L chose for my half hour a very patient mare, 14 hands high at the shoulder if I remember right. By contrast, I am fifteen hands high in total. I had to stand on tiptoe to curry her. (Is that what I call it? Did I curry her? That sounds so carnivorous.) Babe's not that tall, as horses go, but she's a bulky draft horse. "Horses are perpetual two-year-olds," said L. "She'll test you. They're always testing their limits." Sure enough, while we led her from the stable to the barn, Babe tried to walk me into a couple of walls just to show me she knew I wasn't really the boss. L, Babe, and I were a herd of three, and L was at the top of the herd hierarchy, so Babe wanted to let me know I was at the bottom. I know what to do with that kind of behavior when I get it from my sister's labrador retriever, but it is a different dynamic with a draft horse. Fortunately, L kept Babe on a lunge line once I was actually in the saddle. "Our belief is that no one can be responsible for controlling a horse until they can control themselves on the horse," said L. I was very glad L was in charge, because if L hadn't been, Babe would have been.
It's true, what everyone says about how startlingly high off the ground you are the first time you're on a horse. Surely it must get less startling later.
The eighteen months of Tai Chi I have behind me now made everything easier. As far as I can figure it, proper position on a saddle is pretty much a Tai Chi stance, with the weight on the butt instead of on the feet. I haven't done a lot of Push Hands in Tai Chi, but riding seems to be a sort of partnered Tai Chi form. Push Spines, maybe?
Through the half hour it took us to ready the horse, and the half hour I spent not falling off the horse, and then the half hour it took us to tidy the horse up and put her away, L kept up a constant stream of wonderful chatter. We had the naming of parts, and bits of military history, and the teaching customs L picked up from her teacher, who was in the Chilean cavalry. I've done enough ethnography training that it pained me to have neither notebook nor tape recorder.
Some things are lodged permanently in my head, though.
Much of the rider's task is to keep the horse from recognizing that she is more powerful than the rider is. The moment a horse really catches on that she is larger and stronger than every one of the humans around her, she becomes irredeemably dangerous and has to be put down. The humans are responsible for protecting the horse from the mortal peril of understanding her strength. If the horse is lucky, she stays ignorant throughout a long life of one of the things she is actually capable of knowing.
Now I see how the protagonist of this little novel I've been working on since November will think about her predicament. The horse's problem is not really the problem Stisele has, but this is how she'll try to explain what she's leaving behind, when she finally does defect.
The prequel feels possible again. Not possible before June, but possible.