February 11, 2017
It started badly. The reins suddenly between Willis’ legs and then snapping apart with a frantic wave of his left front leg. I was trying to buckle the noseband on his bridle when his head reached toward the ground, searching for another slice of apple, no doubt. The reins slipped forward from his head, brushing the concrete floor. Willis stepped forward unsuspecting and then the struggle. There goes the riding lesson, I thought.
I look at my beautiful Toulous reins, torn from the cognac colored laces. Surely they can be fixed, I say to myself, seeing dollar signs floating around the foot-long piece of leather in my hand. Can’t worry about it now; it’s almost 10:30. I grab a suitable bridle from one of the trainer’s hooks in the barn’s big tack room, and this time, more carefully, slip the bridle over Willis’ ears and buckle the noseband and throat latch under his chin.
Willis, my quarter horse, was four and charcoal gray when I bought him almost six years ago. I hoped he would stay the gray roan he was sold as, dark with white hairs sprinkling his thick coat, a rich blur of black and white, but he is slowly “graying out,” fading into a pale, dappled coat. His brand, coincidentally a large “W” on his left hip, is woven into still-dark fur.
I board Willis at a barn in a rural area about 20 miles from Austin where I began riding about 13 years ago. Scattered Oaks Farm is a comfortable place with tin roofed barns and wooden stalls, surrounded by grassy pastures divided with ribbon fencing. In truth, I would not have a horse without the owner/trainer, Stacie. I came to horses and riding late in my life, but the horse gene was in me somewhere, along with a chronic need to escape from the maddening growth of Austin. After years of leasing horses I wanted my horse. Understanding the huge responsibility of owning such an animal and recognizing my inexperience, I would not have been able to without constant support, advice and coaching. So I ride at a barn where I take riding lessons and have someone to hold my hand and keep me from killing my horse when I get frustrated.
I am mad at myself more than Willis. It could have been much more traumatic for Willis to be caught up like that, but fortunately he is a sturdy soul. Neither of us was hurt, but I am now in a bad mood and Willis isn’t happy either. Still the lesson goes pretty well, despite some pinned ears and bending to the wrong side as we trot and canter around the edge of the sandy arena. I am far from a great rider and Willis enjoys challenging me.
A new pair of laced reins arrived in the mail today. They are not as nice as the Toulous reins. While the Toulous reins felt thick and sturdy, soft and pliable, the new reins are light, slender and stiff. A little time and conditioning will cure that. In the meantime, over and over in my mind I replay that last rhythmic canter. I want to remember how it felt gliding effortlessly over those fences.
– Christine Baleshta