May 2008

Just horsing around

By Suzanne Strazza

I am now the proud owner of three quarterhorses. It is a dream come true. I am one of those gals who never grew out of my pre-teen (read: pre-sex) obsession with those four-legged beasts. So, when we had the opportunity to finally have our own, I jumped at the chance.

However, owning a steed of one's own and going somewhere else to ride someone else’s, I am finding quickly, are horses of completely different colors.

For starters, my friend Flicka expects me to get up in the morning and actually take care of her. Can you stand it? She and her pasture-mates want the ice broken out of their water trough, which is actually an avocado-green bathtub salvaged from a trailer that we tore down. Then, they want me to give them treats and scratch their necks: All before my second cup of coffee!

But, I love them, so I will sacrifice. I get up, shuffle out in my PJs and running shoes to give them all that they demand, returning to the house covered in slobber and snot. I know that later in the day, they will, sacrifice for me, so it’s a fair trade.

I grew up riding horses. I was thrown off my first time at the tender age of 5. Then again at 6, 7, 8, 9 etc. I have broken arms, toes and my nose. I am not afraid, am not a wimp when it comes to the equine world.

But a few things are different, which is making me appear a bit spastic and unsure around Ruby, Breeze and Jane.

My husband calls them Purina, Super Glue and Jello, but that is another story altogether.

As a kid, I lived in “horse country” in New Jersey. Many folks do not realize that there is a horse country in New Jersey, but there is. It is green and lush and wooded – the perfect place to foxhunt. I wore jodhpurs and tall black leather boots, a navy blazer, black velvet hardhat and even a gold throat pin at the collar of my high-necked blouse. I sat primly on my prim horse. I rode in perfect circles and figure eights and jumped over artificial ponds and hedges. I won blue ribbons, which my horses proudly wore in the stable.

We cantered; galloping was for the uncultured.

So, to start, I decided to go for a trial ride on Ruby, the “easiest” of the three.

I first discovered that it a whole lot easier to catch a horse when she is in an 8 x 10 stall instead of running loose in a pasture. After I bribed the three of them with grain and apples, I finally got a lead rope on Ruby and started the saddle procedure.

Did you know that Western saddles have a lot more straps and buckles than English ones? I floundered around, trying every possible combination of strap, buckle and buckle hole until finally Ruby turned around and said, “For god’s sake lady, the left one goes through that one over there!”

I did remember to tighten everything up before getting on.

Once I was astride my pretty pony, I led her out of our pasture and down the lane. The girls left behind began a loud chorus of whinnies and snickers. Ruby just shook her head and sneezed 15 times.

Trying to be the cool cowgirl, I put the reins in my left hand and let Ruby lead the way. . .

Straight back to the pasture gate.

Oh, I am going to have to take control here.

So, under duress, she moved away into the neighbor’s pasture where we circled around and then I led her out onto the road. We were going to cross and then head out into the hills.

Well, actually, that was my plan, but Ruby’s was entirely different. She strode purposefully down to our pasture fence and stood there. I tried to turn her away and she started throwing her head around like a crazy woman.

I calmed down and backed off a little bit. I said in my firmest voice, “Miss, I am the boss here and you will do what I tell you.”

Oh, OK. Right.

I tried again and this time she backed up on her rear legs.

No helmet and no leg strength made me think twice about pushing the issue at the moment, so we headed out along the fence line. A bit later, I tried to move her past that fence line and the power struggle began in earnest. She immediately began rearing up. So, after fighting in circles for another 15 minutes, I caved.

Ruby - 1, Suzanne - 0.

All this time, there was a voice in the back of my head saying, “Once lost, authority is lost forever.”

So back into the neighbor’s pasture we went; I was determined to make her do something that I wanted. I was also afraid that she wouldn’t like me if I tried too hard. And I really really want her to be my friend.

I managed to get her to trot up and down the field a few times, but then came the other major problem. . .

What is up with the jiggling in the saddle? Does anyone actually find that to be comfortable or fun?

Ashamed as I am to say, I posted (that would be the up-and-down motion that they do in England, not Colorado). I couldn’t help myself. My legs were rubbing the saddle, my back hurt, my boobs were jostled and my jaw was rattling. Plus, I was about to fall off. It was post or jump ship.

We did OK though. I made it back into the pasture, my only injury incurred on the gate. There is now finger- blood all over the gate, the saddle, Ruby’s back and across the field back to the house.

So here I am, wondering if I should wear my jeans tucked into my boots or should they be worn out? I have traded my blazer for a cotton hoodie, although it still sports a logo from my East Coast prep school – a dead giveaway that I am an outsider. I want to hitch my stirrups up under my knees but they don’t go that high and I don’t know how to hold the reins in one hand.

My friends all say, “Wow, you’ve taken on a project” Some even laugh, knowing how much work I’ve gotten myself into. Never mind the fact that our house is for sale and we have no idea where we will be going next.

Wherever it is, I’ll ride there.

P.S.: If you see me limping about town, suffice it to say that Jane was a bit more hard-headed than Ruby.

Horses – 2; Suzanne – 0

Suzanne Strazza writes from Mancos, Colo.