It got dark really fast in the woods that day. A million leaves overhead danced and shook in an onslaught of soaking rain. Thunder rumbled in the sky beyond the swaying canopy. My horse, slick with sweat, rocked back and launched into a canter. My reins tangled in his long wet mane. I put my weight into my heels, leaned forward and grabbed mane…
I set out to the barn on Sunday wearing shorts and sneakers instead of riding pants and boots. It was so hot. I would just give my horse a nice, cool therapeutic bath, then head to the grocery store.
The cool breeze I felt at the barn, close to the Potomac River and 16 miles outside of miserable, muggy DC in August, made me regret my wardrobe choice. Silently, I whined about my choice to arrive at the barn unprepared. Then I remembered a verbal lashing I’d gotten years ago from a tough German lady in the gym in my office. I was debating skipping a lunchtime jog because I had forgotten my towel. She said, “Go run! Use your t-shirt as your towel when you shower!” She was right, of course. Debating at the barn whether to ride or not, I admonished myself to quit complaining and just do it.
A fellow boarder tossed out an invitation to meet up on the trail as she and her horse, Ranger, headed out. She was hurrying to get in a ride before the storm. I hadn’t heard about a storm on the forecast, and it looked pretty clear out. I hurried up, tacked up, hopped on and hacked into the woods. The sensation of my bare leg against my horse’s warm brown body reminded me of riding bareback as a kid, barefoot (usually in a bathing suit) with only a halter on a borrowed horse.
A while later Taff and I joined up with Mary and Ranger. We headed east under a heavy canopy of green. I confessed to Mary that whining over wardrobe had resulted in a moment of enlightenment, not to mention a lovely trail ride. That’s when it started to thunder and pour rain.
I might have suggested waiting out the thunder in the safety and cover of the woods. Mary thought it safer to get back to the barn ASAP. I’m not sure which was the better option, but we took off at a canter. Riding a rain-soaked horse with bare legs was like riding a horse covered in dish-washing liquid. Like riding a 1,000-pound slip-n-slide. Or a greased pig. Being astride a galloping whale shark? It was hard to stay on. I leaned forward, stretched my legs down as best I could and tried to remember to breathe while my barefoot pony navigated turns, uphills, downhills, puddles, mud and roots like a champ.
About 25 minutes later, we faced one last obstacle: a hilly field of deep grass. The thunder had quieted, but the rain was heavy. My heart pounded. As we cantered up that hill, I thought for sure I would slip right off. I didn’t even care at that point, it would be a soft landing. But we made it back to the barn, soaked linen shorts, squishy sneakers and all. After shaking off like a dog, back in the safety of the barn I was grateful for the kind of fun we’d had that day, even if it had sloshed me out of my comfort zone a bit. It had started with whining. But the episode ended in an opportunity for me to return to being just a girl on a horse, on a high adventure that had nothing at all to do with the grocery store.
Back to Over the Fence