“Your butt is your best weapon,” says Barbara.
I am at Sunny’s butt, shampooing his dirty blonde tail. A new friend, Sunny is a palomino Tennessee Walker. My butt is sideways against his flank. When he moves, I move. I love leaning against him.
“You can’t hurt him,” says Barbara, “he’s a thousand pounds.”
After several applications of shampoo and Comet, his tail is flaxen. Barbara leads him back to the arena, while I get the bareback pad from the tack room.
Barbara walks him first. At 5’4″ it’s hard for her to keep up with Sunny’s long legs. She leads him back to the mounting block and hands me the halter while she puts on a helmet.
“Good Sunny,” I say, “good horse.” I pat his long strong golden neck.
Known as Carrot Girl among the equine folk, today I forgot them. Too excited for vegetables, I guess.
On Sunny, 80-year-old Barbara is grace in action. They are in sync, in accord, in time, in rhythm — all of it. I could watch them for hours, but Barbara tires before Sunny does, so I stand at his head while she dismounts. “Good Sunny,” I say, “good handsome horse.”
My turn to lead him around the arena, first in circles one way, then the other. “Whoa,” I say at random places and times, and Sunny always stops immediately. Little kiss-kiss sounds move him forward again.
Back at the mounting block, I am now confident enough to sling a leg over him without much ado. We are getting used to each other, the three of us.
Once I’m settled, Barbara walks him forward. I grab a handful of mane.
I’ve had two lessons to date, both of which entailed me walking Sunny around the arena on a halter, then sitting on him for a bit. Get-acquainted-time. Fine by me. I moved to SLO County for a reason: to slo-o-o-o-ow dow-ow-wn. This is the first time Sunny has actually moved anywhere while I sat on him.
Barbara suddenly remembers this and stops. “I’m so sorry!” she says, “You looked so natural up there; I automatically went into Pony Camp mode.” A horseback rider since age seven, she ran Pony Camps for years, for children of all different abilities.
“Don’t be sorry,” I say, “I love it!” And I do. Scared? Yes: Sunny is tall, so I am high off the ground. Excited? Yes: I am actually riding! Finally! But I don’t want to tire Barbara. “How are you doing?”
“I’m great!” she says. We exchange grins, and move forward.
When I notice that my thighs are trembling with fatigue, I suggest we go back to the block. After I dismount I stay close to Sunny, petting and patting and loving on him. “Good Sunny. Good beautiful horse. Good handsome patient horse. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
I start weeping. I have wanted this for a very long time. “Thank you,” I say to Barbara, “thank you, thank you.”