Today after spin class I lay on the gym floor and rolled out my IT band for what seemed like an eternity. As I tried (and failed) not to groan and pull faces, I imagined a creator deciding to put together a person resembling a human being but so tightly constructed as to defy human form, just for shits and giggles. That would be me. Bad grammar intentional.
This made me think about the limitations with which we live. The obstacles we face and how we face them. And for some inexplicable reason it reminded me of when I used to take horseback riding lessons in Connecticut during my middle school years.
The facility — I forget what town it was in — was pretty expansive with both a large indoor ring and outdoor spaces for dressage and hunter jumper courses. One day we were shown a competition course that involved riding through the woods alone for a decent stretch. It also required memorizing directions and turning the correct way at a fork in the woods to stay on path. And finally, emerging from the wooded trail and jumping some fences. There may have been some other shit in there but I don’t recall.
The day of the competition was upon us. I was assigned a horse named Petey, a Dapple Grey, slightly long in the tooth. He was not very tall, had a sweet temperament and was generally a pleasant horse to ride. At least in my experience.
He was also completely blind in one eye.
And now for a little side note.
Despite my passion for riding and horses — a love affair that lasted for many years — I nevertheless experienced anxiety before every lesson. Sometimes I felt flutters in my stomach and a rather unpleasant creeping feeling. I shared this with no one.
Furthermore, I was a directional moron and not very good at learning the way or knowing which way to turn when faced with options. Some might argue that I still am and that I am able to function at a somewhat acceptable level only due to GPS and smart phones. But I actually think I have improved. Anyhow, I digress…
The day of the competition arrived. Off we went, Petey and I. We cantered into the woods. Petey, with his impaired vision, stumbled over a tree root, which caused me to lose one of my stirrups. Somehow I managed to get my foot back into the stirrup mid-canter, but as soon as I had done so I realized that I had caught the reins under my leg — I had managed to put my foot through the loop of the reins and then back into the stirrup in my rather spastic scramble to correct the SNAFU. Do you like that alliteration? Yes I thought so.
A cold finger began to poke at my intestines as I realized that I did not have proper control over the reins and because the horse was still cantering I couldn’t easily remove my foot again and get them. And the fences were coming up after the woods portion. The horse would not be able to jump with the reins tucked under my leg.
To top it off, Petey was nonplussed by the stumbling incident and his blindness made him paranoid. He sensed that something was amiss with the reins and his rider and so he began to turn his head all the way to one side to try and see what was going on with the good eye. All the while still cantering. Through the woods.
You realize of course that horses’ eyes are on the sides of their heads so being half blind is a different animal, so to speak, from having an unseeing eye when the eyes are right next to one another on the front of your face and the other eye can compensate. You get it, right?
In my frantic attempt to fix the reins and stirrup I stiffened up and my seat was all over the place, my ass slapping the saddle inelegantly. What’s more, during this turmoil, I am pretty sure I turned the wrong way, taking the incorrect path to the jumping course which would cost me time and cause points to be deducted once the instructors/judges realized my error.
As we tangled mess of horse and rider hurtled out of the woods, I finally had to stop and fix the reins so that Petey could extend his head to jump the fences. I was a jumble of nerves and so was poor Petey, still craning his neck in a futile attempt to see what was going on on his blind side.
The entire time this was happening I was experiencing anger (at myself for having lost the stirrup for I would not have done so had my knees been properly snug around the horse), embarrassment (for my ineptitude at losing the stirrup and turning the wrong way and the resulting poor time) and general unhappiness and disappointment and shit like that.
Basically I felt like a loser. I was a loser. I am a loser, I thought. No, even worse, I said to myself: You are a loser. J’accuse.
I remember the feelings so well.
You know, it’s funny. In retrospect I find the incident amusing. Ridiculous, really. And I remember that at the time I was not even aware that Petey was blind in one eye. I asked one of the instructors at the end what the deal was with him turning his head around and freaking out and she said, casually, “oh he’s blind in one eye.”
What the fuck, lady? But you know, it was the 80s and people weren’t worried about full disclosure and shit.
Some days I kind of feel like I did on that day. Everything goes wrong. Not the way I planned it. I take wrong turns. I feel like a loser. Or act like one. Or both. Sometimes I call myself one. But that’s ok. That’s life, isn’t it?
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.