• Find a small creature to love (be it human, bird, or chihuahua)


I’m hooked on this girl, she makes me feel alive. I recently wrote a story in an effort to win her some Christmas themed tack.


Two years ago, I was sitting in the back room of a small house with a clairvoyant in front of me. Her eyes closed and smiling, she asked, “Emily, do you ride horses?” I replied calmly with a, bemused, “no.” She explained, “I just have this image of you petting a horse.” I smiled at the thought of rodeos and day dreams of riding bareback along the fields of highway 108. I always thought I was operating from my most authentic self and then I began learning how to ride a horse. My world was cracked open, my soul silently on fire with the realization of wanting to constantly be the person I am when I am riding, every minute of every day.

I wandered out to Rancho De los amigos in Castro Valley for a Halloween open house, I navigated around the princesses to get to the ponies; I spent most of my time standing in awe. I met the co-owners of Five Star Equestrian, a true yin and yang partnership between gentle Leah and gregarious Cassandra. We discussed work trade, clunky past trail rides, and becoming a true equestrian from the feet up.

Following the event, when I was offered 30% off a lesson package I could not say no. My first day on the ranch I treaded lightly and found myself still intimidated by the thousand pound animals with temperaments I could not comprehend. While signing waivers I was told by my trainer Leah, that I would be working with Maddie, still naïve I thought this to be another trainer. Walking up to the barn, Maddie was in the bridle waiting to be brushed and tacked. I stood near the horse, Leslie, the owner of the Ranch, came out to meet me. “Do you have any kids?” Leslie asked me, in a voice that reminded me of Jean Smart; I replied, “No,” and felt myself smile, “Well, this horse can be your kid then,” she says.

Leah with her wavy blonde hair and constant smile conversed with me; the inflection in her energy slowly hit me like the warmth of a fire or gentle constant waves. It had been a long time since I had met someone I felt so in line with, for this quality to be found in a teacher was a significant gift. As I followed Leah in and out of the tack room, she gathered a saddle, a saddle pad, a bridle, a halter; at the time they were items and words from another planet. She told me about tacking from the left, and doing everything from the left with horses. I was enthralled but self-conscious at the ideas and objects whose names and purposes rolled right over me and fell away like water. And then I started to brush Maddie and what I lacked and what I knew fell away as the dirt circled off of her. She flinched and still, nothing else mattered but her; it was another pull. Eighteen years of martial arts under my first degree black belt and I never felt so in tune with the concept of Zen until I cared for a horse. Simply brushing Maddie was the calmest I had felt in months. She looked back and to the left again, nervous about the first memories of ulcers, Leah cooed softly, telling Maddie she knows, and reassuring her in a voice I had yet to establish. I spent the first lesson learning how to walk Maddie, how to use a mounting block, what it felt like to have one inner thigh squeeze against her and then the left, extending my heels down, activating my abs, hating my posture.

The second and third lessons are an enthusiastic blur in my memory, transitioning from an English saddle to a Western one. Feeling uneven stirrups, being assertive with Maddie when she gets bratty, knowing why she feels cranky; holding the reins, turning, steering, stopping, feeling established in a seat, backing, going into half seat, advocating for myself, fading in and out of Maddie’s energy in between techniques, constantly activating leg muscles, abdominals, keeping my mind centered.

By the fourth lesson, I was transformed. The twenty minute drive along Cull Canyon Road builds my dreams; a house with land, simplicity, a barn, the prospect of quiet in a world run by emotions and technicalities. I feel at peace just knowing I will be at the Ranch in a matter of four more miles, my eyes look to the left with longing as the grass beyond barbed wire stands so still. I park in the dirt and walk up through the barn, “Maddie’s in the outdoor area just up top,” Cassandra beams. A few more steps and there she is, the molasses bay mare dirty from rolling, regardless she is stunning. “Hi beautiful,” I croon taking my time with the gate as the spirit of this horse again becomes a part of me. I fidget with the halter, walk Maddie wide and to the right, she stands still as I close the gate. After three rounds of brushing mane and tale, picking the frogs in her shoeless feet, and tacking up we enter the area. After the 4mph walks in each direction, I learn how to hold the reins to trot. I mentally imagine the movements with my arms, look ahead, tell Maddie, “trot,” and she picks up speed; I smile and realize I have never felt so alive. I feel excited, and ask as many questions as I can about Maddie’s responses, what she’s thinking when she stops, how to transition smoothly, how I can be better for her. We end the lesson on a good note, I dismount and feel myself quietly beaming inside, my right hand firmly pets Maddie and we walk back to the barn. Time falls away as I remove her tack and brush her again for as long as it takes. I say goodbye to Maddie and Leah and walk away from the barn feeling like my best self. I long for the next Sunday, smile on the drive home out of the Canyon and feel so still and certain. During the work week, I don’t wonder what Maddie is doing when I’m not with her because I know what she’s doing, I feel her in the softer parts of me, my sweet energy, my crankiness, my quiet but bold love, how I happily lick my lips and nuzzle against the world and feel so complete.







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