Dispatches from my Dining Room (No 6): Day 99: Activities Outside Our Home?

Obviously, as homeschoolers, the primary structure of our lives was already set up pretty well for staying home before the pandemic hit. However, my kids did lose all of their activities outside of our home – in addition to play dates with friends, we used to be part of a homeschool enrichment group, all four kids swam 2-3 times per week, the big kids and I usually rode horses a few times per month, and we attended other activities (art shows, concerts, museum shows, etc) as we could. We stopped all of that abruptly mid-March. That seemed like the wisest course of action – particularly for our family, with multiple vulnerable members.

It has been a long few months, though, without that social interaction, without the ability to swim (especially now that the summer weather has arrived!), without the ability to move our bodies in ways other than walking, running, and biking. Matt and I have been talking about whether there are ways we could give ourselves and our kids some opportunities to leave the house and have fun without seriously compromising our safety. We’ve been reading articles about how the coronavirus spreads and looking at rankings of activities in terms of their risk levels.

Where we’ve landed is that we need to maintain our separation from most of the activities in which we had previously engaged. It just isn’t safe to go hang around indoors with large numbers of people. It isn’t even safe to have sustained close proximity with others outdoors.

But the one activity that seemed much less risky than others was horseback riding. It’s basically an activity that requires social distancing – if you get closer than one horse-length away from another horse and rider, you’re putting your horse (and yourself!) in danger of getting kicked!

I talked to our trainer, who has put into place guidelines limiting numbers of people at the barn at any one time, which made us feel safer returning. She also has rules about social distancing – essentially, if you can’t tack up your own horse, you can’t come right now, because that would require having someone outside of your household super close to you as they helped you prepare to ride and take care of your horse after riding.

I returned to lessons a couple weeks ago – obviously taking care of my own horse and riding outdoors and staying distant from everyone else. I love having an activity that challenges me in a different way than my everyday life and that is purely fun.

And this week, I took the girls to ride, and we made sure to schedule their ride for a time when no one else would be in the barn. They aren’t self-sufficient, but having a mom who participates in the same activity as you and can help you catch and care for your horse has its advantages.

It was so nice to give them this opportunity to leave the house and get back to riding! This was only the third time since March that Miranda had even been in a car at all. And this was the only actual activity they have done in months (other drives included exciting missions such as “going to the hospital parking lot to change a flat tire” and “going to throw rocks in the river” and “taking recycling to the drop off sites” and “just going for a drive”). This was significantly more interesting 😉

They didn’t do a lesson or focus on building skills – this was all just about having a chance to ride and have fun.

Miranda was thrilled to be given the opportunity to help a pony who has a pretty low weight limit (and thus can’t be ridden by most of the adult and teenage riders who have been at the barn recently) get back into work.

MeiMei wasn’t sure she remembered horses being this large!

It took a bit of time for them to get used to being back in the saddle, but once they got going, they were back to trotting, weaving, and riding all around!

I’ve certainly enjoyed getting back into riding, and I’m glad the girls were able to go this week, too. In this world in which we almost entirely stay home, it’s nice to have one very low-risk activity we can do!

A New Activity for Me

My two older girls have been taking horseback riding lessons at Columbia Equestrian Center for almost a year and a half now. My regular readers may remember that, about six months ago, Miranda had a fall that was pretty scary for her, and we had to take some time to work through that. At that lesson, our amazing first instructor, now friend, Courtney, asked if I wanted to get up on the pony Miranda had been riding while she took a few minutes to compose herself after her fall, so I did – and, to my surprise, I found it to be both challenging and fun! Due to the pricing structure, I realized it would only cost me $15 per lesson to ride with them, so I started doing that. I needed to be there with them anyway, so I might as well ride, too!

And over the last six months, I’ve discovered that riding is more than just “fun” – though it is that, too. In so many areas of my life, I am in a role of authority. I spend a significant portion of my life teaching my kids, coaching other parents, and meeting with and listening to and offering advice to other women.

In horseback riding, I am the student. I’m not the expert. As Miranda told me one day this summer, “Mom, everyone at the barn is better than you!”

I need to be the one asking questions, needing to have someone check my saddle to make sure I’ve tacked up correctly. I need to try to weave at a trot but drop into a walk before the last pole three times in a row and have to ask Emily, our awesome current instructor, what I’m doing wrong and why that keeps happening, so she can explain it, and I can go back and try it again and fix it.

I find that I lack even the self-awareness of all the things I don’t know, and this week was a prime example. I had had only a vague idea that which saddle you use matters, but this week I rode with a close contact saddle, which I’d never done before. When Emily asked me to post without stirrups, I burst out laughing the instant I tried – it was so much harder! There would have been no better way to learn that which saddle you use really matters!

There is a sense of vulnerability inherent in being the one who doesn’t know what’s going on and doesn’t have the answers. I ask other people to be vulnerable all the time, and I have no right to do that if I’m not willing to sit in that place, too. I need to practice being vulnerable myself, and in learning to ride, I’m doing that. I take lessons from Emily and go ride with Courtney and try to follow their instructions and put myself in a position to learn and try to grow a little bit more each time.

Having to listen to and learn from someone else is good practice for me. It keeps me humble. I need reminders that I do not know all – or even most – of what there is to know. And those reminders carry over from horseback riding into the rest of life.

I need to practice perseverance, practice literally falling off and feeling stupid but then getting back up and trying again…and then calling Courtney to talk through it with her. I need this experience of working at something and growing and getting better but so slowly.

And over the last six months, I’ve found that I’m having a lot of fun. I enjoy riding itself. And I enjoy learning new skills and being challenged and having new experiences. This new activity has been good for me, and I’m looking forward to continuing to learn and grow through it.

(And if you’re looking for a fun activity for yourself or your kids, I’d absolutely recommend riding lessons with Emily at Columbia Equestrian Center or, in the St. Louis area, with Courtney at Longmeadow Rescue Ranch!).