Return of the Rhythm

by Tracey Merrett

One rider’s reflections on how horses change life – for good!

What is there about horses that draw the selected few in? Is it their soulful eyes? Maybe it’s the way they nicker or maybe it’s the smell of their breath after being in a timothy pasture. Could it be the thrill of galloping through a meadow full tilt? Or maybe it is meandering through the woods searching for a creek in which to swim and lollygag the afternoon away. What could it be that beckons some and not others? Why, when we rode as youngsters and then moved on with our lives, does that call come again? At first it is just a fleeting thought. But if gone unheeded, it becomes a growing obsession until we find a way to settle into a saddle once more.

Once we take that step – deciding to ride again, our senses go into “overload”. The aroma of cleanly polished leather saddle and tack; the stretch of the breeches around our bodies; the cool smoothness of the bit in our hands; the adjustment of a comfortable helmet; and then the childish delight that rushes through our heads and hearts as we touch and ready the horse – it is all intoxicating. What is it that we find in this riding? How can it be that the old become younger at heart whenever the discussion turns to riding? What makes us feel giddy about the entire experience?

It starts, I suppose, with the sheer beauty of a horse. Whether mare or gelding or stallion, it is the carriage of the head, the arch of the back, the strength in the hips and shoulders – just thinking about it gives me chills! It is the trust between horse and rider. There are no “but what ifs” when you are traveling down a trail or approaching a jump. The horse and rider commit to one another and there is no looking back. It is the way that age cannot rob us of the thrill of the ride. In fact, as we age, we become more able to appreciate the experiences. Instead of becoming more dull, our rides are in “high definition”.

Tracey and her horse Molly enjoy the “rhythm” on the trails.
The calling to horses is likely a little smattering of all of these things. But now almost 7 years into my “second life with horses”, I think instead that it is something more visceral and fundamental that is at the root of the connection. I think that bringing horses back into our lives after they have been absent represents a return of a rhythm. I’m not speaking about the routine of the day or the self discipline that is required to care properly for a horse. I am talking about the cadence of our heartbeat, the tides of our life energy, and the flow of blood throughout our bodies. I am talking about life force being channeled into the relationship. Sharing a trot with a horse is a connection between two powers. It is like the completion of a circuit. It is an engine firing on all cylinders. Posting becomes effortless and smooth after just a few strides – even if it has been decades since the last time. Handling the reins with the softest of hands is as sure as our ability to hold a baby bird without hurting it. It is natural. It is reverent. It is deeply spiritual to ride a horse.

To further the experience, we often turn to the most basic of pleasures when on a horse. We find ourselves thankful for spring as we step into the forest after a long winter to see those first hints of green and the crocuses peaking through what is left of the snow. Or we can enjoy the summer flowers and the breezes in a meadow where we can almost feel the earth feeding the growing grasses and grains. I love the change of the colors in the fall and the crunching that the pine cones and twigs make under hoof when we are exploring the last hints of daylight so we can squeeze out one more ride before winter. But winter, well winter is special, too. It is then that we will ride bareback to feel the warmth of the horse and the power of their backs. This bareback and bitless riding takes us back to our childhood rides and reminds us that we are all creatures of the earth – children at heart, meant to live each pleasure as if it is our first or will be our last. It is the sheer delight and quiet love that pushes us ever forward. It was meant for us to feel this way.

Maybe others find their lives intertwined with different creatures or experiences or forces. I can’t really say. But of this I am sure – I was meant to be one with a horse. As surely as the sun will rise and set, my heart beats for the moment when I first feel the gaze of my mare as I walk to the pasture to ask her to join me for a ride. The placing of the saddle and the positioning of the bit are done slowly and deliberately though my heart is starting to beat more quickly with anticipation. These are moments to be savored. This routine is as reverent as a mass. And when the ride begins, the fulfillment is immeasurable and the thrill unparalleled as the union is complete. We are communicating at levels that no one can see – but we can surely feel. The brush of a hand, the shift of my seat, and a quiet but directed thought are enough to carry me forward as if we two had one soul. This is the rhythm of life. This is a gift given once again because we had not lived enough to understand it the first time. But surely, I understand now.

If you would like to enjoy a training vacation with your horse and other riders of similar experience, consider an Apprenticeship.

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