Monday, September 7, 2009

After all these years, I still don't know what it is about horses I love so much. Of course, they're animals, and I love animals, but there's something else about them, something that makes me catch my breath and sends little sparkles into my veins, something that pulls at me in a deep, instinctual way that's tempting to interpret as having to do with past lives or totem animals or higher meaning.

When I was young, I half-believed I was a modern reincarnation of Joan of Arc. We share the same birthday, and her strength, bravery, and non-girliness appealed to me, a scruffy tomboy with dreams of grandiosity and a distinct inclination (I thought) towards martyrdom. Joan of Arc was a soldier with an army of devoted followers, and after beating the bad guys she met a dramatic end that not only failed to snuff out her light but contributed to the staying power of her memory and to her ultimate canonization. Long after the flames died out, she continued to shine; in the minds of so many, she was a true hero and saint.

I became infected with the horse bug before I'd heard about Joan of Arc, but knowledge of her and the parallels, in my mind, of her story with mine (the main points being our shared birthday and the fact that we were both martyrs) cemented my love for the fast, strong creatures she rode into battle and that I dreamed of one day owning. Horses symbolized independence and power and a link to a wildness that couldn't be tamed, and I loved them for those reasons. But I loved them--and still love them--just as much for seemingly less important reasons: because of the way their raggedy forelocks fall down over their flat broad foreheads, because they smell at once warm and sour and sweet, because of the sound their hooves make, and because they have big dark eyes and soft noses. I've thought about it so many times--I've analyzed it inside out and up and down and around and around--but, even with all these reasons, I still don't really understand why I love horses so much. It doesn't make sense, it's not explainable: I just love them.

Before coming to Costa Rica, I'd read that the horses here are smaller than their US cousins. I was nonetheless surprised when I saw some wandering around Samara for the first time. Clustered in driveways to pull at particularly gourmet clumps of grass and sauntering in front of moving cars like they knew perfectly well who owned the place, their look--petite, thin, and a little moth-eaten--and their manner--totally comfortable, but skittish anyway--made me think more of emaciated deer and fleas than proud knights and battlefields. These weren't regal steeds, they were oversized dogs! They looked as close, I thought, to a world of romance and magic as a Barbie Princess sleeping bag. My heart didn't skip a beat when I saw these horses, and none of my childhood horse fantasies (all involving stealing, riding away, and being revered by serfs) cranked up. I was disappointed, to say the least--I thought I'd lost the horse bug because of my ripe old age, because I've "matured" and am no longer susceptible to fantasy, to the whims of the imagination. It was unsettling: who would I be now, if I wasn't partly defined by an obsession with everything equine? Was that it--poof, you turn 35, and you're all of a sudden sensible, unmovable, un-carry-awayable? It sounds silly, but the future really did look a little bleaker, a little greyer. I was definitely perturbed.

On Sunday morning, I walked down to the beach, thinking I'd scope out the horse rental scene even though I was still uninspired. I felt a little sheepish imagining myself climbing on the back of an animal whose legs weren't much longer than mine, but I'd seen some saddled horses tied to palm trees and some much-too-big tourists riding along the water's edge, and I thought, what the hell--I might as well give it a shot.

I found the group of waiting horses and waved to their owner, a boy who looked about fifteen. "Euh...un caballo para rentar, por favor? Si? Para una ora? Great!"

The boy looked around at the horses, gesturing for me to pick one. "Tienes un caballo mas rapido?" I asked. I didn't want to go for a boring stroll, after all--if I was going to ride, I was going to ride!

The boy pointed towards a brown horse, and I walked over to it, stretching out a hand to pet its little nose. I felt like I was petting a rabbit. This horse, fast? Are you kidding me? Oh well, I thought, sighing inside, and placed my foot in the stirrup, lurched into the saddle, and clucked for "Rojo" to head down the beach.

