Jennifer Johnston Crow writes a helpful blog called Pivot. She also writes memoir. Today is one of three guest posts she will be contributing to Wrote By Rote. Watch for the next installments on October 20th and November 24th. And be sure to visit her blog to say hello.
Memories of Mighty Mouse
Memories of Mighty Mouse
I haven’t ridden much for years, but Charlie and I have talked about going riding someday soon. When I do, I’ll ride dressage. It’s elegant, sedate, and very upper crust. Now, all that means is that I sit on a fairly small piece of leather atop a horse’s back and hold the reins in two hands. We walk, trot, canter and perform the usual horse show moves. It’s a relaxing way to spend an hour.
There was a time when I sought a little more excitement in my weekly communion with horses – it involved jumping over hurdles. Big ones. I was just a teenager then, and I knew no fear.
“I hope I get Mighty Mouse today. I just love that horse.”
“Mmm, hmm,” Mom said.
“He’s that big buckskin, you know? The one I got to ride last week?”
My mother was giving me lip service, no doubt lost in her own thoughts as we drove the 15 miles to my weekly riding lesson. I’d ridden Western for a while, but didn’t like that, so I turned to jumping. Now, THAT was more like it. No more trotting dutifully around a ring; jumping offered speed, excitement, accomplishment – just what a teenager needs.
“He just hurtles,” I said.
Mom looked at me. “Hurdles?”
“No, I mean, he just zooms. He flies. He’s sooooo fast and powerful,” I said, not missing a beat. “He is such a perfect jumper.” I looked out the window at the autumn landscape and the clouds of dust rolling off our wheels. Once we hit the dirt road, it was a matter of minutes. “He has heart, you know? He’ll try and try and try. He’s a great horse.”
I jumped out of the car almost before it stopped. “You can watch if you want from that room with the glass windows,” I said for probably the 50th time.
“Don’t worry. Go on,” she said, laughing. “I figure Mr. Handlan and Mrs. Jones are here. I’m sure I can entertain myself with them.”
Sure enough, my name was next to Mighty Mouse’s on the board. I was in the saddle and ready to go in no time, black boots gleaming, fresh jodphurs tucked in neatly.
“OK, canter around the ring to warm up.” Mary was probably my favorite instructor. She had a nice smile, and I always understood her directions. “Here’s the course. Around the ring once, then the two hurdles along each wall. After you come off the last jump, take the center hurdle.”
One by one we started. Elizabeth was riding her own white Arabian. “Go for it, Liz,” I said.
She gave me thumbs up and took off.
“OK, Jenny!” Mary gave me a nod, and I squeezed Mighty Mouse with my legs and tightened the reins. Off we went.
We flew effortlessly over the course. One jump down. Now two, three, four. I heard Liz shouting. “Way to go!” Even Mary’s, “Nice job,” edged into my consciousness.
“OK, Mighty Mouse,” I whispered. “It’s the last one.”
I turned his head toward the hurdle and urged him forward, although it was hardly necessary. He knew exactly what to do. Rising in the stirrups, I positioned myself over the Mouse’s neck to take weight off his back so he could clear the jump. It was business as usual. He took off, cantering faster, faster, faster, and then slam!
Well, he did; I didn’t.
The one weakness of jumping hurdles on horseback is that when you’re poised in the stirrups over your horse’s neck, there’s no good way to stop that forward momentum. You just have to hope you and the horse arrive on the other side simultaneously.
“Oh, no,” I said. I just knew we wouldn’t arrive at the same time. I heard a collective gasp from the class. From my unique vantage point – upside down at the apex of my rotation over the hurdle – I saw Mary’s hands covering her mouth.
And then it was over. I was standing on the opposite side, puffs of dust settling onto my polished boots, the metallic taste of blood in my mouth. I looked down at my hands. “I still have the reins,” I thought. I looked up to see Mary running toward me.
“Are you hurt?”
I touched my lip. “Am I cut? I taste blood. I think I should have someone look at it.”
Mary shook her head. “It’s OK. Why don’t you get back on and try again? I don’t know why he refused that jump. It’s not like Mighty Mouse.”
I still tasted blood. “I think I need to see how bad this is.” I had visions of blood all over me, stitches, bandages, sympathy. “Maybe…”
“Let’s keep on going,” Mary said. “Here, I’ll help you up.”
A little reluctantly, I let her boost me into the saddle. I knew what she was doing; get back in the saddle so you won’t develop a fear of riding. I’d ridden for years and been thrown more times than I could count. I doubted I’d be scared.
But with the taste of blood in my mouth and adrenaline in my system, we tried again, Mighty Mouse and I. He cleared that center jump as if it were a mole hill.
Just like that, the lesson was over. Sure I was covered with blood, I jumped down and walked into the tack room to find my mother. Apparently I wasn’t, though, because she didn’t even rush to my aid.
“Ready? Did you get Mighty Mouse?”
What? You weren’t watching?” I asked incredulously.
“No, I sat in the tack room with Joe and Margaret, talking. Sorry. Did I miss something?”
“Not much,” I said, a bit surly. “I think I’m going to change to dressage. I’m tired of jumping.”
Jennifer Johnston Crow is a personal coach and a writer/editor with the federal government. She offers insights and commentary for living through her blog (pivot-coaching.com) and through individual and group coaching events. This year Jennifer captured second place in the West Virginia Writers Spring Writing Contest for her memoir, “Fear.” She’s passionate about storytelling, especially when it’s real, honest, and personal. A little humor doesn’t hurt,either!