Memoir Writing Life

Unintentional Galloping

When I was in middle school, I took horseback riding lessons from folks who lived in a broken down old house but who took fantastic care of their horses. Sometimes I came straight from ballet class, and I had to pull my jeans over pink ballet tights, leave my skirt and slippers in the car and lace up my tan Timberline boots. I was a quick study and easily learned how to get my horse to respond. I learned to give the appropriate kicks to get him to trot, to jump over logs, banks and ditches. I learned to canter, my favorite stride.

After a while, I begged my instructor to teach me how to gallop.

I was sure I was ready.

I did not look like this.

She disagreed.

One day, after school, my friend Kim suggested we take her horses out bareback – no saddles or stirrups – “Just bridles,” she’d said. “Because you always want to have the reins.”

An unseasonably warm fall day, the woods near Kim’s house were filled with trails and we casually bumped along on the horses’ backs under pine trees and blue skies. Eventually, we came to an open field where the trail disappeared. Surrounded by tall grasses, the oranges and yellows and browns of late October trees, Kim and I were quiet; our animals walked side-by-side, the sound of their hooves beating the earth was calm and rhythmic.

Until it wasn’t.

All I know is that suddenly I was clinging to the neck of an unfamiliar horse, my legs kicked out wildly behind me, bumping in an unfamiliar gait, which I assumed meant I was galloping. And since I’d never galloped before, I didn’t know what to do — especially without stirrups to steady myself.

And then I started to slip.

I tried to grab the reins that had slid through my fingers, but I couldn’t reach them. As the dust made it impossible for me to see, I had no choice but to give in to the will of a black horse that simply needed to run. And when I could not hold on any longer, I fell onto the ground, smashing my head against a big rock.

I was sure I was going to be trampled to death.

Or at least have a bloody nose.

As I huddled on the ground, I remember thinking, If I survive, one day, this will make a great story.

Truth be told, I loved the thrill of the ride, the holding on and not knowing where I was going-adrenaline-rush.

(Note: The falling off part was not so hot.)

Riding horses isn’t so different from writing. With both writing and riding, there are basics that one must first master. Just as a novice equestrian can’t go from walking to galloping in one day, a beginning writer cannot produce a great novel in a week, a month or a semester. One must first become a smart writer. One must learn the art of storytelling. Of suspense. One must understand the rules of grammar and punctuation. And then learn when it is appropriate to break these rules. One must learn the nuances of language, play with all the modes of discourse, and acquire eyes that can fearlessly revise. As well as a million other things.

If I were still actively riding horses, I would have to practice.

Every day.

Like I do with my writing.

At least seven-hundred words every day.

Because the more I practice, the easier the writing becomes.

Sometimes a piece of writing slides out effortlessly like a new foal birthed in a spring field. But other times — like with that crazy Arabian — my words get away from me and they want me to start describing things like the uncomfortable red chair in the corner of the room, which clearly does not belong in this piece. It’s okay. This ballerina-cowgirl learned long ago that sometimes she has to pull leather chaps over her jeans and tights and click her tongue and say, “No! We are not going over there!” She is not afraid to give a little kick and tug her writing in a different direction.

Some days I drop the reins on purpose and let my muse take me somewhere. And I don’t know where I’m going and the whole getting there is scary and, in the end, what I’m left with is sometimes raw or terrifying. Or awesome.

But sometimes it is a disorganized mess.

It happens.

As I said, I like the thrill of the ride: the not knowing where I’ll end up.

For me, writing is like unintentionally riding bareback on a galloping horse. It isn’t the easiest or the smartest way to get somewhere, and Lord knows it isn’t pretty to watch, but eventually I end up where I’m supposed to be. Usually without even a concussion.

What is writing like for you? I’d love to know. Or maybe you’d rather tell me about your experiences with horses. Or falling off horses. Maybe you’d rather tell me about your experiences as a dancer. Or falling as a dancer. Oh, just say something.

39 thoughts on “Unintentional Galloping

  1. I learned to ride at summer camp, and loved the feel of cantoring also. One of the traditions at my camp was that the first time you fell off a horse (and it always happened at least once), you were awarded membership into the “Dusty Bottoms Club”. I only fell off once!

    1. I love riding. These days it’s very hard to find a place to go for a casual trail ride — what with insurance and people being afraid of being sued. Every time we go on vacation, I always go. Always. Craziest adventure was in Mexico. Most languid: Hawaii. Hardest workout: Bryce National Park. I couldn’t walk for a few days.

      I love the “Dusty Bottoms Club”!

