California Riding Magazine • August, 2012

Horsey Humor:
My Ride of Glory

by Bob Goddard

For me, the big drawback to writing about horses is that people assume I know something about them. I've actually had folks ask me for advice on issues such as feeding, breeding and girth buckles. Well, I know what horses look like and how people act around them, but that's about it. So, I either have to confess my ignorance or make something up. I'm certainly not going to look it up. I'm just not that interested.

I suppose I would be more motivated to learn about horses if I actually rode them. What fun that would be. But I can't ride horses. The Universe doesn't want me to.

It's true. I know it's true, because the horses themselves, acting as agents of the Universe have communicated this to me in no uncertain terms. Due to the goading of my daughters, sisters and other well-intentioned (I think) individuals to "at least try," I occasionally climb aboard. It never ends well. I have been bucked off, dumped off, slammed into a fence and carried against my will around the circumference of my yard like in some merry-go-round parody with Benny Hill music.

I'm not angry about any of this. Just puzzled. Why does the Universe not want me to ride horses? I see other people do it and it looks easy, dammit. They look so comfortable and natural as if they belong up there. It's like the Universe is watching them from on high, nodding and smiling like Princess Leia at the end of Episode IV, so pleased with her chosen ones. But as she turns Her gaze toward me, Her countenance darkens and with a stony glare and ice in her voice, warns: "Don't YOU get on…"

What's wrong with this wench? Am I not born with the same inalienable rights and privileges as my fellow homo sapiens? Should I not be allowed to bask in the grace of the Universe too? What's the problem with the Universe?

And with that question, an epiphany: maybe the problem isn't with the Universe. Maybe it's me. Maybe my approach has been wrong. Maybe I'm giving the Universe too much credit here and if I changed something I'm doing, I could trick Her and maybe sneak under the radar before She notices.

I've always rode at the behest of other people. Maybe if I took the initiative and tried to do this without anyone around to interfere, I could get away with it. Maybe I should do this in secret.

Maybe I shouldn't call the Universe a wench.

Defying the Universe takes preparation. I start by identifying the things I need: a horse, a saddle and the ability to put the two together (that's right, I don't know how to saddle a horse). For the horse, I choose Bert, my daughter Jamie's affable Arab. I've always liked Bert and I have a feeling that if he was human – or if I was a horse – we would be good friends and go on great adventures together. Of course given my particular difficulties with the Universe, our trans-species reconfiguration would probably occur simultaneously and we would be right back where we started.

For the saddle, I choose the little one that someone keeps wrapped in a bag in the tack room. When I'm done, I'll just put it back exactly the way it was and no one will be the wiser.

As for the knowledge required to apply the device to the animal, I turn to the Internet and the High Guru of Horse Information, Katherine Blocksdorf and her Seven Step Plan of Horse Saddeling. I print up Blocksdorf's instructions, complete with photos and march out to the barn. I am alone, but I am armed with everything I need to assert my will and thus become the agent which infuses this present moment with meaning. That's the plan, anyway.

Bert seems to be all for the project. He allows me to halter him and lead him to the cross-ties. Then according to Mrs. B's instructions, I get the saddle pad, saddle and girth strap in place and attached. It's like I've created my own mini-universe, where I am in complete control.
Consequences? I create consequences!

I lift my left foot into the stirrup and swing my right leg over Bert's mid-section. Easy pie. I lean over and release the cross ties. We are free of our moorings and without a cue, Bert glides out of the barn like the HMS Queen Mary leaving port. The horse seems to know what he is doing and where he is going, so I let him take the initiative and offer no direction. Bert heads for the woods.

I am on a horse. Riding. I have done this by my will and have thus given the Universe the bird. Without looking up, I lift a middle finger to the
sky. Nyah.

I will call this my Ride of Glory.

