Solstice

Today was the longest, my favorite, day of the year: the summer solstice. What a lovely one it was.

Today was the first time in a while that we’ve gotten to ride outside. We have had a lot of nice days, but the days preceding our lessons have been rainy and the ground has been too wet out there. It was perfect weather; 80 and brightly sunny, with an occasional cool breeze coming off the water.

A new horse on the list, Misfit, who isn’t new to the barn but was previously being leased and therefore not available for our lessons, prompted my riding buddy’s adventurous spirit to give her a go, so I took the opportunity to try her usual mount, Sparkling Gal. She’s a beautiful, delicate, skittish Thoroughbred who had two starts on the track before retiring from racing to become a school horse. I was slightly nervous about riding her, knowing her tendency for skittishness, but since I’ve seen my riding buddy have so many lessons on her I felt familiar enough to know what to expect.

I enjoyed riding her so much. At first, the tightness in my back and inner thigh muscles (from a period of extreme sloth in which I barely worked out at all, which I am now attempting to remedy) made a little difficult to get in tune with her upright, prancey trot, but once I warmed up and settled in at the canter, we were able to be more in sync. But the real joy with Sparkle comes from jumping her. First, there’s an adorable ritual wherein I take her over to the jump and show it to her before jumping it so she’s not scared by it; I have seen this dozens of times with my riding buddy walking her to stand in front of the jump, her finely-wrought ears perked up as she leans down, takes a little sniff, and then stands up again with a satisfied and resolute look on her face.

Once over her initial hesitancy, Sparkle loves to jump. I could feel her getting excited as we approached, and she gives a big effort even for a small cross-rail. Since both of our mounts tend to get a bit speedy through the jumps, our trainer kept them small today. When doing the line, Sparkle sped up considerably after the first jump. I worked really hard the entire time on the flat and particularly leading up to the jumps, to remove all tension from my body, to post slowly, and to use my seat to calm her down with as little intervention from the reins as possible. So we approached the first jump with a very reserved trot, taking it at a modest distance. But once in between, Sparkle wanted to GO. We took the 5-stride line in 4, not unlike how it went with Jubilee nearly a year ago. Sparkle might be the most athletic horse I’ve ever jumped; being a former racehorse not only gave her speed but a lot of power over the jumps. We took off on the second jump from what felt like halfway through the line. It felt like we were in the air forever. It was so much fun, such a beautiful feeling.

But, since it was really supposed to be a five-stride line, I had to keep trying to rein her in between the jumps. After a few more unsuccessful attempts, during which her excitement to jump kept her leaping the second one from impossibly long distances, we finally got the five. My trainer suggested that I try to trot in between. I knew that was impossible, but it drove home how much I needed to sit up and pull back on her, something I was still a bit hesitant to do, knowing how sensitive she is. The five strides were, admittedly, not as fun as the four but it felt more even and reasonable, and I was happy to have accomplished it.

My man had come out to the barn with us to see me ride and after the lesson, we celebrated the solstice by taking a trail ride together. He took lessons as a child, but hasn’t been on a horse since then. I was impressed by how much of a natural he is. He looked totally comfortable, like he belongs on a horse. Since he was game for it, our guide let us canter a good portion of the ride. I was enjoying the long, lopey strides of my trail horse, Hamilton, and the comfort of a Western saddle after the fun, but mentally and physically tiring lesson on the Sparkling Gal. It was restorative to be out in nature and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate my favorite holiday: with the sun, the trees and salt marsh reeds, the water lapping on the beach. The feeling of a game horse ready to run underneath me, and the sight of the man I love riding ahead of me.

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