18 September 2014 The Rider I Could Have Been
The summer after I turned eight years old I fell in love with horses. I was going into first grade, and in those days my mom was signing me up for every summer camp imaginable to find something I enjoyed and to get me out of her hair. I went to volleyball, math camp, and the occasional week away at a church retreat, but my favorite was horse camp. I rode English style, which consists of riding my horse with the best posture possible and jumping over the jumps with as much elegance and poise as I could muster. After my week of ‘Horses 101’ (learning how to care for the horses and their equipment, and of course my favorite part, riding), my mom signed me up for regular lessons every Saturday morning.
Being a 1st grader, I didn’t have a whole lot to look forward to, so one can imagine how excited I got by the end of a week to go ride. My instructor’s name was Margaret who was a college student who rode horses as well. I always envied her for her sapphire blue eyes and her flowing long brown hair. She helped me win my first horse show, helped me get back on the first time I fell off, and was essentially the bigger sister I wished I had.
About 4 months after my first lesson I was trying a course for the first time. I had adjusted my leather stirrups so the balls of my feet fit just right, and we had just warmed up with a couple cantering laps around the course. Cantering resembles galloping just slower and more controlled. My heart started to beat just a little faster when I saw Margaret setting the jumps around 3 foot 4. I’d never jumped that high before. I was riding my favorite horse that day, Anchor. He was a palomino (around the color of sand), a bulky horse but light on his feet. As I walked Anchor around the course I became increasingly nervous. Margaret motioned me over, and my hands began to sweat inside my cloth gloves. “Alright Victoria, your first show is in a month, and this is the starting height you’ll need to be able to jump by then. Anchor will have no problem with it, but make sure to get the right number of leads in-between each jump.” Achieving the right number of leads meant to make sure to only allow the horse to take three strides between each jump. I could get major points deducted for allowing the horse to take more than or less than 3 strides(leads) in a show, but even worse the horse could stop in his tracks and I would go flying off the front. There were a lot of dangers to riding, but that’s what I loved about it. After she told me in which sequence to do the jumps, I did my lap and began. My eyes starting to water with fear I began to feel all the unknowns going through my head at once. I gripped the reins as best I could as we cantered up to the first jump. I got into jump position (butt out of the saddle, leaning forward clutching the reigns and the horses mane), squinted my eyes, braced for impact, and threw my heels into Anchor’s side as hard as my 4 foot 3 body could to get him over the jump. I could taste the dirt flying into my face and hear Anchor’s heavy breathing as we approached. When I’m in the air, even if just for a split second, time seems to freeze. It’s just the horse and me, no one to help me out or to save me if anything goes wrong. My life is literally and metaphorically in my own hands, and the freedom I felt for that second made me never want to come down. I landed with the biggest grin I think I ever had, Margaret and my dad cheering me on as I continued. At this point nothing could stop me, it was me in my element doing what I did…