’s back, finally graduating to the next level. And the next. And then I moved. Eventually the urge struck again, and I found a beautiful facility that rehabbed race horses and gave lessons. Back in the saddle I went.
The lessons were private this time. We progressed swiftly. Within a few weeks I was jumping again. The time I felt most at ease on a horse was when I leaned forward as his neck came to meet my chest, grabbed a bit of mane and felt his legs leave the ground. In those few seconds I felt like a ballerina, an elegant muse, Lady Godiva, a beautiful woman. I felt agile and alive.
Life intervened and my lessons there were halted. And then, after meeting my former spouse and moving to our marital home, I once again entered the ring, now in my thirties. This time the riding ring was in a backyard, behind a victorian home on a street lined with them. Kids and cars zoomed by, city buses groaned as they closed their doors and made their way to the next stop. The neighborhood street was sandwiched between two main drags, hosting a near constant flow of traffic as people snaked their way around the town. It took a few weeks for me to relax and trust that the horses were used to all this activity. Unlike my prior teacher who moved at the pace of Cliff Notes, this teacher was hyper-cautious. We walked, and walked, and walked. Eventually we trotted, but every lesson started at the walk. She would have me check the stirrups, adjust the band that wraps around the horse’s body, all from the saddle. And then we’d walk some more. Cautiously.
Instead of urging me on, she nurtured my fears, making them feel validated by playing it far too safe.
Which didn’t help at all when it was most needed.
Just after Thanksgiving, after a long day at work, I was trying to relax, loosen my grip, ground my seat bones equally into the saddle, keep my heels down. We were trotting around the ring in a figure eight. Just as we rounded the far bend and turned to ride back toward the street, a neighbor turned on Christmas lights. The horse blew a gasket. He went up and I went off, truly grounding my seat bones. Instead of saying, Get back on him, Cleo. Dust yourself off! She said, Let’s wrap for the night.
I never took another lesson.
I may have gone on one other ride before last week. If so, I’m sure I needed a cocktail after dismounting. Or before…
As the Tall Dude and I walked to the stables I felt some nerves kicking up inside. But I’m a different girl now, I thought. I have a better relationship with my body. I’m grounded physically and emotionally, which will translate to the saddle. This is a whole new start! The Dude and me on the trails, riding up the Inverness Ridge and through forests dripping with moss and blanketed with ferns. This is the time to have a genuine relationship with the horse. I’m not trying to be that cool girl who rides horses anymore. Just a girl who remains centered and happy and at ease regardless of the situation. I’ll be on a trail horse who’s felt it all, and I’ve never once seen Christmas lights in the Point Reyes wilderness.
Chill out, Cleo.
We mounted and off we went, up a dusty trail and into the woods. As we picked up a trot I noticed the Tall Dude bouncing way out of his saddle. Our trail guide paused and lengthened his stirrups. He settled in with a confident demeanor as we continued on. I attributed my own bouncing to my rusty skills and tried my best to post in a western saddle.
What am I doing wrong? I used to be way better at this.
I just need to get in the horse’s rhythm.
What I needed was for the ride to be an hour shorter, but when our guide suggested we lengthen it by heading into the Enchanted Forest I was, well, enchanted. With the idea.
It was in that forest that I realized I, or rather my ass, had hit the wall, or the saddle enough times to be battered. But I was determined to keep up appearances. I rode him out till the very end. And when I dismounted I knew I would be sore for a few days.
But I never expected what happened next.
I awoke the following morning, pulled the covers back and swung my legs over the side of the bed. And then I gasped.
My inner thighs were black and blue. Worse, they were SO swollen. At least an inch on each side. I was shocked. I looked like I had been beaten by a plank of wood held in the arms of a pissed off giant of a man. The bruising was deep and dark and eight inches long. My muscles hurt from my thighs to my upper back. My ass was beyond tender.
Okay, I thought, no swimming this week except in my wet suit. The gym might be a stretch but I can probably get on the elliptical. Maybe I can hike Tam.
No. No. And no.
I was able to participate in the Bolinas-Stinson Beach annual July 4th Tug of War, but I wore pants. And then changed into a dress that hid my thighs as we (The girls, the boys lost to Stinson who, rumor has it, brought in a rugby team to insure victory.) celebrated our success. As the days passed the numbness in my legs wore off, the swelling went down, the bruising became a little less horrifying. And then, one week later, I woke up with an intense pain in the upper part of the back of my thigh. What is THAT? I thought.
What I discovered through touch was something hard, deep and extremely tender. It was the size of a lemon. It was so tender that I couldn’t sit on my right side. The pain zapped my patience. I poured a glass of wine at 4:45 that day. All I could feel was that one part of my body. I literally had a pain in the ass. And it was significant.
For the first time in a year I went to the doctor. Mainly because I was going to be sitting in a car for 6 hours as I drove to Los Angeles the very next day. After getting intimate with her, the diagnosis was a deep subcutaneous hematoma due to blunt force trauma.
“Wow, you’ve got quite a big one there”, she said, as I laid on my side with my bum in full view. I would have laughed if I wasn’t so pissed at myself.
She was a rider herself. “Your stirrups were too short. This is serious trauma. They should have never let you ride like that.”
“And that saddle was not a good fit.”
I wanted to cry.
“You need to remain on your side, off your feet and let this heal. It’s going to take a few weeks. Can you do that?”
I nodded yes. And the next morning got in the car and drove south to Los Angeles. It screamed the entire way. But I’ve got a track record at numbing pain. So I just ignored it. Powered through it.
It wasn’t until I got lost in Topanga Canyon the next day that I put two (my former spouse and Mr. Perfect Timing) and two (my butt cheeks) together, realizing that I STILL had not learned my lesson when I climbed in the saddle with Mr. Perfect Timing.
This time the Universe left a lasting impression. And it stung. So now I’m laying down a challenge. To the Universe.
I promise to remain open to love. To not build walls but better boundaries. To SPEAK UP. To honor at all times my values and priorities without bending them to make others feel comfortable so I can feel loved, which often leads to hematomas of the emotional sort. Clots that impede the beating of the heart, the flow of love.
I promise to get it this time – I cannot discount disconnects because the overall story is (can be) so compelling. Not only was I about to enter a monogamous relationship far too soon, I was about to do it with someone who possesses traits that are not a good fit for me, despite how alluring the idea of our relationship may be. This time, in hindsight and while licking my wounds, I see at least five traits that should have had me pressing STOP before we ever got going.
If a relationship is uncomfortable in any way I have to stop making it comfortable and let the discomfort be a sign that I’m in the wrong place, perfect timing or not.
And, this is SUPER key: I have to get a better understanding of why I am attracted to (I am NOT diagnosing anyone in particular) narcissistic type men.
Grateful for the lesson, Universe. So…
If you’re so smart then how about a little competition?
Between you and online dating…it’s still my summer of love. I’ll play by your rules and we’ll see who finds the better fit.