The problem with Glory, as any seeker will tell you, is that it is all so fleeting. Having successfully defied the Universe, I have changed from who I was a few seconds ago. The problem is that in a few seconds, I won't be the same as I am now. Everything changes all the time, right? It's just that some changes are so dramatic, that they are able to penetrate the illusion of permanence better than others. And that's okay with me. I'm not sure what I would do with permanent glory anyway. Maybe put it on Craigslist and see what happens, I suppose.

A Dramatic Change

Sure enough, a dramatic change is taking place. For instance, I notice that the planet has chosen this particular moment to tilt itself about 90 degrees. Instead of seeing the horizon with its healthy balance of earth and sky, I'm looking at pure sky. Hmmm, curious.

Just as suddenly, it becomes all earth. And more to the point, the earth is rushing at me at an alarming rate. I am about to get punched in the face by the entire planet. Ah, the Universe has caught up and I am busted. Kind of a metaphysical version of Cops.

It may be helpful to point out that all of this is happening in an instant - however long that is. Certainly in a fraction of the time it takes you to read this. I know that in times of acute stress, like a car accident or when you need to get off certain Internet pages real fast or when you discover that House is being preempted for figure skating, time seems to slow down and the mind and body shifts into some kind of hyper drive. For some, this shift provides a kind of super enhanced mental clarity often accompanied by Herculean strength. For most of us, it induces panic and confusion. The effects are coming so fast that they bend back into their causes until everything seems like one big messed up effect. This is called chaos.

This particular episode of chaos is initiated by the appearance of a Tyrannosaurus Rex in the form of a fat grey squirrel guarding his nut. Bert is simply reacting to the sudden introduction of this monster into his peripheral vision. I can't be mad at Bert, he is simply responding according to his nature. So is the squirrel. And so is the nut, for
that matter.

You would think that sort of thing has happened before and that Bert and I could regain our equilibrium and complete the ride in a traditional fashion. However, two factors keep this from happening. First, since I allowed Bert to be in control, I am not. And now that Bert has lost control, this leaves no one in charge. Second, I am attempting to gain control by riding Bert like a bicycle. It's what I know and in the midst of chaos and desperation, my immediate response is to fall back on the familiar. However, when generalizing a skill set, it's always important to remember to start with a skill set appropriate to the task. Reins make lousy handle bars and stirrups make even worse pedals. I'm sure Bert can't help but wonder what the hell I'm doing with my legs.

Yes, I do create consequences, but not all of them are intended.
Now with Bert no longer directly beneath me, gripping the reins becomes my central activity. This is more than an attempt to hold on to Dear Life. It is a reflexive and mostly symbolic refusal by my mind to immediately accept the change that has just occurred. Glory creates hubris and hubris creates momentum and it's sometimes difficult to let go of the remnants. But in a practical sense, maintaining this grip just means that I'll have something in my hand when I hit the ground. A fat a lot of good that'll do me.

My other hand is occupying itself by reaching into the air. It is searching for something to grab on to. Since the next available solid object in that direction is the moon, this is also a futile gesture. I suppose a merciful Universe could have put a tree branch or some kind of trapeze thing there - a life-line from the Cosmos so to speak. But the Universe isn't going to do that. And not because She is punishing me for flipping her off. I just don't think it works that way. When you lift your hand into the air, all you're going to get is air. It doesn't help anyone to get all pissed off and start playing the blame game when you discover there is nothing there to hold on to.

Because my mind is hesitant to give up on the idea that everything is organized around it – that is, that certain things shouldn't happen simply because I don't want them to happen - I lag behind the other participants in making the appropriate adjustment. However, somewhere after the apex of my flight, I do catch up and release my hold on the reins. I accept that there is not a darn thing I can do to keep my body from colliding with the mother planet.

As I let go, I experience a sense of profound relief and calm. The ride is over, the fight is over and there is nothing left to do other than accept my fate. The Universe is restoring the balance She holds so dear. As usual, She gives no regard to how restoring that balance may impact the humans involved. The wench.

But here's the thing. If, as some say, the Universe goes on forever, She will have to spend eternity burdened with the knowledge that for a few glorious moments I had her beat. I don't know how She feels about that, but I like it.