Lisa Q. Mathews

Back in the Saddle Again

So it’s officially Monday and I’m at the keyboard, ready to plunge back into my manuscript-in-progress. Maybe “progress” isn’t quite the right word, but I’ve been thinking about it. And “plunge” might not be exactly the correct description, either. But I’m here, prepping to work, and that counts, right? Cue a few background bars of that inspiring oldie “Back in the Saddle Again.” On the other hand, please don’t.

Horses terrify me—even more than twisted plot points. And all the attention on Kentucky Derby and (as of yesterday, Preakness) winner Justify doesn’t help. When they trot out the horses, usually chomping at the bit and acting up, I marvel at the brave jockeys who put their lives (and their horses’) on the line for a two-minute race to glory. Because I don’t trust those four-legged critters one bit. Here’s my perfect horse.


via Giphy

I can’t blame any of you for pointing out (gently) that Mr. Ed was a fictional horse, of course. He usually stayed safely in his stall and talked to only one person, his hapless owner Wilbur. And everyone thought Wilbur was crazy and the poor guy found himself in all kinds of predicaments because Mr. Ed was a bossy troublemaker. But I’ve been thinking of those two a lot lately, since my new series-to-be features a not-very-gutsy sleuth ruled by her grandmother’s ghost, who appears only to her and causes endless complications.

I was never like my friends I grew up with, whose bedrooms were adorned with glossy ribbons they’d won in horse shows.


via Pinterest

I cheered them on from afar and I loved watching them braid their horses’ tails and shine the saddles (not so much mucking the stalls) and sail over those fake stonewall jumps.  My sister, who was sixteen years older than I, begged our parents for a pony from the time she could talk. But I couldn’t erase my Girl Scout leader’s helpful advice when feeding a horse an apple: “Just keep your hand flat, honey, so he doesn’t bite your hand instead.” One look at those giant, yellow teeth and…aaagh!!! Nightmares.

via Giphy

My parents signed me up for riding lessons my first summer at camp. All the other girls were thrilled. Me, not so much. But I dutifully hoisted myself into the saddle with a good boost from the riding counselor that almost landed me in the dirt on the other side. Here is the one and only pic of me actually riding. It’s blurry, but don’t I look thrilled?

My classmates quickly bored of walking, trotting, and endless posting. When could we canter? Well, I got my chance, because during the final class before the big end-of-summer horse show, a tree branch broke somewhere in the woods beyond the ring where we were plodding along. My horse took off like a shot and I attempted an emergency dismount as he headed toward the fence—with my boot stuck in the stirrup. Fortunately, I disentangled myself just as I was dragged into an enormous pile of clean cedar shavings to be spread through the ring for the show. I came up coughing cedar and badly bruised, but alive and hopeful. Would this get me out of the show?

But there were no excuses for wimpy ‘fraidy cats. The camp nurse pronounced me good-to-go and I made it back to class (my horse was frolicking somewhere deep in the woods, after easily clearing that spindly white fence) in time to draw straws for horse picks for the next day’s event. I got the last straw. And I had two choices of steeds: the excitable one I’d just ridden into the Great Near-Beyond, or…Bunker, the elderly, dappled gray who was literally two steps from the glue factory. My fate was sealed. I chose Bunker.


via Giphy

Here’s where the inspiring, National-Velvet-style ending comes in, where I overcame my fears and won the biggest blue ribbon of all, right? Well, not exactly. Good ol’ Bunker refused to trot, although I valiantly posted away anyway because I was supposed to show I’d learned something. He kept stopping to chew on stray branches that hung over the ring. When the class mercifully ended, all the other riders ordered their horses to the center for the final judgement. I couldn’t bring myself to use my crop on my sad, stubborn equine companion. The judge ran up, frowning and hissing through her teeth. “Kick him!” she said. “KICK HIM!!!” But I couldn’t do that, either, and sat there in pitiful defeat until a CIT finally arrived to lead me and Bunker out of the ring. After a moment or two of dead silence, the crowd golf-clapped politely and I went off beyond the barn to cry big, salty tears of humiliation. Needless to say, I was the only rider who did not win a ribbon, even for participation. I swore I’d never get back on a horse again. You win, Liz.

via Giphy

Like the futile quest to acquire a taste for lima beans and tennis, however, one is always forced to face one’s phobias again. When I grew up, due to my extensive book-knowledge of all things equestrian, I became the go-to “horse” editor at several publishing houses. I even started an entire kids’ line called Random House Riders. My ever-patient authors schooled me in every last factoid, so I’d know to direct cover artists that Thoroughbreds have tiny heads in relation to their enormous bodies. I ghost-wrote a beautiful children’s coffee table horse book. I set up photo shoots at stables in the middle of Brooklyn, in fancy suburbs, and in studios (my personal preference) where the models posed on sawhorses and nuzzled up lovingly to hobby horses (the actual horses were Photoshopped or painted in later). My ultimate horse-y achievement: I managed to ride through the woods behind my daughter on a Brownie Scout trip, without incident (we all wore giant white helmets).

