Friday, April 27, 2012

Horseback Riding With Myself

I would love to say that my story with horses has come to a wonderful conclusion.  I dearly love them as I love all animals, but I haven't been able to reconcile my past experiences as well as my new found ones.  I still feel at times ignorant and undeserving of the knowledge and still a bit frustrated that I'm not as good of a horsemen that my fellow riders are.  I'm also insanely jealous of them as well.  Most of them are teenagers or younger and have the most uncanny, if I could say, natural ability to communicate with their equine companions that seem so unreal to me.  And the worst thing about all of this, is how out of place I feel as a 40+ salt and pepper hair, gay man, in a class of female teeny boppers, who can ride circles around me and jump fences, all the while I'm just trying to keep my horse from cutting the corners around the arena.

I'm currently not riding right now; I've had to stop in late 2010 because of health problems that have made it unsafe.   Problems with an untreatable, proximal positional vertigo being the main one as well as excessive weight gain, unpredictable heart fibrillations that cause dangerous lightheadedness, and a still as yet undiagnosed muscle atrophy, weakness, and neuropathy,  have made it difficult to make any progress on anything let alone dressage.  I don't really know if my riding days are over or not.  I hope that I can return to normal health.  But I just can't feel confidence in that happening as things seem to continue to slowly decline.  And to make it worse, other than the vertigo and heart issues, the doctors can't seem to find anything medically wrong with me. 

I've really been missing my time just being around those great creatures.  Grooming, hugging, leaning on, sitting on, smelling their sweat, picking their hooves, pulling their tails, giving them treats, whistling little songs to them while they crowd around me out in the paddock,  rubbing them on the brow and behind the ears until they practically fall asleep while their snotty snout is pressed into my stomach.  I've gotten so close to them now that I have gotten the point where I wish I could be one.  It's that way with all the animals I've ever made a connection to.   I see them as innocent, free spirits, always in the moment, with wonderful beauty and pure unconditional love.  Who wouldn't want to be them? 

Not to get too far off subject, as if there ever is a subject on a free-write post, but ever since I was 5 years old, I've spent much of my waking imagination in silent contemplation wondering what it would feel like to actually be one of the many animals that have occupied my waking sub-conscious.  I say 5 years old because that was how old I was when I had my first lucid dream that involved an animal.  It was a tiger. In that dream I also became a tiger and experienced an intimate and spiritually deep connection to the tiger that appeared to me.  I also felt a strong desire to never want to leave that dream and have pondered the experience off and on for decades since.  I don't know why I still remember that dream so vividly 35+ years later, but it was a life changing experience. One in which I don't really know how to explain, and it continues to be meaningful to me now, as well as many other similar experiences that I've had since, both in waking and non-waking dreams and meditations.  And aside from the apparent, if not superficial, similarity to the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes, it was nothing like Calvin & Hobbes, although I really do love that comic.

Only in recent years have I bothered to seriously look into these dreams to find out more about their possible significance and meaning.  And quite surprisingly, I've found many communities for that aspect of my life spanning from Therianopthy, to Native American spiritual traditions to the Furry Fandom.  So at this point, I can honestly claim I'm a furry and oddly enough, I actually couldn't care less about all the stigma and stereotypes associated with furries. They are my people, drama and all.

So what is the point of me saying all of this?  I don't know,
just to get it off my chest I suppose.  I haven't had a pet in my life for over 10 years.  That last one was a female tuxedo cat, who I still really miss.  We had a very special bond, as I've had with all the cats I've ever had.  She was always begging me to hold her up to the lights so that she could get at the moths.   I don't think I've ever gotten over her death.  She was suffering from an Alzheimer's like disease and it totally fucking sucked to see her go through the states of confusion she often went through.  She was only 12.
(1989-2001) picture taken circa 1994

Anyway, I wish I had the strength to just go down to the riding school again, but I also can't shake the feeling of being out of place there as if I don't belong.  It was easy for the most part to forget about that feeling when I could just jump on my horse and trot around the arena as it was just me, the instructor, and the horse.   But when I'm not riding, I become acutely aware of the dozen people there, and I am the only male.  And of course, the troublesome pink elephant in the arena that I wish wasn't there despite the common stereotype that all male dressage riders are gay.  I don't live in a gay friendly part of the country and there is always someone reminding me of that fact.

