Back in the Saddle (Literally)

Back in the Saddle (Literally)

Towards the beginning of this year, I realized that I needed to do something for myself that would bring me joy. Not the thing where you have a rough day and cheer yourself up with a lipstick – I needed something that made my heart happy on a deep level. After a lot of thought, I realized that I wanted to start riding horses again.

I first rode a horse when I was 3, went trail riding as much as possible as a kid, took lessons around age 13/14, and finally managed to buy a horse of my own when I was 18. Next to my love of books, my love of horses is easily the most consistent¬†thing throughout my life. I ended up having to sell my horse when I was around 23 or 24. I was super busy with work and just wasn’t making the time to spend with him, which meant that when I did go out to ride he was a total pain in the butt. I finally accepted that he needed to go to someone who would give him the attention he needed and sold him to the guy who owned the land where I was boarding him. It was probably the hardest choice I’d ever made at that point in my life.

Throwback Thursday time! 19-ish year old Crystal with 4-ish year old Emmett!! 

A photo posted by Crystal Ward (@crystalward11) on

Somehow, over 10 years have passed since then, and I haven’t ridden in all that time. Which brings us back to a little over a month ago when I decided that even though I totally can’t afford it right now, I was going to start taking riding lessons again. I searched for places to take riding lessons near Branson, MO (I live about half an hour from there) and ended up finding the wonderful Webb Riding Academy, where I mounted up for the first time since the years before smartphones existed (omg, y’all, TWITTER didn’t even exist the last time I rode!) and was instantly “home” again.

So far, I’ve just been working on rebuildng the basics. It’s so interesting to see what stuck and what I struggle to remember. I’ve had brief moments of brilliance where I’m actually riding – using my hands and muscles and posture and focus and so on all together to communicate with the horse in a million subtle ways at once – but there’s also a whole lot of just sitting on the horse and steering. Both get the job done, sort of, but they’re worlds apart.

I’ve been teaching Gambit (the QH/Arab cross I’ve been riding for lessons) the art of the #selfie, and I really think he’s catching on quickly.



gamb-selfie1 gamb-selfie2

Gambit recently got moved into a pasture with several young horses. Not sure exactly how old they are, but I’d guess somewhere between 1 and 2 years. They LOVE attention and mob me any time I enter their field, which I LOVE, because I’d probably spend all day every day cuddling horses if I could.




A video posted by Crystal Ward (@crystalward11) on

Today, I answered a Craigslist ad looking for help with horses. I almost didn’t go, because all of those red flags around going to meet a stranger in the middle of nowhere went off, but I’m so glad I did. Once a week or so, I get to learn to train horses. The guy I’m working with mostly buys horses at auction for next to nothing, usually those that would otherwise be going off to the slaughterhouse, and works to teach them what they need to know to have a second chance. I was super excited to find that he currently has a horse that’s vaguely related to my old horse Emmett- he looks a lot like him, and has a very similar personality. (Both have Doc Bar & Colonel Freckles bloodlines) I couldn’t stop snuggling on him because it was so much like being reunited with a long lost friend.

I even ended up riding a little filly that’s only been ridden three times so far. I’ve never ridden a horse that green before, but it looks like I’m starting! It was literally just a few minutes of sitting on her and working on getting her to move forward (in any direction) when I made kissy noises, and to stop when I asked for that. She did really well! She doesn’t understand how the bridle works yet, but I actually did manage to “steer” her a bit just using my body positioning/seat.

I’ve been playing with the idea of attending a big horse convention event thingy in Kansas that takes place this weekend, and around the end of last week I decided to just go for it. I need a break from my usual life SO MUCH. Once I made up my mind to go, I spent most of the weekend planning trip things like hotels and other cool things to check out while I’m there. In doing that, I came across a groupon for a performance horse stable near Kansas City that offered 2 lessons for $45. I got in touch and have a lesson there scheduled for Thursday! (We couldn’t work the 2nd one into the schedule for this trip, but hopefully I can make it up to use the 2nd one before the Groupon expires!) I’m so ready to soak up all of the knowledge and experience I can get right now that I couldn’t resist the chance to work with someone new!

Can you tell I’m nerding out SUPER hard? I am totally back to being my 8 year old self who spent more time brushing Barbie’s horse’s mane than styling Barbie’s hair. I’m 12 year old me, memorizing all of the bones in a horse from library books. I’m 18 year old me, sacrificing whatever it took to spend as many hours in the saddle as possible.

And probably most importantly, I’m 34 year old me, feeling like a beginner again but enthusiastic to learn, ready to be challenged, and happier than I can remember being in ages. Spending time with horses has made me feel so grounded – it’s the best antidepressant and anti-anxiety treatment I’ve found in years of searching for something to quiet my very busy brain.

You guys? That thing that you love? The thing that makes your very soul happy? That makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning? Go do that. Find the time, find the money, do whatever it takes. Go do the thing that makes life good.