My Sunday morning date with a horse named Sandy

After 19 years, I've finally been horseback riding again. It won't take me 19 more years to get back up on a horse, though. I can already tell this is something I don't want to let go of again.

Although Granddaddy had horses when we were children, the only "riding" we did was either on the back with our arms around his waist, and it was always over far too quickly because in a minute it was somebody else's turn, or up on the horse while an adult led the animal around for us. I was in college before I ever really rode, and that was only twice. Today felt different than then, even. Instead of being one rider along with a group that had a definite leader, in spite of the fact that my friend Sharon was certainly in the leadership role and taught me much, there was an equality I'd never felt before. As if the two of us had just decided to go riding together, and so we did.

Down country roads, across fields, up and down hilly, narrow trails on the edge of the Uwharrie Mountains we rode for more than two hours, and by the time we put the last saddle away, I knew I'd been riding. No doubt I'll know it even more sometime tomorrow...the twinges are already there to tell me so.

The three most memorable points of the day were those that gave me the biggest adrenalin rushes. First, we jogged up a hill and since I've never been this fast on a horse - not fast at all by equestrian standards, I'm very much aware - it was a huge deal for me. I felt so strong and thrilled to be this confident. That much speed would have freaked me out the last time I rode.

Then at the top of the hill, now standing still, I suddenly realized my saddle was too loose and I was starting to slide. Nothing to be done but dismount - and by the time I'd removed my right foot from the stirrup, the saddle was seriously sliding. I hit the ground in a not-at-all graceful manner, but again - all that adrenalin was rushing through my body and I was giddy with the sense of "this is my real-life adventure." And then, since Sharon has had ankle surgery within the last few months and couldn't get off to help me, I had to resaddle Sandy all by myself - and remount with no help, either. Talk about feeling strong - once I'd finally gotten the cinch tightened around her belly, I was beat. It was one of the greatest physical challenges I've had in a long time - just getting that buckle hooked. Which left me feeling a greater sense of satisfaction, too, in contrast.

The other part of the day I won't soon forget happened when we were coming off the trail and approaching the road. Sharon stopped to tell me, "This will probably be the hardest part of all. Just go slow and lean back in the saddle...and use the horn if you feel you need to." We'd already done some pretty steep slopes and so I looked around her to see what she meant. Sure enough the drop was noticeably sharp, and this time rocky, too. Plus there were trees close to the trail, which I'd already learned is one of the reasons riding is more than just letting a horse take you where it will - I'd gotten my foot caught between Sandy's belly and a small tree along the trail and learned to pay closer attention to keeping her where I wanted her to be. So first Sharon and her other horse, "Lucky," made their way down the embankment, then it was our turn. Just approaching it, I felt pretty confident. Confident, that is, until just about that time two big, loud dogs came running up to Sharon and Lucky in the road. Barking their heads off.

Sandy was not amused. She balked, threw her head around, and shivered a bit. Ordinary stuff for a frequent rider, no doubt, but it occurred to me that I might need to be a bit alarmed. Hmm! The wheels were turning in my mind. Not only do I have to keep this horse calm, but if she steps two feet forward, we'll be headed down a sharp, rocky slope, with a tree up close to my foot, and lookee there...those dogs aren't going away! Hmmm indeed. But Sharon was able to run them off and I kept Sandy calm and when we joined them in the road - something that worked out as smoothly and comfortably as any other part of our ride - she complimented me effusively, praising my calm and saying how it didn't seem at all like I was a novice rider.

And I didn't feel like one, either. There was something very familiar and right about riding a horse today. I had the feeling that I'd done it a thousand times before. I absolutely cannot wait to ride again. I also have to call my Granddaddy very soon, and tell him all about it. He'll be thrilled. I think he wishes, even at 87, he still had horses. It'd be fun to ride with him as an adult...