Some days I really hate my circumstances.  I really resent the shit my life has now.  And quite often I forget that in many other ways I have it really damn good!   It's as if one aspect of my life got amazingly better while others have reached their shelf life and are about to expire.  And it's those expiring parts that I never had the chance to make something of them.  For each day that passes, I find something new to regret.  

But, to avoid making this post a complete downer, I will include this cropped picture of me wearing my riding boots.  I'm on a horse.

Yeah, yeah, I know, toes forward! 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Horseback Riding With My Dad

My older brother affectionately called them Dumbass and Shithead.  Euphemistic terms of endearment I'm sure.  And in many ways, a direct reflection of how our dad thought of us as kids.  But the horses' real names were Stormy and Lancer.  Stormy was whitish in color. Lancer, a much younger sibling to Stormy, was black.  I wasn't a fan of most horse names.  I usually just referred to them as "The Black One" and "The White One" because I couldn't think of anything better.

They were, if I recall correctly, part Arabian and were rather feisty. They weren't the first horses my dad brought home though; the first one was a whitish mare named Lady Mary.  She died of something when she was around 8 years old.   She had only been with us for about a year when she developed some health problems, I thought, at the time it was probably from eating moldy hay, I didn't really know and wouldn't know until just a few months ago when talking to my mom about this story that I found out what really happened.   Lady Mary was pregnant and her uterus had detached.  I can imagine that she had suffering pretty badly.  She was not very old.  Shortly after she died, my dad got Stormy and Lancer.  But they were both sold about a year later so we could relocate to Northern Utah.

Growing up, I never knew much about horses despite the fact we spent a good number of years living in the southern Utah ranching country, where pretty much everyone was some sort of cowboy or ranch hand.  Not us though, we were somewhat city types even though we had never lived in a big city.  A few years before we had horses, when I was about age 9, my dad, on a few occasions, would disappear to help a friend from work setting up things for the local rodeo.  Occasionally my brother and I would go with him but we were too young to help.  I vaguely remember a scary incident with a raging bull that got loose, but I never saw my dad on any horses. 

Most of the time, while dad was off doing whatever it was he did while helping with the rodeo, my brother and I would just play under the arena stands, searching for money that had fallen there during the last rodeo event.  Bonus when we actually found paper money.  But most of the time it was a few dollars in coins, which we would then go spend on candy.  In those days, a few dollars bought a few bags worth.   Dad really didn't pay much attention to where we would run off to.
Also, during those early years, I once got to sit on the back of a pony at a birthday party.  I was by myself and the pony was there for riding so I got on jerked the reins and kicked just like what I saw on TV, but he didn't move.  I felt stupid sitting there so I got off.  I felt even more stupid when another kid grabbed the reins from me, got right on and took off, riding around the side of the house as if there was nothing special about it. 

A few years later, we moved to another small town in south-central Utah.  Even though it was a small town, it was in a much larger ranching community.  In the previous town, the primary industry was the saw-mill, here it was farming and ranching.  Many of my school classmates were avid horsemen or horsewomen who would ride in drill or rodeo events. 

I was always made to feel like I should know about many things that I had never seen before growing up.  But no one really offered to teach me anything and oddly, I never feel it was my place to know. Although, I was rather envious that I wasn't given the opportunity to learn about horses or riding other than a token effort to get a Boy Scout merit badge, which I was never able to get because I didn't have a horse or, by the time we got some, I didn't get the support from my parents to get acquainted with them.   But at the same time, I was ok with it, because, again, I didn't think it was my place to know about horses, and also, I was somewhat scared of them anyway.

My older brother once attempted to ride with a friend but was bucked off and bruised up pretty badly.  My dad was always telling us about how they were easy to spook and that you should never stand behind them or they'll kick you and that they could be very dangerous and we should stay away from them!  And yet, I also had been led to believe from somewhere that horses would never purposely step on you.  I have since realized that even though they may not do it on purpose, they will still step on you!
We, as city types, didn't seem to fit in here even more than in the past town we lived in.  But, it was here that my dad decided that he wanted a horse.

