Time to read: About 7 minutes
Living the Dream
I was inspired by Karen’s two pure bred Arabian horses. Karen is my dearest friend and on our TravelPaws team. There was something about her horses that got to me. I’ve always been terrified of horses, yet I found myself drawn to these magnificent beasts. They were so majestic. They sensed my fear but were intrigued. Over time and watching my growing interest, Karen suggested that I take riding lessons and recommended a riding school that caters for people with disabilities. It was not just my visual impairment the school needed to cater for, but also the symptoms of my brain injury. In particular, my balance and my anxiety. I was terrified but agreed to try. Somehow, at some deep level, I knew I would love horse riding. Mel, my carer thoroughly researched the riding school and booked me a session. She explained to them my history and I was reassured the experience would be tailored to my needs.
I pack for all kinds of weather and situations for Nixon in his ‘horsey bag’: a shade tent, collapsible water bowl, plenty of water, a comfy rug, a warm coat and rain jacket, towels for drying off, his cooling vest, poo bags, first aid kit, a towel for muddy paws, dog friendly sunscreen and repellent spray, his toy, nylabone and of course his car harness and seat protector.
We arrive. I kiss Guide Dog Nixon gently on the nose as I tell him I will be off for a couple of hours. He is carefully watching me from the backseat of Mel’s car as I go to meet Sally, my riding instructor, nearby. Mel takes Nixon for a wee and sets him up in the shade with all his needs from the horsey bag. Job done - Mel is looking after my boy.
Sally guides me around the property and the first thing she shows me are the features of the school that are set up for riders with disabilities: a special ramp and vaulting barrel with saddle and stirrups for mounting practise, and saddles with customised grips. She is utterly professional and sensible. I am put at ease.
We meet the horse that Sally hand selects, Coriander. Coriander is ready to meet me. She is gentle and kind and has soft eyes that melt your soul. I start to relax. I spend time just talking softly to her. Sally explains how routine is so important for a horse. It’s not a case of just hopping on. I groom her, walk her around the arena, and only then, take her for a ride. I can appreciate this, because routine helps me feel in control of my life. So, I brush her all over, in timid gentle strokes, not sure how much pressure I should apply. I comb her mane, being extra careful not to pull her hair. She is melting with every touch. We are bonding.
It is obvious that Nixon wants to meet this animal who is spending the day with his mum. So, Sally guides Coriander over to meet him. Nixon’s tail wags - he’s made a new friend! I crouch down to enjoy this moment with my boy and his new friend.
Sally then guides me to a small arena with Coriander. She takes off her reins and lead rope. I put my left hand on Sally’s shoulder, and I gently rest my right hand on Coriander’s neck. Coriander walks alongside as Sally and I take our first steps. Coriander is tuned into my needs and knows exactly what to do. She sets her pace to mine. I don’t feel vulnerable. I don’t feel insecure. She knows my weaknesses and is helping me to overcome them.
We then walk over to the mounting ramp. Sally leads Coriander and guides me as I walk. We tie Coriander to a post and Sally guides me to the ramp. I practise getting on and off the vaulting barrel which has the saddle and stirrups attached, stepping off the mounting ramp. Nixon is looking on from a distance, intrigued by what I am doing. I have a feeling he’s proud of his mum. We do this many times until I am confident.
Sally and her helper then bring Coriander to the mounting ramp. The time has come. I clumsily mount her with the support of both for balance. This is surprisingly easy. I feel natural in the saddle. I know in an instant what my mum talks about when she speaks of her childhood passion for horses. A passion I could never understand till now. I stay on Coriander as Sally holds her lead rope to guide us through the horse trails in the paddocks. We walk brushing soft branches, over logs, around obstacles and even on the side of a lake so I can feel what it is like to walk through water. We enter an arena so I can feel the different surface of compacted sand and the clop clop sound under Coriander’s feet.
Opening the gate, holding Nixon by his lead, Mel lets us back in to where we started. Wow this is amazing.
Now for the dismount. This is less than graceful, and well supported by Sally and her helper.
I feed Nixon and Coriander sliced carrots together. They both eat with delight. I say my goodbyes to them all as Nixon guides me away. Well, I have found my calling and my Nixon has made new friends…
Nina Smith is the Founder & Director of TravelPaws and Handler of Guide Dog, Nixon.