This is my mare Laredo, pintaloosa extraordinaire. She's a very unregistered 14 hand chestnut with snowflake appaloosa patches on her rump and a lot of roaning going on. Technically graying: her mother was a pinto. Crossing pintos with apps tends to bleach color out of appies and fades them whiter as they age. The Potato is almost eleven. I got her as a three year old. (I'll tell you that story another time. Suffice to say I decided to buy her while I was in mid-air as my then-horse evaporated out from under me once too often.)
I started Laredo under saddle myself, patiently and thoroughly. I knew my steps on two legs were limited and I wanted a solid mount. She was already a smart, sensible boss mare, exactly what I wanted. A confident horse.
I climbed back on her six weeks after my leg was amputated, even before my first prosthesis fitting. Was I going to quit riding just because my left leg had been cut off above the knee?? Hell, no!
|Gifted Potato Princess Laredo and yrs truly|
This was the last remnants of my machismo. I was running on the fumes of my nerve. (Apparently courage is located in the knee.) I waved goodbye to my invincibility after a ride or two. It had to do with my age, too. Forty-five don't bounce like twenty. This was why I'd settled down with the Potato. I use to pride myself in climbing on (almost) every difficult horse I met; with one leg, I decided to stay in the shallow end of the pool. In the ring. Or the pasture. Always with a friend. It was a new definition of limitation. But it was appropriate. I was ready to go slower.
My method: I wore jeans with snaps all down the outside seam of one leg. When my mare was focused and ready to mount I led her to the wooden fence. I unsnapped my jeans leg, took off the prosthesis, leaned it against the fence and tied my pant leg in a knot. Then I climbed onto the fence, had Laredo step to the right spot and stand so I could slip right into the saddle. (At the local horsemanship clinic I went to every year, they got a big kick out it when I went as a uni-ped. "OK, everyone get mounted. Hold on a minute, Liz has to take off her leg.")
I missed the weight of my leg. I experimented with bean bags, cuff weights and things. The part of my left calf muscle against Laredo's flank was played by the long dressage whip in my left hand. I also found how well I could ride by my thighs, seat bones, weight and intention. And Laredo was great. She really enjoys being ridden; granted, she'd rather not be enclosed. (She wanted to be a cutting horse when she grew up.) But she definitely likes being in my herd and being given a job.
I rode those first few summers I was an amputee. Now it's been almost three years. I moved and I don't have a riding ring anymore. Still, no excuse. A thousand days without sitting on a horse? I've never gone that long in my life, not since my first pony ride when I was three or four. I wasn't out of equine commission more than eighteen months when I had osteomyelitis as a kid.
And now it's May. I need to get back on my horse. And look: I'm putting it in writing. I'm going to climb on my mare, even if we stay in the kiddy-pool of my homemade round pen. Laredo's game.
Hold me to it, OK?