The End of an Era?
Anyone who knows me is aware that I suffer from the incurable heredity disorder known as “equiphilia”. This condition causes one to be obsessed with horses from birth. Regrettably, the only effective management protocol is to surround the patient with horses and equestrian-related activities. Depending on the severity of the condition, which has variable expression, sufferers who are denied access to horses may be found “scoring” hits in downtown areas of major cities–petting carriage horses, approaching police horses with carrots, and other minor infractions. The more severely afflicted (rated on the Xenophon-Przewalski scale from 1-4 as a 3 or higher) will resort to more obsessive and life-altering behaviors.
On the X-P scale, I am a four. The only reason I’m not a “five” is that they haven’t yet described a category encompassing the full compulsion of the true equiphiliac. I have hidden my disease, though not well, by taking up a respectable profession that allows me to indulge it on a daily basis (I am a Professor of Equine Science). I have finagled a way to keep at least one horse since I was twelve years old. I have beaten my body to a pulp training for and competing in hundred-mile endurance races (an act which, on the X-P scale, automatically rates a “4”).
But the sad fact is that I am now growing older, I have become an avid fantasy/fiction writer, and I have less time to ride than I used to. Having pushed myself to the limit in endurance, which I no longer have the time or energy to pursue, can I now be content with the sort of riding the average equiphiliac enjoys? Can I learn to amble along a pleasant path without feeling the need for speed? Can I pat my horse affectionately if it is reluctant to climb a long hill without heaving a deep sigh and wondering if I’m going to “finish in good shape without time penalties”? Can I learn to SIT DOWN on the horse, fer cryin’ out loud?
Okay, so you might be wondering what prompted this angst-filled essay. The truth is that I have been horse hunting recently, having leased my wonderful, athletic Shagya to a younger, fitter rider because I know I won’t be going back to that level of competition. To do so I would have to give up writing, methinks. Too much time involved in both of those disciplines to do either one well if one tries to do both. And right now the writing is more important. I have readers waiting, and I must not disappoint them! So, why is this so hard?
Lord knows it shouldn’t be. I should simply smile and embrace the present–accept my choice to be a writer rather than a rider–and ride into the sunset of my life in the company of friends, friends I rarely saw in the past because I was riding too darn fast.
Yesterday I rode what could possibly be the horse of my dreams–a three year old Rocky mare. She is beautiful, well made, sweet, willing, easy…you know, perfect? I took her on a trail ride with two other Rockies. Only a few miles, and the footing wasn’t the greatest (the leaves are down and they can’t see where they’re putting their feet, so they can’t avoid stepping on rocks and such). The lovely mare, who was a joyful ball of forward fire on the road, became cautious, a bit hesitant, and I could tell she longed for flat ground. I had to leg her constantly to keep up, and I began to wonder whether I could be happy riding this perfect horse, who was so cooperative and easy. I wondered whether she would be happy, too. I remembered that she is only a three-year-old, and that she is not in any sort of condition. But the horses I have always loved to ride didn’t care–they relied on me to hold them back, not push them forward.
The Rocky is a gaited breed, which means they perform a broken amble rather than a trot. This is said to be nothing short of amazing to ride–the horses glide as if on casters and are not in the least bit bouncy. But when one is on the trail, with less than optimal footing and hills to contend with, this gait is impractical. Great on the flat–but otherwise one is relegated to walking. I’m not used to spending so much time sitting down–normally I am trotting most of the time and I ride in a half-seat. Feels wonderful because it’s what I’m used to. Honestly, I don’t know if I could handle walking for such a long time. Lots of people do, I know…and they seem to love it. Personally, I felt weird with my butt in the saddle all the time.
I’m too old for a “snot rocket”. A horse who shies hard or is difficult to stop would not be a wise choice, as I break when I hit the ground these days. But do I really want to go to the dark side? Am I ready for the equine equivalent of a rocking chair? Can I prevent my speed-obsessed brain from sabotaging the rest of my body? Being the “slow rider” in a group would destroy me. I have always been a pace-setter, and I don’t think I can be content otherwise, but this runs deeper than that.
Can I face my own mortality?
Let’s be honest. This is about lost youth, the surrender of mind and body to time and wear-and-tear. It’s about giving up the thrill of the challenge for the serenity which comes from acceptance of the inevitable. If the key words in that last sentence are “giving up”, then I’m not ready. Well, my brain isn’t. My body definitely is, and my readers want the rest of their books, darn it!
I haven’t decided whether to purchase this beautiful, perfect horse yet. I know she is safe (as safe as any horse can be), that she is eye-catching and showy, and that my friends will enjoy riding with me ever-so-much more. I trust her, and we’ll bond fast…provided she is willing enough. Both she and I will have to adapt to new conditions to make the relationship work, but I’m willing to try if she is. Adaptation is a necessary condition of survival, after all.
An era ends, and a new one begins. I’ll try to adapt as gracefully as I can…stay tuned!