- by Jan Scarbrough
Every week after my horseback riding lesson I go home tired, but it’s a good tired. My hands on the steering wheel smell like horse. My knit shirt is smudged with dirt and coarse brown hairs cling to it. My feet sweat in my boots. But I don’t care.
For thirty minutes I’ve concentrated on making a thousand pound horse walk, trot and canter, and sometimes slow gait and rack around an indoor arena. I focus on myself and improving my riding skills. The work day’s stress evaporates as soon as I use the mounting block to climb aboard the saddle.
There are many challenging lesson horses at my stable: Marty-the tough bay gelding with the Type A personality who makes things harder than they should be; Belle-the delicate mare with the choppy slow gait who hates other horses; or Val-the beautiful, grand dame who is steady and dependable.
I’ve been taking lessons as an adult since 1985. I ride American Saddlebreds, the horses the Confederate cavalry rode into battle during the Civil War. Robert E. Lee’s horse Traveler was a Saddlebred.
I started writing romance in 1990. Life intervened often, as you might guess. My children graduated high school and college. They got married. I became a grandmother. My parents died. I remarried. Throughout the years, I’ve plugged away at writing just as I’ve plugged away at horseback riding.
You’d think I’d know how to ride after over twenty years of weekly lessons. My left ankle is weaker than the right. For some reason, I don’t put my weight in the left stirrup like I should. My elbows are not steady enough at the canter and sometimes my whole upper body becomes a wet noodle, according to my riding instructor.
Hey, I do pretty well for a woman my age.
But I want to do better. I want to be like my fantasy self-riding a black stallion across a hard-packed stretch of sandy beach, wind blowing the horse’s mane in my face and whipping my long hair behind me. Er. I told you it was fantasy.
I am getting better. I hear it in my instructor’s voice. “Good job, Jan. Much better.”
You see, with practice might not come perfection, but practice will bring improvement. It’s the same thing with writing. I don’t do it as well as I’d like. Each new book is the same kind of challenge as riding a spirited Saddlebred. With each book, just like each riding lesson, I learn something new.
I may never make the New York Times Bestseller list or ride in a World’s Grand Championship, but I don’t care. I want to ride the best I can every Tuesday at my lesson, and with every book, I want to write as well as I can.
For me it’s not praise from my riding instructor, a fan letter or a good review that I want. It’s the self-satisfaction of a job well done.