  2. I really enjoyed this! I think the procrastination paid off. Such a perfect description of writing. I’m sure I’ll spend my day at work coming up with what writing is like for me. I have no experiences falling off a horse. I fell down a mountain once — well, I rolled. It was dramatic and ripped my favorite pair of jeans. But that’s another story …

  3. It’s funny you mention ballet dancing and horseback riding together. My daughter took ballet lessons forever (or so it seemed) and also took horseback riding lessons. She was good at both. My ex husband had a theory that because she had such good control over her body that she could sense control over the horse and be a better rider. I don’t know how true that is. i have ridden a little and enjoy it but I’m not that good and I’m no dancer. But it made sense to me.

    1. For me, the two activities complemented each other. They worked different muscles — but both are still very much about control and letting go of control. (Obviously, I like the letting go part.)

      And what girl doesn’t want to wear a tutu AND cowboy boots. I think it’s an archetype or something. 😉

  4. What a fun game! Thanks for the introduction to your writing friends. I will look forward to seeing what they come up with.
    I really like your comparison of a run away horse and writing. I too have been in that exact situation, but somehow hung on. No bridle just by gripping the mane. I could have killed my cousin Dave who shot out with his horse causing mine to follow! I write my fiction that way; rapidly racing one line after another.
    Fun post!

    1. Thanks Susie!

      You are welcome to try the meme if you’d like. It took me forever. Because I am slow like that.

      Good to know you survived your runaway horse, too. Yee ha! And I’m glad you liked the connection to writing. 😉

  5. I was going to say that I’ve never ridden a horse, but that’s not entirely true… though I didn’t exactly sit on it in normal way, as you’ll see from the first photo in my post Me and Cowbows. My sister was a horse-addicted person, so I know the ‘type’, lol!

    For me, writing is just something I do. I find myself doing it even when I am not aware that I want to. But I find deadlines – not just writing ones – and particularly deadlines imposed on me by other people, very creativity-destroying. So I write when the urge takes me. Which it does quite frequently. 🙂

    1. Val: I think that is why it was so nice when Susan said, “Don’t worry — just take your time.” I freed me up and I didn’t feel like I had to push something out quickly. Even though the idea came to me immediately, the writing was able to unfold slowly. And I could continue to do other things without worrying I was letting someone down.

      I’m grateful to Susan for that kindness.

  6. I couldn’t quite comprehend why your peaceful ride turned chaotic until several paragraphs later you said “Arabian”. No further explanation required. Horses are like that box of chocolates and many of the Arabians seem to be the ones that include nuts. I’m glad you weren’t seriously injured, although the rock to head experience could explain the invention of words like castanurgle. Thanks for sharing this and all the other recent posts that I’ve not had time to litter with my comments.

  7. Yes ma’am Mrs. Teacher, I will participate. I’ll try to bang something out in less than 9 months though. Maybe even in the next day or so! I fell off a horse while riding back when I was a kid. If you haven’t read this, I talk about it a little here: All your readers should read this anyhow, so they know what they are getting into by possibly affiliating themselves with me. Now regarding the uhhh… twitter account… I’ve…uhhh… had one for awhile now… and… uhhh… I’m pretty sure you’re following me… and… ummm… you’re freaking me out a little bit.

  8. I have been on a galloping horse once, at a company picnic when I was a teen. At the end of the day, those horses were just done, and as we were riding back to the stables, they took off. I hated trotting, it was so uncomfortable and jouncy. But galloping… It was terrifying. And exhilarating and wonderful. Mind you, I was in a saddle, but I still thought I could fly off of this thing at any moment. It did feel rather like flying. But the most amazing thing is how smooth the ride was. You and the horse are a unit, one rhythm. It was magical.

    I’ve had moments like that in writing, too, when the words and sentences start to get away from me. Sometimes I reign them in. And other times their will is so strong that I have to just let go and see where they take me. That’s like magic, too.

    1. I feel that way about cantering; the oneness. Galloping without a saddle was just plain stupid. (But so thrilling! I’ll never forget it!)

      And as you said, that thrill can be found in writing, too — if we are lucky enough to let the muse take us somewhere and not worry about the consequences. 😉

      Nice to read your words, skippingstones.

  9. I suppose all tangible art expressions are an attempt to freely give a part of who we were , what we did, and how we felt to posterity. I have been doing so for 40 years and my posterity is still terrible and hurts when I stand up or sit down.

  10. That really did make a great story, which I’m glad you survived to write! I actually was sitting there feeling a little panicked when I realized, “Wait, I do know how this story ends!” 😉

    Horses evoke memory of my first love. I was twelve to his fifteen, and found everything he did enchanting and lovely. Even the hard stories he had to tell about his past were beautiful when expressed by him. I never loved horses myself, but I loved them when he told me about why he loved them.

