Memories from the Arena, Lessons Learned and Embraced for Life

More rantings from a blessed, and sometimes struggling Mommy.

I write about early childhood a lot lately. My children are young, and I’m a preschool teacher, so thoughts of early years and play pretty much engulf my life. Many don’t know that i spent years riding horses, which is funny really because it encompassed a huge portion of my life. I can still remember begging for a pony from a very young age. I took horse riding lessons and when i think back to those first lessons I can actually see those horses vividly, and I can smell the stable, the horses, the hot summer air. I was hooked from the age of five or six, and when I presented a free pony to my parents (I think I was around age 10?) complete with a saddle and bridle, I didn’t let it go until the pony was ours.

I won, she was mine. All 13.1 hands of Appaloosa attitude.

Peppermint Patty and I sharing a particularly bad hair day.

Peppermint Patty as she was called, had developed into her angry little self over 31 years of putting up with little brats like myself. She was grey with a frizzy forelock that comfortably stated ‘I don’t give a hoot.’ Catching Patty in the field required great courage, having learned to charge at young children as they desperately tried to catch her. I’d walk out, bucket of grain in my shaky hands, meekly calling her name. She would ignore as long as possible, before beginning her trademark charging tactics. Full speed gallop, straight for me, and I wouldn’t dare move because at the very last second, she’d turn to the left or right, saving me from her little pony stampede. This could go on for minutes or hours, dependant on her mood, and trust me when I say this little mare was moody!

My little bitty boy on a pony remarkedly looking like Peppermint Patty.

I loved every minute with that pony. My mom once found me in her stable, Paddy was lying down asleep, me asleep on her back, my arms wrapped around her neck. She loved to swim, and we’d hack down to the little pond and she would charge into the water with me still on her back. Her head was all that was visible, and she would swim lap after lap across the small pond on those hot summer days.

Pepppermint Paddy was not quite as much fun in the arena, okay so she wasn’t fun at all.

A constant buzz of grinding teeth could be heard as Paddy angrilly chewed at the bit. Flatwork was, well flat. And jumping was, dangerously eventful. Patty always provided lots of hope as she approached a jump, only to turn on her heals at the last stride. My riding instructor was a new person in my life, and she went on to train me for years, as well as becoming a treasured friend. I can hear Karen now, see her expression, as I’d fall off repeatedly at fences. ‘Well! Isn’t that pony just wicked!’ She’d pick me up and dust me off, and offered me her pony many times for lessons, but I stubbornly refused. One day I surrendered, let out a sigh of relief, and happilly accepted a lesson on little Sporty. And horse riding took off from there; years of learning and competition. I met some of the best friends of my life in Pony Club. We’ve all scattered across the country, and the world. But unlike many people you meet in your life, I feel like if I met up with them all today, 20+ years later, we’d pick up where we left off laughing and chatting.

Sporty and I on the Cross Country Course

My pony club book, plastered in photos

Horse instruction is really intense. Every subtle move you make, from your fingers to your toes affect the way the horse moves. Everything needs to come together to make things happen, and every horse and rider is very different, making problem solving a huge component in riding and especially instruction. Dressage is particularly complicated, and the top riders of the world have 30+ years under their belt. A few years ago I was asked to give a young pony clubber a dressage lesson. I could see and feel what she needed to do, but communicating this proved near impossible. Dressage is an art, teaching dressage takes that art to a whole new level. Hats off to my instructor, years of comfortably and patiently communicating and passing her knowledge on to me. She’s still riding and instructing today, a life and love of horses, instruction and working with children no doubt. I’d like her to know what I think about dressage, and the lessons she instilled in me which stick with me even today. Odd I know, but here it goes, I hope she agrees…

When you enter the dressage arena, there are moments when suddenly everything comes together. The horses rhythm steadies, you feel their power and back rise in collection, reins connected and soft. All the busy voices and reminders of position in your own head freeze, and you ride out that moment quietly; the comfort, bliss, perfection. Of course you stumble out of these moments and struggle to get them back, but it’s all worth it for these blissful moments where horse and rider have come together in harmony. There is nothing like it, and we live out similar moments throughout our lives.

We are living in worrying times, and there have been days I’ve felt particularly bogged down by all the loss and uncertainty facing us all. Months at home with my children has been a blessing in some respects, however I’d be lying if I claimed it didnt have plenty of daily struggles. I recieved Minister Zapponne’s preschool reopening letter the other day, and I wasn’t overly shocked by any of it. It’s all been hinted upon as we’ve watched European countries reopen for weeks, and Ireland has done remarkably well at the fight against this virus. What struck me wasn’t new information either, I think it was just seeing it on paper. Zappone stated that while we will not expect young children to be able to social distance, it will be a requirement for the over 6’s. And I understand this, and I am not disagreeing with the need for these actions. But wow it threw me! I found myself welling up, thinking about my little boy heading off to school in September, so excited to be reunited with his friends. And then the realisation that he can’t touch or stand close to his best buddy, that everything has changed, and he’s only seven years old. What does all this do to young children? I just feel so sorry for children and teens. And suddenly I began to dread the thought of schools reopening again and realised I need to make the most of our remaining home time together and stop letting myself get so bogged down. I’m fortunate, my children are young and fairly easy to entertain. The sun has been shining daily, a phenomenon rarely seen in Ireland. I can get past the daily frustrations and worries.

I woke up yesterday feeling better, and closed my course notes and cast my assignments aside for the day. I put down my phone and opened the door, literally pushing us all out into the beautiful morning sunshine. We worked on the garden, went for a beautiful country walk, and ate hotdogs and icepops. And throughout the day that familiar, yet faraway feeling, was with me. The feeling that everything was coming together like those hard earned moments in the dressage ring. There was comfort, and things were suddenly at ease. Most of all my mind was quiet for a little while, we were present in the moment, and our smiles were bright.

Yesterday things came together. Lovely moments with these three in the sun!

When things come together in life and feel just right, I often think back to those years training in the dressage ring. All that training and hard work for those fleeting blissful moments. In my current life, those moments where I rememeber to sit up tall, eyes forward, breathing deeply as I did in the arena, make everything come together from time to time. The payoff of quiet blissful moments with my children. As with dressage, I’m learning family life takes an awful lot of effort and patience, ups and downs. But the reward is huge, heartfelt, and worthwhile.

Be well friends, may you all find your own blissful moments wherever and whenever they come.

Published by L Higgins

Never a dull moment! I was born and raised in America before meeting my Irish husband and eventually making the move to Galway in 2006. We were never known to take it easy, but life is now busier than ever with a six year old son and two year old twin girls. As a Montessori Teacher and Mom, my days (and nights) are filled with the sounds of childhood play and laughter... and of course the occasional tears. In many ways living in Ireland is very similar to life in America, and yet in others they are worlds apart. But in our house, all cuddled up on the couch at the end of a busy day, we are our own little clan of 5. I wouldn't change it for the world!

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