By Ellie Riley
The glitter of the dew on the green grass seems to light the path to the pasture gate. The sky is still painted with streaks of peach, lavender and grey and the mountains are cloaked in a light blue mist. The only sounds are the swish of my boots in the wet grass and the chirps and trills of the birds welcoming the world to the morning.
The air is still cool and the humidity of yesterday seems to have all settled on the ground before it will surely emerge again this afternoon. I can only see two rumps over the edge of the hill in my horses’ pasture. I call out “Magiiiiiiic, Cowboooooy, come on!” and the taller brown rump turns quickly into a set of ears rushing toward the gate to meet me. The small coppery red rump moves much more slowly, there’s no hurrying the old man to his breakfast. He seems to know his retirement entitles him to his own pace. Magic dives his head into his halter and nudges me expectantly for the treat he knows I have for him. We wait for Cowboy until I throw a lead over his neck and he follows us in, sometimes deciding to grab mouthfuls of wet clover along the edges of the path to the barn. The three of us, the birds and our breath set the rhythm of the sounds in the barn. Cowboy puts himself in his stall and heads towards his breakfast waiting in his bucket. Magic waits for me to unclip his lead before grabbing one bite of alfalfa on his way to his feed bin.
It’s earlier than I would normally choose to be at the barn or even to be awake, but the horses get up with the birds and morning rides are necessary when the summer temperatures and humidity are oppressive by noon. I’ve learned that dragging myself out of bed is worth it when I get to spend a few hours in the company of the horses, the birds and the disappearing dew. Magic, my big bay OTTB and I love our morning hacks around the winery where he lives. I approach his stall and he meets me at the door, knowing it’s time to head to the wash stall for grooming. He settles into the cross ties and rests a hind leg as I flick the dirt off of his shiny summer coat. I don’t bother actually attaching the cross ties and he just stands looking handsome in his leather halter with the black cotton lead hanging in front of him. Not exactly Pony Club approved, as my background would dictate, but the quiet of our mornings together keeps my attention focused on him and his familiarity with our routine is understood. We both know what we are going to do before we do it and trust each other to be respectful. I know he won’t walk away as I enter the tack room to grab my forgotten gloves and he knows I won’t spray fly spray on his ears, but on his fly bonnet instead. He lowers his head as I slip the bridle on and I ask him if he wants to go for a walk. He nods as if he knows exactly what I’m saying, and he probably does. There’s no intelligence like that of a Thoroughbred and his deep brown eyes are full of wit and a hint of mischievousness, something I love most about him.
On my cue, Magic strikes off at a brisk walk towards his favorite trail
. I don’t just choose to ride in the mornings because of the peace and quiet, but also because it’s important to work my horses while the air is cooler. In addition to cooler temperatures, the humidity can be a huge factor in how effectively your horse can recover after exercise. The higher the humidity, the more quickly the horse will begin to sweat and the more slowly the sweat will evaporate, thus slowing the cooling process and making your horse’s body work less efficiently. It’s very important to do any heavy work before the temperatures and humidity climb, especially if you live in an area where both are combined. After all summer rides it’s important to make sure your horse’s temperature and respirations have returned to normal. The summer is a great time to get yourself and your horse more fit and riding early in the morning is the best way to start your day. You’ll finish feeling accomplished and your attitude and stress level
will be suitable to take on any challenges you may find at work or school after you leave the barn.
As Magic and I make our way up the small hills along the edge of the lake, I realize that mornings with him are really magic. Not only is he stretching his legs, building a top line with our long walks on undulating terrain and helping me to become rebalanced in the saddle after the birth of my first child, together we are building a relationship of trust and confidence. When he gives a little spook at a mama doe and baby deer that jump out of the bushes ahead of us, I tell him its ok and he approaches with confidence. A few months ago, he would’ve leapt into the air and refused to go forward if something out of the ordinary frightened him. We are both making progress as I’m learning to be the confident leader after losing a lot of confident in my own ability in the last year and he is learning that he can trust that it will be ok when I say, “move forward.” I realize how lucky we are to not only be able to start our day this way, but to be able to enjoy the wildlife and the scenery that surrounds us. Riding out on mornings like this will remind you why you started riding in the first place. Not for the ribbons and not for the long hours or hard work, but for the chance to extricate yourself from the everyday bustle of life as a human and to find your balance, both physically and mentally atop a beautiful and athletic horse. The crunch of his feet against the gravel drive means we are headed home. The rest of his day will be spent grazing in the field and avoiding the bugs in his fly sheet
, while mine will be spent answering emails and tending to an infant, but for now, it’s just us and the magic of the morning.
Go find your magic.
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