Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Buster; or, the things your body remembers

This is Buster.


Buster was my horse, for about an hour and a half this past Sunday. What happened was that my graduate student, who is a horsey person, and her mother, who actually owns horses, invited me up to the North Shore for a morning on the trail, which we followed up with lunch at Jamesons. It was really a delightful day.

There was a time, in the distant past, when I knew what I was doing (to a limited extent) when I got on a horse, and when I really knew my way around tack and a horse barn. It became clear to me right away when I saw Buster (and Toby and Mele) that those days were long gone, although not totally forgotten. Fortunately, Buster is a retired trail horse, so that I was far from the worst rider he'd had, even so.

Buster is part draft horse, big-boned and solid, with a rolling, ambling walk. Riding Buster, you really know where the plunking bass line of the stereotypical Western ballad comes from. This is as opposed to Toby, who is a beautiful blonde horse whose soundtrack is clearly something from Project Runway, and Mele, who at least on Sunday seemed to be grooving to something suspenseful from the soundtrack to a horror movie ("Gasp! A rock! Egad! A cow!"). Meanwhile, Buster ambled along, slower and slower if I didn't keep encouraging him to move forward.

We rode around the perimeter of the ranch where the horses are boarded. It's a former dairy farm, which still keeps a small herd of little black cattle for roping trials. The perimeter trail was deeply overgrown with grass, which Buster munched enthusiastically, and low-hanging trees, which he wasn't concerned with as they were all higher than his head. I made it through with nothing worse than a shirt full of seeds and leaves. At one point we encountered the cattle, who were behaving like herd animals ("You go talk to them." "No, *you* go talk to them!") but otherwise we meandered along through high grasses and under banyan trees. It was a great time.

It was also a great lesson in the differences between body learning and mind learning. I'd forgotten almost everything I learned, mentally, but my body remembered a number of things I wouldn't have counted on. For instance, the parts of the under-surface of the horse's hoof still escape me; but I remembered instantly how to run my hand down the inside of the horse's leg to get it to pick up its foot for hoof cleaning (and, instinctively, how to brace myself for the occasional horse who will then lean onto you). I couldn't remember the rein signal for "back up" (it's "pull back on the reins of a standing horse") but I did remember to lean back when the horse spooked. Very odd. Buster was a good sport, despite the contradictory signals I was no doubt sending him. I'm sure he was relieved to get back to the pasture after we were done, though.

After all that, we got a table at Jameson's very quickly, and ate lunch facing the beach. A fish sandwich never tasted quite so good.

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