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One Cappuccino and I'm back in the saddle

January 03, 2008|By TIM ROWLAND

It is possible to lease a horse, although I didn't know that before. There's still a lot I don't know, such as whether you have to pay 20 cents a mile if you exceed 12,000 in a year. And if so, is it possible to disconnect the horse's odometer?

The soon-to-be-leased animal in question is named Cappuccino, a mare that, as I understand it, is a cross between a draft horse and a thoroughbred and looks vaguely as if you had crossed Secretariat with Michael Moore.

Consequently, she's a mile high and runs like a California wildfire.

Truth be told, this wasn't really what I had bargained for when Beth (an expert dressage rider) signed me up for riding lessons. I had rather hoped for a small horse that I could straddle with my feet touching the ground, like training wheels. A slow horse. A tired, depressed horse. Maybe one with three legs. Something I could have a prayer of handling.

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At first, I liked the sound of draft horse. I had draft horses figured as slow, plodding things, and with any luck maybe she would still be attached to the plow.

But the thoroughbred half of the equation spoiled that fantasy. You wouldn't think something that big could move that fast, but she does. First time I saw her run, the ground shook. Or maybe it was my knees.

"Learning to ride," my instructor Tommy said, "is simple. All you have to do is keep the horse between yourself and the ground." Fair enough. But Cappy is so tall, I don't know which was worrying me more, the prospect of falling or getting altitude sickness.

I thought back to when I was a boy, and all I ever wanted was a horse. And boots. And a hat and a big, western saddle with a lariat looped over the horn.

I get the idea that boys don't dream much of horses anymore. In fact, riding has turned into something of a pink-collar industry. Horse barns are filled with chicks.

In fact, Beth says that if a guy wants to meet a girl, one of the best ways is to get a horse. After six months riding, I would ask the guy this: "Just how bad to you want a girl?"

Truth be told, the riding part is great fun, especially since Cappy is well-trained and knows what to do even when I don't, which is to say most of the time.

And Tommy and Judy's Good Friday Farm is a beautiful, historic place to ride - trotting through wooded trails among white oaks with the falling leaves crunching underfoot, or cantering in big, open meadows as a setting sun reddens a sky filled with geese, and occasionally me, flying through the air.

Even the jumping has been OK, although I whined and complained that I would never be doing any jumping in "real life" and would prefer it if the horse had at least three feet on the ground at all times.

But the part of riding that gives me fits is all the out-of-saddle stuff - picking the hooves, brushing, washing and all the straps, belts and buckles involved. If one is looking for a reason horses are more popular with women, this is it.

It's the "women are better with knots" paradigm.

I can't figure out how to attach a bridle to save my life. To me, a bridle is a pasta bowl of leather straps that make no sense whatsoever. And forget all those buckles. Matter of fact, the first time I fell, it was because I had failed to adequately tighten the - and excuse me if I get a bit technical here - the strap thingie that holds the saddle onto the horse.

So I'm riding along fine until I notice that instead of being straight up and down, I'm about 20 degrees off plumb. Then 30 degrees, then 45, forming a definite right angle to the ground. This position is acceptable if you are an Arapaho Indian winging arrows at the sodbuster, but to a recreational rider, not so much.

Still, I'm hooked. If a horse can tolerate me, I should certainly be able to tolerate a horse.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324 or via e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on www.antpod.com.

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