    I loved them, too, when Li’l D and I visited my friend Mack a few months ago. I had that same sense of seeing the horses through my own eyes (“well, yes, fuzzy things are neat”) and through Li’l D’s eyes (“HORSIES, MOMMY! HORSIES! OUTSIDE HORSIES!” shouted first thing each morning). Life’s a little more magical when I get to see it through my own eyes and through others’ eyes, which is why I love reading so much, and also why I love writing. Writing is like bridge-building to me: there’s someplace you want to allow someone else to be, but you need to give them a way to get there. Parts of it are easy, but other parts–such as when you occasionally look down and realize what exactly you’re trying to do a mile up over a currently dry river–can be a little terrifying. I figure writing/blogging buddies are the Shrek to our Donkey in those situations, urging us along till we’re shocked to find ourselves on the other side.

    1. I heart you so much, Deb.

      I think most girls have a thing for horses at one time or another. And I’m happy to hear that L’il D liked seeing the HORSIES too. (I can practically hear that squeal… even though I’ve never heard that squeal. Still. I hear it.)

      Am I the only one who thinks it is cool that I found a moving graphic to put in the blog? 😉

  11. Love this analogy! I was especially touched by the line, “…and acquire eyes that can fearlessly revise.” I suppose because that can sometimes be the most challenging part about writing! Actually, the MOST challenging thing for me is fiction – creating fleshed-out characters from my imagination. I was also glad to hear you say it’s okay to break the rules 😉 I break them so often I wonder when I’ll get put on probation!!

    1. I’m trying to teach my students to rip things apart. They are so tentative. They only want to fix the superficial stuff. But they are a smart bunch, this group. They’ll be pulling out the hack-saws soon and tearing things apart.

      Right now, they are strictly saddles on. 😉

      How’s the contest going? Have I won yet?

  12. Writing, to me, is verbal choreography. As a former dancer, I do know it takes heart, brains, muscle, stamina, balance, yearning, the soul of an artist and the mechanical perfection of an engineer to produce a composition that will touch others. Here’s a haiku to some it up:

    What is art, you ask?
    In all its forms and splendor?
    Mind made visible.

    Thanks, Renee, for your always stimulating questions.

    1. Oooh, that is interesting. I used to dance, too. So what if you don’t read the words aloud? Is it a silent dance? A non-verbal choreography? Like a girl, outside, standing on a dock — hovering just above the water — dancing with the wind? I like that image; it reminds me of myself when I was young and I would do things like that.

      I like your haiku. “Mind made visible.” 😉

  13. I must tell you dear lady that your inclusion of me in the challenge was a big surprise; I typically write things most people don’t want to hear – so you turned me into the proverbial deer in the headlights. I think it will be fun and agonizing at the same time, maybe that’s what a Castanurgle really is.
    On the subject of horse-back riding, I do have experience in this but only as a wee lad. I was too small to ride with a saddle as my dinky legs wouldn’t reach the stirrups at their shortest setting. So I learned to ride a 16hand Palomino cutting horse bareback. The trick I learned was as the juggernaut reached terminal velocity I would slide my knees up till they clung along the top of the withers while I clung to a fist full of mane. I imagine it is much like how jet pilots describe the ride just before they break the sound barrier – jars your teeth out and then BANG – its the smoothest ride in the world. I was stunned at how fast and buttery the ride was. I think I actually yelled YEE-HA! (but in my tiny man voice it probably sounded to the horse much like a gnat). In my mind I was soaring in the stratosphere.

    1. See Brother, it is precisely THAT kind of writing that has me interested in seeing what you might do with this meme. Because you are a great writer. And I don’t think you write things people don’t want to hear. You just have a different take, is all.

      And that is from the Jewish girl in the room. 😉

  14. Oh, horses. I love horses. They were my best friend in jr high, and I fell off of our fiesty quarter horse more than a dozen times. Of course, half of those times were when I was practicing standing in the saddle. Hehe.
    I love this post, it reminded me about the wild thrill of riding a galloping horse. Love your writing, Renee!

    1. There you are! FINALLY! I’ve been waiting for you to show up.

      Thank you for challenging me to do something different. I know it didn’t have to be this long. I know some people just write one liners. But I like the ride, if you know what I mean.

  15. Great piece, Renee, and I agree that writing is a lot like riding a horse, sometimes you just don’t want to do it, and other times you want to get on and run across the country. . . Steve from BRC tagged me and I’ll be writing something soon. . .

    By the way, I just transitioned from five years of teaching middle school writing. . .fun, fun, until it wasn’t (to steal your line). . . I taught a lot and learned a lot. . .

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