This weekend was the “Great Googamooga,” a grand shitshow in Prospect Park glorifying our culture’s current excessive obsession with food and drink, plus indie music. It’s not really my thing, and it’s definitely not an atmosphere I would recommend riding a horse into. But we did anyway and it wasn’t that bad.
Getting out of the barn and over to the ring was the tricky part. The transportational difficulties imposed on the area by the event caused a great deal of strain, particularly on drivers, who felt it was appropriate to honk their horns and scream in frustration at a line of horses returning from a trail with small children on their backs. Waiting for our lesson to begin, my riding buddy and I rushed to assist the short-staffed barn helpers to grab the distressed horses and get the kids safely to the ground.
I was filled with massive anxiety before I even left my house, doubled up on the floor with a stomach ache five minutes before I had to walk out the door. The jumpy horses and crying children did nothing to soothe my jagged nerves as I waited for my trainer to tell me who I’d be riding, hoping it would be someone I trusted (oh please let it be Allie, please please). She put me on Peaches, who can get pretty basketcasey in the traffic circle. I tried not to freak out as I mounted up.
As we started walking around the first arc of the circle, I was on high alert. But Peaches wasn’t. Her ears were up but not super tense, they had the sideways droop that means your horse is pretty chill at the moment. Her walk was loose, her head was relatively low. She was fine. As we pulled up to wait for the crosswalk signal to count down, I let this information sink in. If she didn’t think there was anything to worry about, then I didn’t need to think so either. I didn’t need to rile her up, so instead I let her calm me down. We walked through the honking, screaming, siren-blaring bloody traffic circle and through the crowds of drunken, oblivious revelers thronging the main loop without incident. I must say this, though: These events are meant to bring people together, yes? They are ostensibly for enjoyment. But man, do they bring out the worst in some people. I have to believe that so much of the tension comes from so, so many of us–too many of us–all fighting for the same limited resources in this ridiculously small amount of land we all share. And I’m sure my awareness of this is heightened given that when I’m on the horse, I am in a very precarious, dangerous position. I know it’s a huge risk every time I get on a horse and I’m taking my life in my hands. But the thing is, it’s in all these strangers’ hands too. People who don’t know or just don’t care that they are putting me and anyone else who rides in the park in undue danger when they honk their horn, or scream, or rev their car through a line of horses crossing the street, or weave in between us with their bikes, cussing at us for ruining their workout rhythm, or wander in front of a horse with their headphones on, not even noticing that we’re there. Please, please understand that if you are around horses you are around volatile, sensitive creatures. Living things. Animals that will react in fear to protect themselves from what you may perceive as a typical New Yorker display of irritation at yet another thing getting in your way, but what they perceive as a massive threat that they should run away from immediately or they will die. So please be aware and please be careful. And be nice, for fuck’s sake! Just everybody everywhere, be nicer. Ok, PSA over.
The area by the ring was not more crowded than usual, since the Googamooga crap was in another part of the park. The lesson illustrated what I’d been realizing on the walk over, which was that I had to shut up all my nonsense and really listen to my horse. That was something that I used to really get deep into when I was a teenager, and I was riding horses for the first time whose training I actually had a hand in. I’d forgotten about it in the anxiety of everything else going on and on focusing so hard on regaining my strength. Peaches tends to be very uneven with her gait; on the bottom of the ring she would get very forward and almost out of control, but up around the turns and on the top of the ring she’d slow down and try to break into a walk. So as she changed, I changed my approach to her, sitting up tall and giving her half-halts along the bottom, then releasing almost all tension on her mouth up top and urging her on with my leg as much as I could. I found this leg toning exercise when it was Pinterest O’Clock at work the other day (http://www.t-tapp.com/articles/legs/index.html) and used it as a warm up before my lesson. I found that it gave me more to work with, as my legs tend to cramp up when they get fatigued from squeezing my horse and with a good warm up they felt more supple even when tired.
So, all in all, a good lesson. No panic attacks in the traffic circle. Better understanding of my muscles and how to get what I need out of them. And, ok, some disgust with humanity, but at least that hole of alienation in my heart can be filled with a renewed connection to a horse.