Getting Back on that (Writing) Horse

I went horseback riding last month, for the first time in about [number redacted for security reasons] years. I grew up in Los Angeles, owned a horse, and went riding a couple times a week. My husband grew up in Southern Utah, had horses in his backyard, and had never been on one in his life. Go figure.

So I decided it was time to see what my life’s companion looked like on horseback. (Spoiler: like someone way more comfortable with a steering wheel in one hand and a gear shifter in the other.)

It wasn’t until right before the big moment that I started to wonder about what I would look like on horseback. Even though I rode all the time as a teenager. Even though I’ve been bucked off, stepped on, kicked, and shoveled more manure than I ever want to see again. Ever. Even though I endured months of riding lessons, walking, jogging, and cantering around in circles while my teenaged instructor made out with her boyfriend in the middle of the ring (which made me an expert in boredom, if nothing else).

So, yeah, I used to be an ok rider, but remember that number? The big one at the beginning of this post?

But of course that’s not the real reason I was worried. The real reason is plain ole’ everyday stage fright. The tittering voice in the back of our heads that tells us we’re just not good enough, and why on earth would we put ourselves on display like that when it would be so much easier to go sit in a corner somewhere?

Getting Back on that (Writing) Horse

I don’t know about you, but this gnawing doubt has always been part of my writing experience. As with riding, I took several years off from writing seriously. There was always a reason. My kids were young. I had just started a new job. I went through a divorce, and then a remarriage. But at heart, the real reason was this: I knew, just knew, that real writers had something I didn’t, and that nobody could possibly be interested in what I had to say.

Until I realized that there was something missing in my life, something I missed desperately. So I started taking my writing seriously again. But it took me some time to feel comfortable with it.

To return to my dubious horse metaphor—I was convinced I’d make a fool of myself, even though the poor little mare I hoisted myself onto wasn’t much bigger than I am. There was little resemblance to my old horse, Aman Mirage. Aman had been a piss-and-vinegar half-Arabian with attitude to spare. The horse before me now made me think of Banjo, the tired, grizzled pony I rode once a week until he died at age 24. I hoped this one wasn’t about to die, as well.

Now, I’d known all along this ride would be no heroic adventure. It was a cruise ship shore excursion, of all things, designed to suit every possible level of physical fitness. Sleepy toddlers would have finished the journey with their slumbers intact. I think my horse slept through it, too.

But I’ll admit, it took a minute before everything started to come back. And I felt so sorry for my little horse that I didn’t have the heart to push her into anything more energetic than follow the leader. But soon my feet fell into place, my hands remembered their job, and my back straightened up. Turns out riding a horse is like riding a bike. And you know what they say about riding a bike.

My “aha” moment, the profound thought that inspired this post, was when I noticed my right hand. These reins were short, but I had learned to ride Western style, with long, trailing reins. I glanced down, and caught my right hand resting on my thigh, looking forlorn. It was missing those trailing reins. My right hand had remembered what to do, even though I had never consciously reminded it. Here I was, trying to force myself to remember everything, and all along, my hand just lay there, unconcerned, wondering where the rest of the reins were.

I was trying too hard, as usual. When I started writing again, too, it took some time to relax and let my word-generating muscles take over. I (mostly) stopped worrying about what people would think and just let myself do it. And pretty soon, things started rolling along.

We’re all here because we love words—reading them and writing them. But we don’t always consciously remember what we know. Sometimes all it takes is to flex those muscles to get them doing their thing. And soon enough, we’re riding off into the sunset.

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Kristina Starmer lives in Southern Utah with her husband, son, dog, and more cats than she likes to admit. When not working as a university chemistry lab manager, she can most likely be found rereading one of her favorite books. She is passionate about traveling to new places, ice cream with lots of mix-ins, and the peaches from her garden. Her favorite children’s book is The Owl and the Pussycat and her favorite element is copper. She writes renaissance-era historical fiction topped with a generous scoop of magic.

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