On Saturday morning, I rose early (at least for a Saturday), fed the felines, walked the dogs, and gave them their morning treat. Then I showered, dressed in worn jeans and a long-sleeved cotton shirt, wrapped my hair into a messy bun low on my neck, and pulled on a pair of tall brown boots I hadn't worn in over six years. It was a gloomy gray day, fifty degrees and threatening rain, but I was elated. I was going riding. I was also, I admit, a little nervous. It had been awhile.
In fact, the last time I'd worn these boots was in the summer of 2006, for an hour long hack through Central Park on the back of Gillespie, the same horse I always rode when I visited the Claremont Riding Academy on West 89th Street on the Upper West Side. Those of you who watched Sex and the City back in the day (or any of the endless reruns for that matter), may remember the episode when Charlotte goes out for a ride in Central Park, her first time on a horse since having been thrown years before. The stable she went to was the Claremont.
I had discovered the stable by chance on a visit some years before, and anytime I found myself in The City, (usually once, sometimes twice, a year for several years running), I would leave my travel companions sleeping, and steal out each precious morning before dawn to grab a cab to West 89th, tack up Gillespie, and exit the Academy by means of the electronic garage door operated by the stable's manager. She'd watch from the window of her office, and when a rider was mounted up and ready, she'd hit the button for the door, and down the ramp we'd go, out the door to the street.
Once down the ramp, we made a right turn and from there it was a block or so, in city traffic (not as busy as it would get later, as I usually rode out at about seven am, but still, it is the city that never sleeps, and even for someone who'd grown up around horses, riding in city traffic is a new experience), to get to the bridle paths. And again, even for someone who had grown up riding all sorts of horses in all sorts of places, this was a different experience altogether. To ride through the hushed quiet of Central Park in the early morning, with only the occasional far-away honk of a taxicab horn or bark or a dog to break the near-silence, and then to see the skyscrapers of the famed city rising out of the mist above your head was something special, almost a religious experience in fact, and something I feel so fortunate to have memories of, since, now, The Claremont is no more.
It closed its doors in 2007, and the building that had been home to countless horses since 1892, when it began its life as a livery stable, is now, from what I hear, a school of performing arts, and The City, at least in my view, is less of a magical place. Truth be told, I haven't been back since that summer of 2006. That last morning, I dismounted from Gillespie, ran the stirrups up their leathers, and walked him around the perimeter of the ring for five or ten minutes to cool him down. Then I patted his neck a last time, and handed him off to his groom. "I'll see you next year, buddy," I said to him. I had no idea I'd never see him again, and I haven't been on the back of a horse since.
Until today. I had my first riding lesson in many moons at a show barn about thirty minutes from my house. It was a decent-sized barn, twenty or thirty stalls or so, each horse more gorgeous than the last. I was in heaven, the kind of heaven only other horse lovers understand. I made friends with a sweet gray barn cat named Pickles, and had my lesson on the back of Viktor, a handsome bay gelding with whom I am already in love. I spent an hour in the saddle today, at a walk and a posting trot, trying to remember to keep my hips open and in a vertical line with my ankles, my heels lower than my toes, and my seat bones directly over my heels. In short, my body was trying to relearn the things that used to come second nature to it, but no longer do, and that my brain had never forgotten.
A solid seat is the foundation of any riding discipline. I had one once, and I mean to get it back. I got a start on Saturday, and it felt amazing. My seat bones are sore, and my leg muscles are protesting, but I was as happy during that brief hour as I've been in a long time. I hope Gillespie, wherever he is, would be proud.