We all thought at the time that his reason for getting a horse was mainly for show.  But perhaps he wanted something more out of it.  He was much more motivated to do things to keep up with the Jones's, as he was to satisfy some unknown want for something.  But perhaps it was practical.  After all, we had 2.5 acres of alfalfa that had to be cut and baled at least once during the summer.  More if we had actually watered it.    But with a horse, that field was turned into complete dirt in a matter of weeks.  We didn't have to cut and bale that damned hay anymore. The bad news was we had to buy hay.  Lots and lots of it.  I was very allergic to hay as a kid.  VERY!  Eyes swollen shut for days sort of allergic.

We were not equipped to handle horses.  We didn't have shelter for them; we didn't have any way to keep the stored hay from getting moldy.  We had no means to ride them, no halters or lead ropes, no saddles or bridles or even any grooming equipment.  We didn't even know how to ride them even though the first two had been "broken in".  But ultimately, they were just out there as pretty things to watch.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, they were wonderful to watch, but they were also a burden to take care of especially when we had no idea what we were doing. 

We didn't even have a proper fence to keep them from getting out.  The fence we made only had two wires and it was not electrified.  The lowest wire was high enough for a horse to slide under.  All it took was just one little roll in the dirt, in the right place next to the fence, and upon standing again, one of them would find  himself on the other side.  It was fine when only one horse got out because they hated being separated.  They would stay by the fence looking confused by their predicament until someone could help them back over.  It was this little fence trick that prompted my brother to start calling them Dumbass and Shithead.

My dad brought these animals home with no intention of doing anything to take care of them, that all fell on us.  Just like us kids -- brought into the world to be someone else's responsibility.

We were never instructed on what to do about anything.  Mowing the lawn, installing a sprinkling system, driving a car, or taking care of a horse, it didn't matter, we had no idea.  If we asked in any way what we were supposed to do, my dad would invariably say, "The fuck if I know.  Figure it out, I don't care."  Or on rare occasions he would try and be helpful by saying something like, "Just give them a little hay and make sure the thing is full of water."  The "thing" was a large plastic garbage can.

But sometimes, if we did not execute the chores in the exact manner that he was expecting, never mind that we had no idea what he was expecting, we would get a Final Dismissal with him yelling, "What the hell are you doing?  I can tell you've never been around a horse before!" as if we should fee shamed for the truth.  At which point he would do it himself, swearing and screaming at us the entire time about how useless and stupid we were.  

It was like that with everything; just replace 'horse' with any other noun that is applicable to the situation.  And sprinkle in some choice profanities as adjective such as, "I can tell you've never driven a goddamn truck before." or "I can tell you've never installed a fucking sprinkling system before!"  It hurt because it was all true.  I had never done any of those things before.  I was only 13 years old.  You can't expect me to know all this stuff, can you? 

It was a late fall evening when dad decided that it was a good idea to try and saddle up Stormy and take him for a ride.  He had found someone who loaned him a saddle and bridle.  I was curious but scared that he would ask me to put them on thus making me go through the usual routine of disappointing him for being stupid.  I hadn't seen him do any of this before so I wasn't even sure if he knew how to ride the horse.

But apparently, as far as I could tell, he did know how. He slid the bridle bit in Stormy's mouth and mounted that confusing array of leather straps on to his head as if he had always known how it was done.  Once he had him saddled, he got on as if he had always been a rider and rode the horse around in a slow walk for a few hundred feet.  Even my younger sister had gotten to ride the horse as my dad led it around.  I was no longer envious, I was jealous.  This man was holding out on us.  Why wouldn't he teach us anything?  

I wanted to ride, so I went out there and asked. 

"Sure, just hop on."  He said.

Ok, How? I said to myself.  My nose was even with Stormy's shoulder.  I mustered up the courage, realizing the verbal abuse that would erupt if I were to ask, but in this case, I needed to know so I went ahead and asked.  Sure enough, the response used at least one 'fuck' word.  But he did explain which foot to put in the stirrup and where I could grasp to pull myself up.

