If last week was a celebration of how nerdy I can be, this week is an exhibition of how following your goals can still make you look like a doofus. I’m categorizing this as “advice I’ll give my boys when they’re a little older,” (e.g. do what you want, even if you look ridiculous doing it).
In 2002 I moved back home from California after a particularly crappy year. Instead of licking my wounds, I decided to do the Eat, Pray, Love thing and focus on myself. But instead of accepting a $40,000 publishing advance and traveling the world, I shelled out $120 and signed up for horseback riding lessons.
When I called the stable to enroll, they asked about my previous horseback riding experience. The last time I had ridden a horse was briefly, briefly, when I was 10 years old. I certainly wasn’t jumping over things or galloping off into the sunset. So between my baby-steps equestrian skills and the 20 years since I had practiced them, I was feeling totally ready for an advanced adult class! The instructor, cannily hearing the bravado in my voice, told me to come in for one session and they’d assess my skills before placing me in a class.
Assessment day. I was assigned a 30 year-old horse named Reed. He trotted around with the energetic gait of Quasimodo, but I felt like I was flying. I LOVED being on a horse again! At the end of the lesson the instructor pointed me towards a small jump. I had never cantered before, much less jumped over anything. Reed seemed to know what he was doing so I held my breath and let him lead the way. Over we went! I was the Horse Whisperer.
A few days later the instructor called to tell me that they had found a class that was appropriate for my skill level. She gave me the date and time, and I hung up elated and a little smug. I had totally impressed them, especially for somebody with two decades of rust on my spurs.
My new class was four students: me and three fourth-graders in pigtails. I choked down my pride and some nervous giggling and climbed into the stirrups. After warm-ups one of the girls leaned across her saddle and whispered to me, wide-eyed, “Miss Emily, do you know how to drive?” (I am a rock star when my audience is comprised of nine-year-olds.)
I rode with my class cuties for almost a year. Sometimes their parents would come and take pictures of them jumping and trotting, and sometimes mine would come, too. I spent summer evenings outside in the fresh air. I fed carrots to my new friends. I owned my own chaps. It felt awesome to have something that was just mine. I was the ridiculous adult in a class for little girls, but I was learning and I had thighs of steel. What’s not to love?
Towards the end of the year I started falling off more than my fair share. After my third bad fall (and probably second concussion), I asked the instructor what I was doing that was turning me into equestrian roadkill. He said it wasn’t me, and that I was just having bad luck. Still, there are only so many times that you can lose your peripheral vision before it stops being fun. About the same time I met my future husband and landed a new job in the city– two perfect excuses to shake the dirt out of my ears and move on. Sometimes I miss riding, but I know that time was really about doing something for myself. It didn’t really matter what the something was. And for that, I will always look back fondly.