That’s what happened Sunday night, when I decided to ride Mystic after several days of draping myself over him like a human saddle bag and lying horizontally on his back, one leg cocked for a rapid dismount in case he decided he’d had enough.
I’d been keeping track of his reactions, which were tense at first—rigid neck, ears swiveled backward, back muscles tight as a spring rod—but softened incrementally with each day. Whereas at first he’d shifted his body away from the mounting block every time I tried to park myself on his back, he began standing still beside the block. I interpreted this as a good-faith offer, a generous gesture I didn’t take lightly.
I don’t know exactly how or why I knew it was time to ride him on Sunday. It just felt right—and he’d tacitly given me the green light with his body language. Frankly, I think we both were ready to move on from this potato-sack-on-his-back stuff.
I’d like to say it felt magical to settle on Mystic’s bare back and let my legs dangle on either side of his curving belly. Actually, it felt weird. I’d spent two months playing on the ground with him, getting to know him at eye level. We’d walked and run alongside each other like two kids at recess. And now I was on top of him. It reminded me of the first time my father hoisted me on his shoulders: How exhilarating but also strange to perch atop this 6’5” man whom I’d known at knee height. I experienced a whole new perspective of the world and of my dad, whose prickly balding head was rather startling up close.
The world looked different from atop Mystic too. Despite my anxiety—was I unintentionally gripping him with my legs? what were his emotions? was I flexing his neck often enough?—I gradually began to feel his movements beneath me. My nervous rigor mortis subsided, and my hips began to sway slightly with his stride. Hey, we were riding together! We walked over some poles, did some smallish turns, and moseyed along the rail.
No one witnessed our inaugural ride. The arena was quiet, James was playing golf, and Kate was inside their house. That whole first ride could have been a flight of my imagination. But it happened—Mystic and I have that shared memory. Call it our private moment.
Our public moment—and second ride—happened today. Several Fiore Farms boarders watched, cheering Mystic and me forward, beaming with the knowledge of how hard we’d worked to get to this point. This time Kate documented us on camera while reminding me, “Breathe!” I would have forgotten to inhale-exhale without her kindly prompts. I held my breath out of nervousness (I so wanted to do everything right for Mystic’s sake) but also out of shock that this was really happening. I was riding the white horse I dreamed of as a little girl.
And, just as dreams open doors to a future we unconsciously already know, this ride on a real-life white horse opened doors to undreamed-of possibilities for Mystic and me.