It immediately became clear that I'd worn the wrong bra. Although it's been five months since Malko's birth and since the development of my boobs into industrial-sized lactation devices, I still forget, from time to time, that physical activity beyond lying flat and still requires special garments involving ratcheting and materials designed for space travel. Sports bras like the (threadbare) one I'd put on that morning do as much good, from a containment perspective, as a spider web would do with a bowling ball. As Rojo trotted towards the water, I knew there wouldn't be any "mas rapido'ing" happening on this ride; my bosoms flopped up and down, making my entire shirt lift and fall like that of a grossly over-endowed cartoon character. It was ridiculous, and it was painful. Not to be crass, but my boobs? They were fucked. And Rojo? Rojo wanted to RUN!

Yep, it's true--that pint-sized horse ("just a pony," I'd snobbishly thought a few moments before) was all torque and verve beneath his scrawny coat; he pumped his head in the air and pranced sideways, eliciting a few alarmed "whoah's" from me and making me look, I'm sure, like a very terrible rider. Which was one thing I was sure I wasn't: I took dressage lessons when I was young, and went trail-riding whenever I could, and I've always prided myself on feeling confident and natural on a horse. Here I was, though, bouncing painfully in the saddle, pulling hard on the reins, and, in order to minimize chest-flopping, hunching like a geriatric over the horse's neck. I'd thought Rojo would be an easy horse to ride, but just ten minutes into it and my legs were burning, I was gasping for breath, and I had cramps in three different places. A fast horse? Please--what I needed was a wheelchair.

At one point, I actually got off Rojo ("Hang on, Rojo. Whoah! Wait. WAIT!") and walked with him slowly, calmy, along the shoreline. I put my arm around his short neck and talked to him. He seemed happy, and I thought we were bonding. I stopped and looked into his dark eyes and held his nose in my hands, remembering how much I wanted to do just this--walk alone on a beach with a horse--for my entire youth and my entire life. When I clambered back on, I decided to let Rojo run a little; forcing thoughts of neck injuries and paralysis out of my mind, I tapped his sides with my heels and loosened the reins. He ran! For a few seconds, until I got scared again. Then we slowed down and walked some more.

We walked all the way back (I had to pull on the reins even harder on the way home), and when we got to where the other horses were tied beneath the palm trees I slid off Rojo's back and handed the reins to the boy I'd spoken to earlier. He asked if the ride had gone well, and knowing that he was probably wondering why I hadn't let Rojo run more I answered "si, pero..." and pointed to my back, making a cringing face. I didn't know the word for bra in Spanish, and I thought pointing at my boobs and jumping up and down might send the wrong message.

Leaving the beach, I looked for a place to sit and catch my breath: I was absolutely, pathetically worked from the hour ride. There was a low stone wall close by, so I staggered over to it and sat there, panting and feeling like an idiot. The Costa Rican horses clearly weren't as wimpy as they looked, and I clearly was much less in shape than I'd thought. Holy jesus, I thought, the midday sun beating down on my head, how did Joan of Arc do it without a decent bra?

I limped back up the street towards home, and despite the soreness starting to set in I felt relaxed and happy. More than anything, though, I felt relieved: horses were still there. They were on the beach and in the street, and they were on my mind and in my heart. It had been made clear that I'll never ride like Joan of Arc, but that doesn't matter to me, because the horses are faster and stronger than ever.


packofchicklets said...

Ah yes, back in the saddle. you'll work your way back into form, i'm sure! as for the bra situation, well, i can't even take a brisk walk without an industrial grade cross-your-heart grandmother bra, so count yourself lucky!

can't wait to hear more of your costa rican adventures....

uncleremus said...

man...you are a GOOD writer!!!!

& i certainly hope that you did not get a black eye from those bouncing-boobies!!!!

but seriously....how wonderful that you have the chance to put some of your dreams into reality!!!!
you are an animal person (duh right??) & you have a beuatiful connection with them!!!
go for it as much as you can!!!!

you are NOT old at 35!!!!
you are just getting started kiddo!!!!
think of it as sloughing off old skin that doesnt serve you anymore...leaving room to create a whole new life!!!!!

BRAVA for you baby!!!!!

Anonymous said...

No, no black eyes, luckily! Just some stretched skin. Thanks, you two...XOXO I.

Anonymous said...

Loved it! Still laughing! Wish you would have told me about how much you loved horses all those years ago! ...whenever you're in Fla. you'll know where to go now! (I've got one FAST pony for you! ha ha!) Laurie

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