Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Contemplation Via Horseback
I miss walking into the pasture holding a haltar and a rope. I miss the interested-yet-bored gazes of those pasture inhabitants for whom I was not searching. I miss the dew sparkling on the grass and wetting the bottoms of my jeans. I miss the winter snows coating the fuzzy coats of the horses meandering in their equine conversations as I crunched through the thin icy snows in my Thanksgiving Day approach.
I would walk that pasture through three seasons, and walk them back, willlingly, as the horses knew their grain would come to them as a reward. They'd eat as I groomed, and even somewhat cooperatively raise their hooves at my prompt, only occasionally nipping at me playfully or dropping their weight on me on a bad day, but never enough to harm or crush. And still, their hooves were cleaned in spite of themselves.
It was a lived dream for me that year as we explored the sparkling October trails, reveling in the freedom of a headlong gallop; and as for me, I knew I'd not experience this again. I'll pick the bugs out of my teeth for the rest of my life in fond memory of days I wish had never ended.
But alas...they did.
So it it has been that just as most of my life has been marked by a deprivation of horses, so I am now but for that short time of nearly perfect paradise.
It's been a rough go of it for me lately, first one intense discernment retreat only to return home to prepare for another. Maybe it's been the most difficult summer of my life thus far, even given what I've been through before.
The best things in life are never easy, but occasionally we're given a respite.
This afternoon, although I prefer the freedom I knew in the past, I bridled myself to what was available in order to be free to enjoy that very same gift if in a different package.
It's been a few years since I've gone horseback riding, for both the ridiculous expense and pendantic boredom of the average trail ride to be found in Minnesota has been a deterrant. I've always loved horses, but for a time several years ago I was so spoiled that I couldn't anymore appeciate the simplicity of the experience of a rented mount bonded to a life of perfect plodding.
Today, though, this afternoon, I finally gave in, knowing that what I needed was contact of the equine kind, the only "therapy" that could get through my own melancholy and even the spiritual warfare of the recent weeks. I needed the simplicity of the gait, the ambiance of the forest and plains, and the mindlessness of the trail ride to remind me that the core of what I loved is still the core of who I am.
The dappled forest trails always take my breath away. I love how the sun falls among the shivering leaves as their shadows paint patterns on the alternate mediums of sand, dirt and moss. The radiant beams shine forth in spite of the pines, catching their reflections from the constant dust kicked up by draft-mix hooves and it's a wonder we don't cough as we pass through harmlessly even as our mounts shake their heads to bid the flies adieu.
Horseback riding is a purely contemplative sport that, even done via the trail, involves intimate contact between the horse and rider. It mimics the motions of the human walk but is entirely different. It elevates the human even as it diminishes him or her for that person must respect the reality of the horse and its own deadly power.
But all that aside, it is contemplative.
This afternoon, late as the shadows began to fall, I even TRIED to think of my recent trials, but couldn't. It was more important to remember the shouts of Martha from my 13th year as she yelled at me to make sure my "butt bone" was properly in contact with the saddle, my stomach was pulled in, shoulders back, chest out. It was more important to feel the movement of the Draft that carried me and let his own movement become my own in perfect fusion coherent with those lessons from long ago.
It was more important to relax into the saddle, maintaining posture, and know that God was present with every breath, every recognition of creation, every step, every movement. It was more important to let everything go and think of nothing, only exist in this very moment, living in the present.
I tried to pray, and remembered parts of Psalms, repeating the "Glory Be" in chant tones as we ducked under branches or only beams of light finding their way through them. And that Glory Be lived in and through me, finding in the rhythm of the horse the perfect gait in which to sing the prayer from my very heart and soul.
The gentle rhythm of the walking horse brought a memory to my very bones, and I fell into it like a duck to water, wishing only for a faster rhythm.
It's impossible for me to ride a horse and not desire to post the trot which I learned so ponderously when I was only 13. I remember my first couple lessons, disappointed in them because we hadn't moved from a walk but for a couple times, and how hard it was to rise and fall to a walking rhythm. Yet when the movement made sense in proper context, it was far more than a dance; it was flying. And when we learned to canter, it was even better: it was a lesson, with all of them, that come to greater fruition in adulthood in the wild abandon of the Minnesota River trail.
Yet today, it didn't matter that we were simply plodding along. It was enough to feel the movement of the horse, to find my own center of balance, and, for awhile, to not have to think about anything but this perfect synthesis of creation. To ride, to glorify God in the most simple of activities, and to know that, at least for the moment, I was free.
It was a perfect respite.
Today I was free, if only for an hour, and now everything makes much more sense.