Back in the Saddle (Again)

It’s officially Monday and I’ve hit the manuscript trail nice and early, thanks to some extra-strong chuck wagon coffee. Cue a few intro bars of “Back in the Saddle Again.” Actually…please don’t.

Horses terrify me. My perfect horse? Mr. Ed.

Yeah, I know. Mr. Ed was a fictional horse, of course. He usually stayed safely in his stall and only talked to his hapless owner Wilbur. 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 lately, since my new series-to-be features a sleuth dealing with her grandmother’s ghost, who appears only to her and causes endless complications.

A lot of girls I knew when I was growing up collected Breyer horses and had bedrooms strung with glossy ribbons they’d won in horse shows.

I cheered my friends on from afar. I loved watching them braid their horses’ tails and shine the saddles (not so much mucking the stalls) and sail over fake stonewall jumps.  My older sister 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, yellowish teeth and…aaagh!!! Nightmares.

My parents signed me up for riding lessons at summer camp. They thought I’d love it once I tried it. All the other girls were thrilled to pieces, and I pretended to be excited, too. On the first day of the Beginner Riders class, I made a mental sign of the cross and the riding counselor gave me a boost into the saddle that almost landed me in the dirt on the other side. Here is the one and only pic of me actually riding, taken by my dad when he came up on Visitors Day. Don’t I look thrilled?

My classmates quickly mastered walking, trotting, and endless posting. When can we canter? they begged. 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. 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 me through an enormous pile of clean cedar shavings to be spread through the ring for tomorrow’s event. I came up coughing cedar and badly bruised, but alive. And hopeful. Would this get me out of the show?

Sadly, no. 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 the fence) in time to draw straws for horse picks for the next day’s big event. I drew the last straw. That meant I had two choices of steeds: the one who’d just battered me in cedar or…Bunker, the elderly, dappled gray who made Eeyore look like Tigger. I chose Bunker.

Cue the inspiring, National-Velvet-style ending, where I overcame my fears and won the biggest blue ribbon of all, right? Neigh. Good ol’ Bunker refused to trot, although I valiantly posted away anyway, trying 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 judging. I couldn’t bring myself to use my crop on my sad, stubborn equine partner. The judge ran up, frowning and hissing through her teeth. “Kick him!” she said. “KICK HIM!!!” I couldn’t do that, either, so I just sat there in pitiful defeat until a CIT finally helped drag me and Bunker out of the ring. I headed straight behind the barn to cry big, salty tears of humiliation. Needless to say, I did not win a ribbon, even for participation (this was the 70s). I swore I’d never get back on a horse again.

Years later, despite my equestrian failures, I somehow became the designated “horse” editor at several publishing jobs. I even started an entire kids’ line devoted to horses and riding. 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 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 kid models posed on sawhorses and nuzzled up lovingly to hobby horses (the actual horses were Photoshopped or painted in later).

But now it’s just me and Mr. Ed, safely social distancing (he’s self-isolating in the barn) as we collaborate on this new ms. I’m hoping to finish it during Camp Nanowrimo, which starts July 1st (no riding, just writing!). It’s a good thing that I’ve finally made my peace with horses, real or fictional, because–WHOA, boy!!! Get back here. We have work to do!

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


53 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 4 people

    1. 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 4 people

    1. Maybe it was actually not a math class but some sort of psychological experiment, like the Stanford prison experiment. 🙂 (I’m sorry, that sounds awful!)

      Liked by 4 people

    2. Cynthia, you are too sweet! And I forgot all about math–another non-forte of mine. We could have cheated off each other and come up with the same score.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. My Stats professor loved to gamble, so that’s how he explained things in class. I was clueless about gambling, so…


  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 4 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 5 people

    1. 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!

      Liked by 3 people

    2. 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 4 people

    1. Well, there’s only one sport I can do other than swimming and archery–figure skating. But I had to train 6 hours a day–and I still landed on my butt, plenty of times!

      Liked by 2 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 5 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 5 people

    1. 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 4 people

    1. 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 4 people

    1. 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 3 people

    1. 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

  11. I don’t think I would do well on a horse either. I like the idea, but in reality I wouldn’t want to kick him so I’d probably just end up sitting there. I should say, ideally I would end up sitting there because if a horse I was on took off like yours did I would be in a complete panic. You are definitely braver than me for getting back in the saddle after that!

    Liked by 5 people

  12. Okay, I admit it: I was one of those horsey girls with a whole herd of Breyer horses (I still have them, by the way), and who begged and begged her parents for riding lessons till they finally caved, and my mom (who hated driving as much as you hate horses, Lisa), ended up driving me over an hour away (this was Los Angeles, after all) so I could trot around a ring and, yes, post.

    Your new series sounds terrific! Reminds me of the movie, Topper, which was great fun! So glad you’re back in the (metaphorical) saddle, again, Lisa!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I am definitely going to watch Topper, Leslie! Just looked it up. I literally now have a list of awesome movie suggestions made by everyone here on Chicks recently. And I really envied the horsey girls, because they were brave and cool and I wasn’t. They were nice enough to let me hang out with them, even if I didn’t want to pet the horses. I always came to their shows and fangirled from afar.

      Liked by 3 people

    1. I think I could do the walk thing, too, Mark. I’m always amazed by those dude ranch vacations, where everyone learns to ride and they’re soon galloping around everywhere. Sometimes I wonder if I’d be excited about those donkey rides through the Grand Canyon. Not the same thing at all, of course, lol, but still…

      Liked by 3 people

  13. I actually really like horses. The first time I rode one (on a trail), I loved it. Unfortunately, my older cousin pretty much fell over in her saddle while the horse kept going, so we didn’t do many family vacations with horses after that.

    The thing I could never figure out was tap dancing. I did a community class once, and I feel like I just don’t have rhythm. I do, however, now own a lovely pair of noise-making shoes.

    Liked by 4 people

  14. This post brings me back! I had a big horse phase during which I would draw, collect and watch movies about horses non-stop. I didn’t actually RIDE them, mind you. I just admired them in their resin or celluloid (or pencil) forms.

    I’m terrible at downhill skiing, despite the fact that I live in a ski town. I just…can’t. It’s too cold. I’m afraid of getting off the lift. I have quads of cotton. On the other hand, I seem to have a gift for sitting in the lodge and enjoying toddies.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. If we ever have a conference or retreat at a mountain resort, I will also be hanging out with you in the apres-non-ski lodge in front of a fire with spiked cocoa.

      Liked by 3 people

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