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A Seasoned Horsewoman

By SUZANNE MILLER

horse and rider
Courtesy of Suzanne Miller

The eyes of women of a certain age – over sixty for this woman – tend to scrutinize any phrase or turn of expression that hints at aging. Words such as vintage, experienced, venerable, stately, and august pop out on the page or ring in the ears, seemingly pointing a finger at our newly acquired, and still uncomfortable senior status. So, naturally, when my eyes first greeted the term “seasoned horsewoman” in the context of this blog, I wondered, “Exactly what do they mean to say about me with that phrase?”

A quick visit to dictionary.com revealed the reason for my suspicion as word after word popped out at me.

Seasoned:

* mature, ripen, or conditioned by exposure

* dried so as to harden and render immune to shrinkage, warpage, etc.

* accustomed or hardened

Not exactly a bunch of words that I wanted in close proximity to my name.

The second word in that phrase, however, was a pleasure to see; and was something that I had spent much of the last twenty years of my life acquiring.

Horsewoman:

* a woman who rides on horseback

* a woman who is skilled in managing or riding horses

Once my inner older person simmered down, I realized how delighted I am to be considered a “seasoned horsewoman.” If you did the math with the numbers that slipped out in the previous paragraphs, you would note I was well into my forties before I began down the path to becoming a horsewoman – not exactly a kid with wet ears – but rather a maturing woman, mother of two growing sons, a career biometrician, and survivor of breast cancer and other name brand diseases (TB, hepatitis, among others acquired from living in South America). Heck, I was well seasoned by life long before I began the process of becoming seasoned by horses.

The truth is that at the beginning of that path, as I struggled to teach an older, battered body and an ever more fearful mind the challenges of horsemanship, I was terrified that I would never earn the title “horsewoman”, much less “seasoned horsewoman.”

How well I remember my first tentative steps into the horse world. Returning to Alaska from a business trip to Colorado, which included a horseback field trip, I announced that I wanted to buy a horse.

Everyone knows that Alaska is not exactly horse country. Everything is shipped into the state and the shipping cost is by WEIGHT. Horses weigh a lot and eat a lot. You practically had to take out a second mortgage to pay a monthly bill at one of the few stables in Anchorage offering horse boarding. Then, of course, there are the long, cold, dark winters, which do not exactly offer ideal riding conditions.

I was undeterred by the cost; I was undeterred by months of cold weather; I was undeterred by the long winter drives to and from the indoor riding arena. But at times, I was deterred by my own lack of ability, by the seemingly insurmountable challenge of learning so much so late in life, and by the need to overcome so many fears that I did not even know I had.

Many nights I returned from my after-work arena riding lessons full of joy and confidence – and other days I returned with my heart broken by self doubt and a little voice in my head scolding me for even trying such a foolish, expensive, impractical, and dangerous adventure.

One particular sunny, late spring afternoon stands out in my memory: The “barn” group had gathered to ride their horses along a major Anchorage road up into the Chugach Mountains where they would likely encounter cars, moose, bear and mountain bikes along the way. They invited me to come along on my leased Arabian gelding – and as I readied myself for the ride, my horse began to act up in ways that killed my confidence. Throwing his head, dancing around, and lifting his front feet off the ground in a half rearing position were more than I could control. I knew I was not ready for such a ride – and I just knew for certain that I never would be. I returned my horse to his stall and retreated home in tears.

And yet, with every step backwards, I determinedly took two forward. Every time I lost my nerve or my seat, I made myself go back in spite of my fears, my sore muscles, or my lack of energy. Somehow the magic of learning the language of moving in sequence with a beautiful and strong animal was enough to keep me on the path, enough to help me face my insecurities and quiet my fears. And finally here I am – well over sixty and happily wearing the title of “seasoned horsewoman”.

Blog courtesy of Make It Missoula.com

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