Thursday, March 11, 2010

Be like a horse: just run.

This isn't Cash, but it sort of looks like him. He had that same beautiful dark brown coat with a black mane. His back legs, however, had no white on them.

My favorite running quote was once: "Be like a horse: just run." I don't know who wrote or said this, but in years past, I thought the simplicity offered by the image of a running horse was akin to the type of running I want to do.

However, this past Sunday (March 7th), I had my first experience with a horse and there were both false and true notes in the quote I'd once coveted. My boss at Camila's, Christine, has a horse she keeps in Verdi, Nevada. His name is "Cash" (from "Dash for Cash", his racing "horse dad"). He's an American quarter horse, which means several things. The one which meant the most to me (since I would be riding him) was that his gait was different from other horses. Unlike the breed Christine and her friend, Monqiue rode, Cash's gait mimics that of wild horses. The other horses, however, have modified gaits which seem to make them lift their knees (do horses have knees? or do you call them knees?) higher in the air. The purpose of the high-knee gait: to make a smoother ride for the person in the saddle. Riding Cash, therefore, was going to be a bit more rough for me. And it was-- but not in a bad way.

Since Christine been around horses (and has a definite love for them) for a good part of her life, she wanted me to "get to know" Cash before riding him. So, I arrived early and brushed/cleaned him, helped saddle him up. He was definitely wary of me at first, but I have to admit that feeling was mutual. When you're not around a horse, well EVER, their size is a bit of a shock. Though by no means a large horse, Cash is a far cry from the only animals I interact with on a daily basis: my cats. I even had to use a step ladder to get on him, when the time came.

Controlling an animal that's many times one's own body weight is no easy task. Cash was a very nice horse and very well trained, but there were moments I wondered: what if he really wanted to [insert action here]? He could just do it, and there would be nothing I could do to stop him. Indeed: the muscles of his body rippled beneath my legs (which I later found I'd been squeezing him with. Poor guy.) There were a few moments on the trail when he seemed to get bored with walking and began to "trot." Not run, but trot. (It felt like running to me-- that is, until Christine suggest I try to ride him while he "cantered." THAT was something. I'm still proud of myself I didn't fly off him, because it felt like I was hardly in the saddle, but hovering in the space above it. The experience was exhilarating, yes, but also incredibly scary.)

Cash had so much raw power-- I can see what the quote meant. It's not a mindlessness per se, but a horse is a creature bred to run. Even the measly "trot" made the world whiz by and I found myself white-knuckled on the reigns. The cant-- well-- I didn't pee myself but was close.

At the end of the ride, we returned the stables and I removed the saddle, blanket and harness. Beneath them, his fur was wet from the effort of carrying me around. Christine told me to brush him again-- to get his hair to stand so it could dry before the sun went behind the mountains. He began to nuzzle me, as though over the course of the two-hour ride, he'd come to accept-- and maybe like-- me. And then came the yawns, a thing I do after a hard workout. I felt, then, a kinship between us. We were two runners, separated by the language barrier, our size and number of legs.

When I went on my run later that day, I tried to run like Cash. No, not on all fours, but with a raw power that's contained within my body. I don't know if that's why I ended up running a little over 8 miles at 7:29 pace (even up hills!) or if it was something else, but I plan to carry that sense of "horse running" with me to Chicago.

So, "be like a horse: just run" for me, means allowing myself to tap into my own strength, and not to think too deeply about pace. Just be strong, keep training and running up hills.

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