Rediscovering Horses

Frequent contributor Kristie Allison describes how it feels to be back in the saddle on a leased horse after a 20-year hiatus.
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Frequent contributor Kristie Allison describes how it feels to be back in the saddle on a leased horse after a 20-year hiatus.

?There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.? ? Winston Churchill

If you?ve spent much time around horses, it is easy to understand their therapeutic value for troubled youth and people with mental or physical disabilities.? There are even programs where inmates train Bureau of Land Management wild mustangs, benefiting both the horses and the inmates.? But you don't have to be in trouble or handicapped for your life to be touched and made a little better by a horse.

Kristie Allison and Chevy

Kristie Allison and Chevy

My first horse, Cherokee, was the answer to many dreams and prayers.? He was the salvation for a shy, teenage girl who had few friends.? Cherokee and I would travel across the state highway, beyond the factories and businesses,? where we discovered trails through fields, forests and atop riverbanks.? It was secluded and peaceful.? I felt closer to God than in any church I had ever attended.

Through my horse, I met my best friend, Merry.? Riding horses replaced a social void in both our lives, as we seemed to be short on whatever allure was required to attract boys.? My senior year in high school Diane joined our riding trio.? She was new to the area and our mutual love of horses formed an instant union among the three of us.? We graduated from high school in 1973, eventually moving away from our small home town.?? Although we now reside in different states, Merry, Diane and I remain friends and keep in touch through the Internet.

It has been almost 20 years since I last owned a horse.? Back then I was working full time and taking night classes in order to obtain a degree.? I rode daily for at least an hour during the week and then trailered the horses to state land for long Saturday rides. But, between work and studies, it soon became obvious there was no longer time for horses.? It was with a heavy heart and not a few tears I sold them, along with a large amount of tack and an excellent horse trailer.

During my 20-year hiatus, I managed to get in a few rides here and there?usually at a riding stable.? These horses are generally ridden by so many people for so many hours along the same trails ?that you could probably tie the reins in a knot and drop them onto the horses? necks and they would still keep going.? While you get the feel for riding, it just isn?t the same as venturing out on your own.? My last riding stable experience was a year ago when I had a few hours to kill between an airport delivery and pickup of loved ones.? During this ride, I got into trouble because the girl in front of me had no experience and her horse slowed to a stop, picking at some brush.? I passed her by, and kept going, expecting that her horse wouldn?t want to be left behind and would soon follow.? I was surprised when the guide crossly yelled back at me, ?What are you doing??? He proceeded to reprimand me for getting out of my original position in line. So, the ride wasn?t exactly what I had longed for, but being around horses is always enjoyable and the desert scenery was beautiful.

About that time I started checking into horse leasing, where you pay a monthly fee and the horse is yours to ride.? It is one of those ?win-win? situations.? The horse is getting some exercise and earning a little income for its owner while remaining their legal property.? The first two places I contacted required the lessee to furnish their own tack.? Being on the ?vertically challenged? (short) side, I decided getting my own saddle and working on setting the stirrups made sense.? Fond memories of riding began to return when I opend the jar of saddle soap to clean my newly purchased tack.? Once the dirt was removed and oil applied to keep it supple, I buffed to a soft shine.? The whole process was very relaxing and took me back to a simpler time. ?The embers of my love affair with horses were rekindled.

With my saddle sitting on a brand new saddle stand, I enjoyed walking past the room where it was stored and getting a wiff of freshly cleaned leather.? When my husband wasn?t looking, I would admire my work and press my nose to the leather and inhale deeply,? savoring the smell and anticipating the time when I would place it on a horse's back.

In the process of searching for the perfect horse lease, I discovered that it wasn?t just the smell of clean tack that brought a smile to my face.? The minute I stepped out of my car at a horse facility, I enjoyed the smells of fresh hay, horses and even manure (provided it wasn?t overpowering).

Being around horses again tantalized almost all of my senses.? Who doesn't appreciate the beauty of watching a horse run?? Even the slightest nod, twitch of ears or interactions with each other was a sight to behold, like cooling water to a parched throat.? The sounds were mezmerizing; the swish of a tail, a snort, a stomping hoof and a welcoming whinny.? To say nothing of the sounds when you tack up a horse; from the creak of the leather to the distinctive, soft sound that comes when the bit is? accepted and you set the headstall behind a horse's ears.? Finally . . . touch.? When I was a child I never forgot the feel of the skin between the nostrils.? It reminded me of velvet.? To rub my hand down a sleek coat and feel the warmth of the sun radiating from it was a joy long forgotten.

When the paperwork was signed on my lease horse, I never realized how much it would enhance my life.? It is calming just to brush a horse and get it ready to ride.? With a rubber curry comb in my right hand and a brush in my left, I work at removing the dirt and loose hair, switching hands when working on the other side.? I constantly talk to the horse while I work and if no one is around to hear, sometimes sing.? It is very gratifying to stand back and see a beautiful animal with a glossy coat and silky mane and tail.? I must confess that in the process of cleaning out hooves, getting manure on my hands doesn't make me dash in a panic for the closest bottle of hand sanitizer.

The pi?ce de r?sistance is when you finally sit in the saddle, pick up the reins and ride.? Imagine being in a fine restaurant and finishing an elegant and satisfying meal.? You are totally content and thinking that things couldn?t get any better, and then out comes dessert.? It's sort of like that.

My husband offered me a bottle of very expensive perfume a while ago, which I declined.? I honestly didn't think I would ever wear it.? A few days later, after being around my lease horse and riding, I returned home and noticed that the ?horse smell? was still lingering on me.? I asked my husband to take a whiff.? I told him I prefer that smell to any perfume.? Along those same lines, I carried my freshly cleaned bridle over my shoulder the other day and realized it was a better fit on me than a Louis Vuitton bag or a Coach purse.

Being around horses again made me realize that something vital had been missing from my life.?? It's back now--and a part of who I am and what I love.