Sadly, I had very weak upper arm strength, which caused me to struggle while climbing on.  The whole time I was scared I might accidentally kick his hind quarters and spook him.  But the worst thing about it, as I was getting on, was that I was feeling extremely embarrassed, exposed and vulnerable.  Not because someone took a picture of me, which I didn't appreciate, but because here I was on a live animal and I didn't know what I was doing.  And even then, it wasn't so much that I was afraid of the animal, but that I was afraid of doing something wrong that would elicit a verbal and abusive tirade from my dad.

Once I got situated, I sat there, looked around at my surroundings, everything looked different at this height. I looked down at the horse, his ears were focused on me and it felt like he was standing rigid, calm but not relaxed.  I wasn't sure really how to read the horse.  It all could have been more of how I was feeling.  I was definitely tense and unsettled and quickly growing impatient.  

The sun had just set a few minutes earlier; it was getting dark.  I finally asked him, "So, what do I do?"  

"The fuck if I know.  Just ride him, you should know."  He said.

"How do I go?  Or turn?"  I said.

"That's what the reins are for."  He said.

"I know, but how do you use them?" 

"Jesus Christ, I can tell you've never ridden a horse before."

And there it was, the Final Dismissal.

I was done.  Despite how often I would hear him say that, it would still sting every time.  I sat for a few more seconds until I could no longer stand the shame of the moment.  Then I decided that this would never be for me; carefully and clumsily I slid off the horse, walked in the house and never got back on another horse for 27 years.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

I Am Still, No One

I haven't posted in a long time.  I've been stuck in a sort of a midway point between, "It's too esoteric to post, besides who am I that anyone would care about the strange things in my mind?"  to  "I wish there were people out there who could understand me in all the forms that I inhabit."

It's self defeating in that I'll never find those people because I just can't bring myself to tell all there is to tell about myself.  What is it?  Fear?  Lack of trust?  Am I still in the closet about certain things?   That goes without saying. 

Obviously, what you don't know is what's in that closet.  Now, considering how I hint at things, some may think they know and can even guess, but most likely they'll be wrong.  Well, some people might get lucky and guess correctly but I know that most will not.  However, I want them to guess because if they guess correctly, then I know that I don't have to explain it if they don't get it.  And explaining it is something I just don't want to have to do.  Because, in the past, it has not lead to more understanding, it has just lead to more, "WTF?  You're a fucking freak!"

Still a lot of PTSD, still a lot of fear.   Yeah, I still hate rejection in some things.  Especially the things that get closer to my core. 

I'm finding once again, that I still have yet to find a community that I feel will accept me, care about me, support me, allow me to embrace and express myself in its hypersexual from, and even communally share that experience with me.   Are there communities out there like that?  It seems like there are but they don't seem all that accepting to me.   Am I fooling myself into thinking that such things exist?  It's really hard to know.  I spent one day at Folsom Street Fair last September and one weekend at Mid-Atlantic-Leather Weekend (MAL) back in January, and it sure as hell give me the impression that they do exist.  Despite the attention I got from some tourists at Folsom, I still walked away from those experiences not knowing anyone any better than I did before.  I felt like I have essentially wandered through a convention of cliquishness and exclusivity that I couldn't conform to.

At MAL, I met a few amazing people, and made some acquaintances, but they drifted off, others, after meeting, severed their online connection to me.  Confusing, frustrating, and sad.  There is something wrong with me, I get it.  I'm sorry.  I really don't have a clue how to talk about it, what to talk about, who to talk to and where to go with it.  And really, with no face-to-face, I'm at a loss.

I have so little connection, so little opportunity to travel and engage with others who share that life, being so isolated geographically from all of it, I've never been given a chance to really immerse myself fully, to really find myself, understand how it connects to me and what a lot of it really means.  I'm still trying to strip off the old masks, tear down the old walls from the Mormon cult I grew up in.  I've been isolated from everyone really; even in the cult I isolated myself from it as much as I could.  Few friends in life, difficult to form new ones, social awkwardness seemed to be the defining factor in all things.   And in isolation, social and physical, I ended up developing my own ideas and eccentricities about the way I view life and sexuality.  And even the closest community that I found that aligns with mine, the gay/leather/kink/BDSM communities, which seem to be steeped in its own dogma of identity, that it shuts me out for not conforming.  Confusing, frustrating and sad.

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