Monday, February 18, 2013

Horseback riding in East London

Editor's note: I drafted this post to completion twice and Blogger lost it both times! So I really hope that third time is a charm!

After I wrote my post in January about trying to be happier, I spent a lot of time thinking about times in the past when I was truly happy and what was present then that is missing now. And one starkly missing element is animals - specifically dogs. This is the longest period of time in my life that I've gone without having a dog, and I feel it on a daily basis. I desperately want a dog, especially since London and my neighborhood of Stoke Newington particularly are so dog friendly and welcoming to four-legged friends. But as much as I'd love to get a puppy right now, I do know it's not the right time: I'm traveling a lot for work right now, and I really value the freedom I currently have to jet off for a long weekend in another country at a minutes notice (without worrying about a dog sitter). Plus given all of our house renovations and capital expenses, I don't think our budget can stretch to cover the inevitable veterinary bills that come with rambunctious puppies.

So while I console myself by befriending all of our neighborhood dogs - like Peggy the 4 month old Chow Chow and Bruce the cool corgi mix owned by the proprietor of my local coffeeshop - I decided to find another way to get more animal interaction in my life. Cue horseback riding.

When I was a kid, I was nuts about animals and I was lucky to have parents who indulged this passion by letting us have a menagerie: dogs, hamsters, fish, ferrets. They also indulged me in horseback riding lessons twice a week. Not only was I riding, but I even picked up a menial job turning in the horses each evening, brushing them, blanketing them and feeding them. I joyfully rode and hung around the stables until my early teens when my parents made me decide between horseback riding lessons and dog shows; I already had two dogs and knew it was highly unlikely I could convince the parents to add a horse to our family. So I sadly hung up my jodhpurs and haven't been on a horse since.

Until three weeks ago, that is, when I took the 56 bus from my house to the Lee Valley Riding Centre for one of their super-beginner assessment classes. I had brought my riding helmet, breeches and paddock boots back to the UK with me during one of my previous trips home to the US, so when I arrived at the stable suited and booted I was told that I could do a little bit more than riders typically get during a new rider session. I got to lead my mount to the outdoor arena, ride without a leader, and put my horse away after the lesson. Hilariously though, my riding equipment was so old that I had to get rid of my gorgeous old velvet helmet with the ribbon the back as it no longer conforms to equestrian safety regulations. Ha!

And it was joyous. Just like riding a bike – once I was up in the saddle, everything I ever knew about riding came back to me: how to hold the reins, how to position my feet, when to squeeze my knees. It was amazing. I was so happy, despite the cold, for that hour, and at the end of the class the instructor suggested that if I were to return I could skip the introductory class for new riders and move up a step to the beginners class. She said that because she hadn't seen me canter, she couldn't move me up to Novice. That's okay by me – it's been two decades since I moved that fast on a horse and I'm happy taking my time and working my way up to it.

After the lesson, I got back on the bus and arrived home smelly, covered in horsehair, frozen to the bone, but elated. Classes are £28 for a group lesson, so no prohibitively expensive, and I plan on trying to get out there at least once a month if I can. It's not as good as being woken up by a dog every morning, but I'll take it!

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