An inadvertant lie, and why I love my paddock boots

Ok, I have to come clean.  In only my second “confessional,” (aka my previous post), I confided that I, the wannabe cowgirl, do not own a single pair of CG boots.  But then, my sister, K, reminded me that I did, in fact, have a pair of CG boots.  I’d bought them two years ago, to attend a ranch party I’d been invited to by a work friend.  Her family, who are honest to goodness cattle ranchers, or at least her grandfather is, have a big party every year in their barn.  It’s a pretty big deal – tons of people, many long tables groaning under the weight of succulent barbecue, live music, and no shortage of adult beverages.  In fact, at said party, I actually consumed my fair share of genuine moonshine.  So, anyway, I bought these boots to wear to said party, and then, par for the course, never wore them.  Not that night, and not ever since.  They sit, brand new, in the back of my closet, which is probably why I forgot I even had them. Fortunately, K, in so many ways both my mirror and my moral compass, not to mention far more likely than I to have a running mental inventory of my closet, saw fit to remind me that I had, however inadvertently, lied.  Which is not really the point of this post, but in the interest of honesty, I wanted to set the record straight.

Now, about my paddock boots.  I love, love, love my paddock boots.  It’s the *why* I love them, though, that is more noteworthy than the loving itself.  After all, they’re paddock boots, not Louboutins.  They weren’t particularly expensive, and aren’t especially beautiful.  In fact, they’re rather plain, but that’s fine, as they were chosen for strictly utilitarian purposes, the purpose being that, until just a few months ago, I hadn’t had need of paddock boots (which I prefer for everyday riding, lessons, and such to the beautiful and more expensive tall boots I could have chosen) in a good twenty years, but since I’d recently started taking lessons again, I needed some.

So, literally en route to my second lesson, I stopped off at the only tack shop between my house and the stable, and bought the only pair of paddock boots they had in my size, which happened to be black Ovation Finalists, size seven.  I tried them on in the store, and, though stiff as new boots are, they seemed to fit well, so I paid for them and wore them right out of the store.

The thing about new boots, though, is that they look, well, new.  And among equestrians, nothing makes one look more like the proverbial greenhorn than brand new boots (or brand new tack, for that matter). Boots that are comfortably worn in, even a bit shabbily so (as long as you’re around the barn rather than in the show ring, which is a place I never felt comfortable and have no desire to go into ever again anyway), are something of a badge of honor.

Three months ago, all of my past horse/riding experience aside, I felt very much like that proverbial greenhorn, right down to my brand new boots.  My movements, both in the saddle and on the ground, felt stiff and disjointed, devoid of the comfortable effortlessness of years past.  There was a time in my life when I could have put a bridle together with my eyes closed, tacked up a horse by feel alone, and when every joint and muscle and sinew in my body seemed to have been created not for walking or running or swimming, but for sitting a horse at any gait so firmly that I might have been part of the animal rather than sitting astride it, even when said animal was arcing over jumps several feet in height or depth.  That time, though, is long past, and all the things I used to do so easily and effortlessly, from saddling and bridling a horse to riding one with any degree of finesse, are no longer so easy or so effortless.  My fingers sometimes fumble over buckles on halters and bridles, hesitate over girths, and inaccurately judge the correct length of stirrup leathers. Also, my center of gravity on a moving horse, once as solid as bedrock, as natural as breathing, seems to have shifted. It is, now, not nearly so solid and does not come nearly so naturally. If you are old enough to do so, as I now am, think about something you last did twenty years ago, and then think about trying to do that again, whatever “that” is. The point is – I am rusty.

Also, when I was last “learning” to ride a horse, it didn’t really feel like anything I had to actually learn. The knowledge, it seemed, just naturally accrued to me. One of the benefits of youth, I suppose. Anyone who has ever watched a bunch of seven or eight year olds zipping down a snowy mountain on skis but sans poles has marveled at the ease and facility with which kids pick up and master skills that adults have to work so much harder at to develop even a modicum of competency. The same is true of kids on horseback, I can attest, as it was so for me those many years ago. On the other hand, as with most things you have to work for, the progress I’m making on this front at my current age is all the more valuable to me for being harder won.

Which brings me back to those paddock boots I love so much. Three months along, they’re starting to get worn in, the leather is starting to conform itself to the shape of my foot, a contrast to when they were brand new, and my foot had to wiggle a bit to find a comfortable groove, my toes and arches rebelling against the confining stiffness of new leather. On the outside, too, there are changes. They are not nearly as shiny and out-of-the-box new as they were just a scant few months ago. They have a scuff or two on the toes, a thin line of red mud in the creases at the heel, and they wear a layer of ring dust. But here’s the thing. I might wipe the bottoms of these boots on the doormat when I come home from the stable, but I haven’t touched their tops. I don’t mind the scuffs or the coating of dust obscuring their once-shiny blackness. Rather, I embrace them.

Because, you see, I love these boots at least in part because they no longer smack of newness, of a greenhorn whose booted foot hadn’t touched a stirrup iron in literally decades. Wearing these boots, I have struggled, and sweated, and fought to take back something that once came so much easier to me than it does now, so easily, in fact, that I failed to value it as I should have, a failure that allowed me to walk away from something that I see, now, I need so much. As ridiculous as it sounds, I feel that I walk a little taller than my five feet one inches when I’m wearing these boots. I am more confident, more in control. More like I know what I’m doing, and where I’m going. I feel prettier in these dusty boots than if I were wearing the highest, most beautiful, most expensive designer shoes money could buy. More beautiful, even, than if I actually possessed those fancy orange CG boots I fantasize about.

Rationally, I know that a pair of dusty boots don’t make me any taller, and I am certainly looking far from lovely when I walk in the door from the stable after a ride, sweaty hair pulled back in a ponytail, horsehair embedded in the cotton fibers of my T-shirt, all my makeup sweated off, and a line of black grime underneath my fingernails. Yet, the additional confidence, the sense of renewed purpose, of rightness, I’ve felt so often over these last few months is real, and I have a feeling it will be lasting. It is at least in part because of these boots that I started this blog, am writing these words now, whether or not anyone will ever actually read them. It’s no coincidence that this confidence, this renewed sense of purpose, this feeling of “Ok, so my life may not have turned out exactly, or even, sometimes, anything like I once imagined it would, but it’s a beautiful life nonetheless, and the chance, and the choice, to make it even better, to make it what I would have it be, is still mine to make” come most often when I am wearing my dusty, scuffed paddock boots.

I guess it’s because, unlike was the case even a few months ago, I am no longer a person who has gone years without feeling a braided leather rein tucked sweetly in the curve between my ring and pinky fingers, or the whiskery moleskin-softness of an equine muzzle lipping a peppermint candy gently from my palm, or the near-to-sensual slide of sun-warmed muscled horseflesh beneath my caressing hands. The high-and-low and high-and-low and high-and-low three beat rhythm of a cantering horse, a thousand plus pound animal who will, if I ask him correctly, bend himself to my will with the slightest shift of my weight or pressure of my legs or squeeze of my fingers on those leather reins is no longer a distant memory, but, once more, a part of me. Or, perhaps more accurately, of who I want to be, and who I am, even at forty plus years old, trying, still, to become.

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