Sorry, I think I’ve strayed from the path here. I was supposed to be buckling down to writing my manuscript. And I am, I swear—but let’s give those horse and saddle motifs a rest, okay? And good luck at Belmont, Justify. Mr. Ed and I are outta here and back on the case. WHOA, boy!!!


via Giphy

Readers, is there anything you’ve miserably failed at, even though you tried (or sort of tried)?


31 thoughts on “Back in the Saddle Again

  1. Awww, too bad you couldn’t have come to my grandparents’ ranch and started your equine experience on gentle “Thunder the Wonder Horse” — my sweet and diminutive Shetland pony. You might have ended up with a completely different tale (or tail) to tell!

    My biggest failure? Pottery! I took a class and quit about halfway through, because I was the only one in the class who couldn’t keep their pots from collapsing on the wheel.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes, Thunder sounds perfect–was he the size of a miniature horse? (Do they come in teacup size?) And I never mastered the potter’s wheel at camp, either. (The pour-in molds worked better for me.)

      Liked by 2 people

  2. This was an emotional roller coaster, and I want to retroactively hug you for the early part and pour you champagne for the later part. Go, you!

    (The Rider series sounds amazing, and I want to see that coffee house book!)

    I have a billion failures to choose from–but I’m going to go with the required college math class, which I took (and dropped) multiple times. It wasn’t “taught” in the usual sense. It was just a bunch of tests that you had to pass after self-studying the book. And the book made NO sense to me. Also, it wasn’t like any math I’d taken before (algebra, trigonometry, geometry). I don’t even know what kind of math it WAS, and I have no idea how I passed the class the last time I took it. I had just taken the tests so many times that I started to figure out how to take the tests, maybe? Or maybe they were like PLEASE get this woman out of here!

    Totally admire mathematicians.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Wow, Lisa — you get bravery points for getting on that horse! Most of my equine experiences involved a Wonder horse on springs or a glassy-eyed steed in front of the grocery store for a quarter a ride. But I did once ride a real horse, although not solo. My older cousin held me and the reins for a riding expedition until I started crying.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Hey, you got back on the horse and that’s what counts.

    Like Cynthia, I’m going to chalk up my biggest failure as mathematics. I had a teacher in 8th grade who routinely said I was “too stupid” to learn algebra and “would never make anything of myself.” As soon as I was allowed to drop math, I did.

    Irony: I decided to take AP Chemistry because I was afraid of the math involved in physics, but this time, with an encouraging teacher, I did really well.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Oh, no, Liz! I hope at some point that pooty-head math teacher was “encouraged” into a career that didn’t involve crushing the spirits of middle school students!

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    • Liz, I retired from math in after scraping through trig my sophomore year of high school. In college I fulfilled my division requirement with Stats (don’t ask) and some kind of bio class where I had to train many generations of gerbils to run mazes. (Still better than math.)

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Ice skating and roller skating — I was always the one whose legs would fly up in the air right before I landed on my bum and wrist. My daughter took lessons and told me I needed to fall forward so I could catch myself with my hands — too late, I was done with the pain and embarrassment. :~(

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I’ve had a few experiences with horses, but none that bad. I did have a few days at a guest ranch, but it was only my last ride there that the group I was with tried anything other than walking. I was jiggled all over the place trying to get the feeling of going faster. But my horse didn’t run away, and I stayed in the saddle.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I share your fear of horses! I love them, I think they look like big dogs. But the one time I got on one, at summer camp, my fear of heights kicked in, I screamed, and they instantly pulled me off the whole thing. And I hate to see them in their stalls. I feel like horses should be let out back on the plains to run free – and in the opposite direction of me.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Ellen, at least your counselors took you off! I had to have the Full
      Learning Experience (akin to the “no-thank-you” helpings in the dining hall). Speaking of horses running free, there was a nearby, uninhabited Horse Island that was said to have wild horses. I always believed the stories but never found any actual info.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Horses, as a matter of fact. My little sister badgered my parents into buying her a retired cowhorse that was part thoroughbred and hated me like I hate lima beans. So the few times I tried to ride him, he’d run away with me, once scraping me off a low-lying branch, another time losing me jumping over a creek, and then he would quietly graze nearby until I came to.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Case adjourned, Keenan! Those horses all knew I was a wimp. But you were so brave. That horse should have respected that. At least he was quiet and peaceful while you were unconscious, lol.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever fa5oled at anything except relationships. I only consider something a failure I’d I don’t try. But the one time I made fudge it ended up hardening on the wooden spoon. Epic mess up.

    Hehehe. The closest I’ve ever been to a horse is having one snot on my hand. Whie wearinf a business suit. Does that count?

    Liked by 3 people

    • Oh yuck, Hestia! It most certainly does count. I made sure I never got that close, except for the time with the apple-feeding. I was always careful to approach neither end.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Sorry for your unfortunate past with horses, Liz, but delighted to hear you are saddling up to the keyboard again! Can’t wait to read new work!

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s always good to know there’s someone waiting to receive on the other end, ha. (This ms. is further along than it sounds, I swear!!!) *clippety-clop*

      Liked by 1 person

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