Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Somewhat Less of a Rider


                                                    Originally published in Horse Directory,  November  2012
By Tom Gumbrecht

It happens. Middle age spread. When we step on the scale and it’s obviously broken. When the dryer keeps shrinking our stuff. When chair legs loosen and couch springs snap. All clues, gone largely unheeded. More comfort was found in believing, “They just don’t make things the way they used to” than in facing reality.
Reality, though, is the place where our horses live, even if we as riders take occasional, or frequent, excursions from it. My Paint gelding, DannyBoy, was gregarious and huge, and a few extra pounds on his rider didn’t phase him in the least. But I was no longer riding him regularly, working now, instead, with my Off-Track Thoroughbred mare, Lola. It was a harsh wake-up call when I saw her approach me with a loving eye and a Weight Watchers brochure in her mouth. She dropped it at my feet while never breaking her liquid gaze that said, “You are my everything. I just wish there were a tiny bit less of you.” Partly because I knew the message was true, and partly because it was delivered by such a gentle soul, I answered the call.

Middle age spread. It happens. DannyBoy never minded much.
 I went online to check on the local Weight Watcher’s meeting. I knew it worked, because it was not my first trip down this path <sigh>.  My weight gain was slow and gradual, maybe a half-pound a month or less, over a period of seven or eight years. And I knew that crash diets didn’t work for me: my loss would need to be gradual and consistent as well. I introduced myself at my first meeting.  As is typical in these gatherings, new members are encouraged (but not compelled) to share what inspired us to walk through the doors of WW. Predictably, people made statements such as, “I want to live a healthier lifestyle” and  “My doctor said to live a longer life I should lose weight” or, “I want to be able to play with my kids (or grandkids) instead of just sitting in a chair, watching them play.”

All probably true statements, and very worthy inspirations, for sure, if perhaps just a little trite.  Then they got to me:  “My inspiration is a nine year old former racehorse named Lola.” Without much encouraging, I expanded: “The horse I used to compete on was a big guy who didn’t care, or even probably notice, if I put some extra pounds on.  Lola, on the other hand, is slender of build as Thoroughbreds tend to be, and while she doesn’t complain, the depths that our partnership have evolved to has made me want to be absolutely the best rider I can be, to be worthy of riding a horse such as she.  Part of that involves losing the weight I have put on.”

The room fell silent.  I’m not sure if people were spellbound by the gravity of the testimony they had just borne witness to, or they thought I was crazy. Either way, they continued to treat me pretty well in the aftermath.  And so my journey began.  As a person, I am tailor-made for a program such as this, where you can basically eat anything you want as long as you account for it.  Somewhere in the accounting process, I found myself making better choices.  And the weight started to come off weekly, three pounds, one pound, two and a half pounds, and time continued to pass as the scale became increasingly kinder each week.  Now, eight months later, with some new breeches and new belts to hold them up, I am at the weight I set out to be last winter, and Lola no longer bolts when I go to catch her in the paddock.

Lola. I'm her everything, but she's glad there's now less of me.
 Lola has become somewhat of a celebrity at my weekly meeting.  Although none of the members has actually met her, they seem amused by my slightly exaggerated tales of Lola’s campaign to get me to, and keep me involved in, a weight loss program. Recently, we were asked once again to share from personal experience, this time about the ways in which our weight loss had benefitted us.  “Much more energy!” Yes, of course. “Less joint pain.”  Yeah, me too. “Lower blood pressure, less snoring, lower cholesterol.” Didn’t have those problems (with possible exception of snoring) but yes, that’s a huge benefit.  Then, my turn..

“Here’s a huge benefit I’ve seen, which is largely symbolic but truly valuable in a practical sense as well. Probably not many of you know or can appreciate the significance of what we as riders call ground mounting.  In an English saddle, most of us use a mounting block or get a leg-up from another person to mount our horse. Ground mounting, which involves bringing your toe up to your belly button, placing your foot in the iron, and thrusting yourself up onto your 16hh horse’s back, is a technique reserved for teenagers and Olympic athletes.  At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself for the past few years.  Well recently, I decided to school Bella, another mare of ours, on the trail.  A point came where I had to dismount to guide her over what she thought was a life threatening monster looming under the bridge spanning a creek.  Once on the other side, looking around for a tree stump or a log to aid my re-mounting, I found none.  I thought for a minute, then decided to try something I had not been able to attempt in over ten years: I slowly brought my left foot up to my belly, pushed it with my fingers into the iron, bounced on my right leg one, two, and YES! I was in the saddle! And THAT is what losing weight has done for me…”

Lola no longer bolts when I catch her.

Once again, my non-horsey audience was riveted by tales of my accomplishments on horseback. They were… cordial. Okay, tolerant. They indulged me my moment. Which was just fine. This is one time I’m glad to be thought of as “less of a rider.”

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  1. Another brilliant and engaging piece of writing on a topic many, many equestrians this side of the Olympics and that side of 40 face! Very nicely written, this was a pleasure to read. Congratulations on the weight loss and on the continued partnership with Lola. You two are worthy of one-another, and I thank you for sharing your stories.

  2. If I call you a lightweight in this instance, believe me it is a compliment. Well done!!!!

  3. Enjoyed this terribly, and I have lost 30lbs with WW as well. I too would use my horse often in my meetings, describing my successes. My horse used to groan with each step out on a trail ride while exhaling (he's very melodramatic). He still does it, but much less often, and since I'm at my goal weight, I don't put much stock in his complaints! Some people are so very removed from the world of horses, our stories seem to sound almost as if we're from some foreign land. Good job on the weight loss, your relationship with Lola, and your excellent blog.