Yesterday I accompanied Kathy the Mad Horsewoman to her English riding lesson. I listen to her lesson, and the instructor's voice helps me to remember what I learned long ago, and have more or less forgotten over the years.
Dink and I mostly go out alone these days. No one else at the ranch rides when we do, and that's okay. He and I know what we're doing with each other; it's a kind of riding partnership. But after so many years, we're both so comfortable with ambling along in the orchards that both of us are out of shape.
Kathy the Mad's instructor was talking about physical condition, saying that no other exercise exercises all the muscle groups at the same time like riding does. Wow, I thought, she's right.
Lower legs, thighs, back, abdomen, shoulders, arms -- if you ride properly, all of them are engaged, and you can't just Zen out while doing it -- riding a 1000-pound animal whose brain is the size of a walnut and whose main survival skill is to buck and run, why, you need to keep your wits about you.
My goal this morning was to ride properly, making use of all those muscle groups, instead of just sitting on the stinky Dink and floating along. We were only a about 50 yards out on the road when we met the first challenge that required that proper ride: three yapping little dogs from a neighboring ranch decided to give chase.
These dogs have been troubling one of the other riders out at the ranch, and you know, seeing other people afraid just makes me crazy. I turned Dink around and started walking back along the road, giving the dogs an added impetus to rush us. When the closest yapper was about to set foot on the road, I sat deep and forward (like if you were riding a crotch-rocket motorcycle) and sent Dink after the dog. He started forward in a lunge, and that damn dog ran back out into the field with his little tail between his legs.
We had to stop -- charging through a planted field is a big no-no.
Back to the ride. We turned off the usual route to see where the other rider had been exiting the orchard road, putting herself in those dogs' reach. In among the trees, I saw another canid shape -- coyote! Once again, I used good rider muscles to urge Dink forward at a faster pace. We caught up, and saw the coyote slink away into the trees. I found where Ms. Rider had made her passage: naughty, naughty, she has been cutting across the corner of the farmer's field.
Back to the ride again, and we spotted our coyote trotting a little ahead of us, to the right about three lanes into the orchard. We followed at a brisk walk.
Then the reward of the day: the coyote stopped and waited between the rows of trees to have a good look at us. I stopped Dink and turned him to face the coyote.
For a long minute, we looked at each other. "Hola, Coyote," I said, and admired his huge ears and richly bushy tail. A few seconds more, and then Coyote went on his way. We followed, and finished our ride.
Tonight, I can feel that I exercised all those muscle groups, and Kathy the Mad's instructor is right -- it is better than going to a gym.