Wednesday, July 29, 2020

In Virginia

My daughter and I went to a horse show last week. It was an odd thing to do, in this Covid time, and correspondingly it was an odd show--staggered mid-week instead of taking place on a weekend, temperature checks on entering the facility, competitors spread out in the barns, so that our aisle of 80 stalls held 10 horses, everyone wearing masks except while physically riding. I was pleased with all the precautions because they were the only reason I was willing to attend.

I've lost a lot this year. I haven't seen my extended family since September. I have a nephew I've never even met, and he already has a tooth. Since July Fourth I've been missing them more intensely, because that's when my family often gathers on our farm for a big weekend of fireworks, horse and tractor rides, baseball and water fights.  I know how incredibly lucky and privileged I am. My family's all healthy, we're all able to work, we're doing fine. But I have too many breathing problems not to be afraid of this virus. Also my husband sees 60 patients a day. He takes every precaution he can, but he's an ophthalmologist, which means he examines people with his face right up near theirs. He wears a mask, always, and so do his patients; he comes home and immediately puts his clothes in the wash, and showers. But he could catch Covid, and therefore so could I. I'm trying to both not catch it and not give to it anyone else, and so I'm not doing much. I don't hang out with friends or go to book club or yoga. I don't eat out. I order groceries delivered and I check out library books online and I pretty much stay away from everyone.

But we went to a horse show.

It was my daughter's horse Merlin's first show. Someday I'll tell Merlin's story; so far I haven't figured out how. He's a gelding of unknown breeding, age, or origin--we can trace him to the slaughterhouse trailer he collapsed on, but no farther. We didn't actually plan on buying my daughter another horse after her beloved Mickey died, but Merlin fell into our lives, and we're grateful. Training him has been for my daughter the brightest part of a difficult year. Before last week, the last time she'd been to a horse show had been fall of her senior year in high school, nearly 5 years ago--so taking Merlin, challenging him, being able to measure their progress--that was a big thing to her.

It was big for me to riding, too. This May my mare, Sarah, ripped her knee open on a drainpipe in our field. (I wrote a blog post about it, but never published it--my daughter declared it too gruesome.) At first it seemed to be healing quickly, but then her leg swelled and the wound reopened. She's healing, but we don't know how far she'll come.

A month ago, a friend of mine, Nicolette Merle-Smith, put a few of her horses up for lease, and one of them caught my eye. T Minus Three is a Thoroughbred former race horse, seventeen hands high, or 5'8" at the shoulder, four inches taller than me. Sounds like a terrible idea for me to rent a huge fast horse--but T's a gentle, honest soul, and I trusted him immediately. I've rented him until the end of September to ride while Sarah heals.

I know. The world's on fire, and I'm renting a horse.

He brings me joy.

Nearly four years ago, I took an easy fall off Sarah that resulted in a traumatic brain injury. (Yes, I was wearing a helmet.) Healing took a long time. At the same time The War That Saved My Life became a bestseller, and appeared on 46 state award lists, and suddenly I was speaking and travelling a lot more--both for business and for fun, because my husband and I love adventures. And so with one thing and another I hadn't ridden a cross-country course in four years.

So we were thrilled and anxious, my daughter and I. We drove to the Virginia Horse Center, in Lexington, VA, early on Thursday morning.

We've been there so many times. Our regional pony club rallies were held there, as well as some of the East Coast championships. We went to eventing camp there five summers in a row. The Virginia Horse Trials, spring and fall--once we went and stayed two nights in a hotel just to volunteer. I'm used to pulling into the place with a truck crammed with children and a trailer full of ponies; used to shepherding kids into the Sleep Inn and requesting extra towels and a roll-away bed. I'm used to two booths full of sleepy competitors at 6 am at the Waffle House, and our favorite waitress, April, pouring me coffee with cream when she sees me walk in the door.

We walked the cross-country course with the ghosts of our former horses and our former selves. There was the hill I learned to gallop down on Gully--the water where a former coach yelled, "What's the matter, Kim? Are you AFRAID?" and I was afraid, but I gritted my teeth and kicked, and Gully leaped forward and splashed the coach from head to toe, and we both roared with laughter. It felt so long ago, and so immediate and real.

This week my daughter's horse found courage and confidence, getting better and better across the three phases. T did beautifully too. He hasn't learned to gallop down hills yet--it's a specific skill--and he was a little concerned about the sheer number of fences (there were several courses set up, for different levels of competition), so we trotted the first half of the course. He was happy I understood his issues, and I was happy to be on a sweet calm horse who jumped everything I asked.

It wasn't an important show, but it felt important. It felt like a piece of me had been missing, and returned.

No comments:

Post a Comment

The comments on this blog are now moderated. Yours will appear provided it's not hateful, crass, or annoying--and the definition of those terms is left solely to me.