There’s a county park trail head riding distance from the barn where I board my horse. Up until recently, the quiet trail system there was still open as the coronavirus pandemic was just beginning to take hold.
Feeling generally unmotivated, and just exhausted with everything happening in the world, I decided to hop on my gelding and take him for a long walk down to the familiar trail. By the time I got there, I learned that the county had already boarded up the entrance and put several thick padlocks on the gate. Like the many other parks around my state, it had been closed in an effort to ward off COVID-19.
State and public health officials seem to disagree on the definition of social distancing. Here in Florida, we’re allowed to bike and fish, run and hike. Exercising is generally encouraged, and some city and county parks are still open. People are going to church on Sundays and go boating.
Every time I tack up my horse, I feel a little guilty. All my life, riding has been my “me time”, it’s what I crave after a hard day at work, or when I just need to sneak away from home and be alone for a little while.
I am taking this pandemic seriously, and the only time I ever seem to leave the house is to go see my horse. Now more than ever, I cherish the time I spend at the barn.
My horse is as trustworthy as any flight animal can be. But horseback riding is still a high-risk sport. How terrible would it be, that on the off chance my horse spooked and I break my ankle on a trail ride? I’m not sure I could live with the embarrassment and guilt I’d feel if I ended up in an emergency room.
But on the other hand, being able to ride my horse is the only thing keeping me sane at a time when the world feels like we’re stuck upside down.
What is the right answer? It’s hard to know.
Right now I’m still riding my horse. I’m cautious and our rides are usually boring and uneventful. But I hesitate to post photos of us on social media, for fear of judgement for riding at all, or jealousy that I still have access to the farm when so many others don’t right now.
I looked at the boarded-up trail head and the cows behind the barbed-wire fencing next to us, and struggled with what to do next. I didn’t want to ride back to the farm and untack just yet. So instead, I took a winding “trail ride” through the suburban neighborhood that butted up against the trail property.
Cars slowed as they passed me on the road. Some had kids pressed up against the windows with big smiles on their faces, beaming just because they saw a horse. A few neighbors tending to their yards smiled and waved. One woman said, “it’s been a long time since I’ve seen any horses back here.”
We passed by an alpaca farm, of all things, and I stopped to admire the fuzzy creatures from the other side of the fence. Horses from neighboring farms whinnied to my guy as we plodded past.
I was about to turn around when we came across a big empty lot – one of the last in the neighborhood which used to be just farms, cow pastures and citrus fields not that long ago, but is almost fully developed now. The family next door came out and asked to pet my horse’s nose.
“You can ride around in that field if you want.” They said. So I did. I hacked around at the trot and canter for a few minutes, nice and relaxed on a loose rein. The neighbors took pictures when I rose nearer to their house.
Then we walked quietly back home, feeling much more content than I did when I started.