So where was I before I was so rudely interrupted? I was quite a bit younger, that much I know. I will be 70 this spring and I find it little short of amazing. I've outlived both of my parents and the inside me consistently finds the physical me annoying. I have to keep reminding myself that I can no longer do everything in the world, or even at the farm, myself. A recent visit to my mechanic (aka the orthopedic surgeon who has replaced my knees, revamped my shoulders, and put a plate in my right leg when I broke it with a stupid misstep) revealed that while my left shoulder has a better range of movement than my right, it also only has one muscle holding it together instead of the two gnarly ones in my right shoulder. What that meant was a stern warning to keep my hands no higher than my shoulders if possible, and this combined with the numbness in my right foot following the fall, has put paid to my horseback riding. Riding has been so much a part of my life and sanity that it is excruciating to read what I just wrote. I haven't even been able to write it because writing it made it real. I still have the horses who have a home with me until they move on to wherever all the creatures are waiting for me, but I can't ride. I can't ride. The pain of that sentence is something that can simply not be explained to anyone who hasn't had to give up their soul activity.
Riding to me was never about learning to do the perfect 20 meter circle, or about jumping a fence taller than I was, or about earning a blue ribbon in a show. It was about freedom and companionship. A horse can go just about anywhere a person on foot can, and they are much smarter than to waste their time walking around malls and shops. My earliest memories of heaven are the trail rides that the Balboa Park Stables (now long gone) used to reward the lesson kids with every couple of weeks. A string of horses ambling along under the eucalyptus trees with kids... I know that the stables were on their way out at the time. A freeway had cut through much of the trail area for the stables already. But my family moved from San Diego to Ojai where one was greeted by a large yellow "Yield To Horses" sign on the way into town. Here there were horses everywhere and most of the roads in the early 60's had wide dirt shoulders for riders. I had truly found heaven.
Riding is not just a pastime, however, it is a lifestyle and one that can be rather unforgiving, especially if you own your own horse. In a sense, I was lucky not to own one as a youngster. But nevertheless, the demands of university and the costs of riding in the US and Canada meant that from the end of high school I might have ridden about twenty times in as many years until I moved to Egypt. I was so busy with learning, marrying, living, having children and doing all of those normal things that I essentially forgot about riding, but everything came back when my husband came home one day in Alexandria to announce that I was now the owner of a young Arab mare. I'm sure he had no idea what a Pandora's box he opened in 1990. Ten years later when he died I had five horses to care for.
Within four years I had about fifteen horses as friends who were moving begged me to take horses from them to keep them from going to pyramids' stables, and I started an equestrian tourism operation here based on the concept of leisurely travel through the Egyptian countryside and desert rather than a frenzied dash near the Giza pyramids. I was exploring trails on horseback when I wasn't riding with clients and I decided that I needed to be living out in the same area where my horses were living and working. I bought the land to begin designing and building my farm while renting a small home and garden close by. It was a relief not to commute from Maadi, but there was more than enough work to keep me busy. There were many days when I was in the saddle between four and six hours a day with hours of supervising builders in what time remained. The revolution and subsequent drop in tourism tossed us into a new path of educating first my staff and later others. Now most of our work is in education in many aspects, but the horses are still here although others are riding them.
It's been a hard transition to make. The broken leg involved almost four months without being allowed to walk much, but the broken heart has taken much longer. I've avoided the horses, I realise now. My lovely grey gelding reminded me just the other day of this when I helped walk him with a young student from one of the schools visiting us. While I was telling her how Doobie and I had been partners for about 20 years, I caught his eye on me as if saying, "And where have you been lately?" It's time to put things back together.
copyright 2018 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani