Recently, I was spending a few days at the beach in Morocco. I take surf lessons in the morning. It is lots of fun, but after two hours of getting pounded on by waves and more salt water in my nose than in the sea, I have had enough. I feel a bit down. Why is it so hard to learn a new sport or skill?
Then I see two Moroccan men with three gorgeous horses walking up and down the beach. Fast Arab horses. It’s been ages ago that I’ve been in the saddle. My best childhood memories are those where I would saddle up my horse Majoor. The name means ‘Major’ in dutch-yes, the army title- and he was already quite old when I got him, probably near fifteen years of age. I saved up for years to pay half of my very own horse, and twelve hundred and fifty guilders was a lot of money.
Every day before and after school, and most of my weekends, I spent in the stable and I loved to go out on my own and ride in nature. The best rides were when I would take the small path towards the stream at the back of the village. Majoor knew what was coming and would trot expectantly, pulling the reins, snorting. It soon would be hard to keep him from breaking into a canter, but I knew how to keep him steady. It would take at least twenty minutes to follow the path beside the stream, all the way up to the white building featuring two conspicuous domes, Star Observatory Halley. It was here my arms would feel like lead from having to pull the reins too tightly, and Majoor would break into a nervous sweat.
Then finally –finally- we would reach the end of the path and I would turn him around and there would be no way back. When I loosened my grip on the reins, this was Majoor’s que to start sprinting as fast as he could. Sometimes the path would be freshly mowed and I can see where we are going, but sometimes, the grass and weed would be knee high. It doesn’t matter, we are flying. I do as I see the jockeys do in magazines and on TV: stand up in my stirrups and lean forward. Majoor is panting and so am I, out of sheer exhileration. We go so fast, and I feel so free.
It is also dangerous. There are large holes in the grass and I do not wear a helmet. Sometimes images of Majoor tripping and breaking his leg, and me breaking my back, flash through my mind. But they never last long, as they are blown out by the wind that is whistling past my ears. In just five minutes we are back to where we started from, but every time it felt like an hour.
Remembering all the good times on Majoor, I want to ride a fast Arab horse. After a bit of haggling with the men that rent out the horses, we agree: twenty minutes riding on the beach. I ask if we can go fast. Yes we can, the man smiles. I am only wearing my surf shorts and have bare feet. The stirrups are partly made of rope and hurt my uncovered calves, as I am not wearing riding boots. It’s busy on the beach and we start with a light trot. My horse hardly moves. Kicking has little effect. I seem to have met the only slow Arab horse on the planet! The next five minutes I’m struggling to keep up with the other horses.
Then the crowd disappears and the man yells: ‘Faster?’ Yes, faster! My horse suddenly wakes up when the other horses speed up and breaks into a canter. I start to smile. It has been too long. It turns out my horse only knows two types of speed: very slow and very fast. And I get a little bit of both. When we turn around after fifteen minutes, the man asks if we want to go fast again, but this time a bit longer. He looks at me and asks ‘ You good rider?’ Yes, I say. And off he goes, along the edge of the water. Again I do not wear a helmet and with people around and rocks in the water, this is not very safe. But it does not matter. I’m back in the saddle.
Water splashes up beside me, clumps of mud are thrown in the air and my bare legs are pounding against the rope. My horse is so eager, and I give him free reign. We easily overtake the others and still faster we go. Free.
It only lasts a short few minutes but the smile is etched on my face for the rest of the day. I get off my sweating horse and look at my bruised calves. The man grins: ‘You very good horse rider’.
I’m reminded that all those years spent in the saddle have paid off, I will never forget how to ride a horse. And it will just take practice to learn how to master a new skill. Get back in the saddle.