A several-part series in which an about-to-be sexagenarian rider reflects on the evolution all things horses, leading up to the occasion of her 60th birthday.
This is it. This is the year I turn the big six-oh. On Nov. 1, 2019, I’ll mark my 60th year of life and 50th year of riding. Fifty years! That’s half a century spent with horses.
A lot has changed in 50 years. Whether that’s good or bad is up for debate. Come along with me while I compare the way things were “back in the day” to the way they are now.
Those of a certain age will nod with recollection. The rest of you will probably think I’m making this up.
Part 1: Boots
Take show boots out of padded bag. Notice small scratch on one of the toes and slight discoloration where spurs sit. Realize you cannot be seen in boots like that.
Research custom boot companies. Lust over blinged-out boot photos on Instagram. See what riders are wearing at the World Equestrian Games. Poll friends on Facebook. Compare data and choose company.
Schedule three hour fitting session with rep at horse show. Drive two hours to get there. Sit and/or stand while enough measurements are taken to create a 3D computer-generated model of your legs. Eyeball the dimensions of your feet written in fractions of inches and hope that next time your 1,500-pound pet steps on your foot, the bones knit back together in a shape that still fits in the boot.
Take latte break while rep fills out measurement sheet.
Spend next two hours selecting leather type, color and grain. Text swatch photos to friends to help you choose between ostrich, snake and crocodile. Instagram pictures of boot top and toe cap designs, trim and piping colors, inset colors, tooling options, and embedded Swarovski bling. Tally thumbs-up emojis for top choices before making final selections.
Make Facebook post consisting entirely of five rows of animated smiley faces.
Purchase special leather cream and ergonomic applicator sponge recommended by boot seller.
Buy slick, thin-knit, technical fabric, antimicrobial, arch-supporting, circulation-healthy, moisture-wicking boot socks in six different colors.
Also purchase long brass zipper pull chain to aid with the demanding and laborious process of zipping your boots.
Rep throws in a pair of boot trees for free. Score!
Have a congratulatory smoothie while rep prepares paperwork.
Rep shows you final cost of boots.
Hot flash or panic attack? Impossible to tell.
Take wine break. Make follow-up Facebook post consisting entirely of five rows of dollar signs and exclamation points.
Call insurance company to make sure homeowner’s policy covers full replacement value.
Hand over credit card.
Realize your husband reads credit card statement.
Take back credit card. Write check for the equivalent of a week in Maui from your personal account.
Wait approximately 10 weeks for boots to arrive from overseas. Build up to arrival and eventual unveiling of boots by complaining (loudly) to husband that your current (perfectly good) show boots are falling apart, don’t really fit correctly, and are becoming a detriment to your equitation scores.
Intercept delivery person and smuggle box with new boots into the house. Unwrap boots; photograph from every possible angle. Post to social media, knowing your husband will never see them there.
Slip on boot socks and put new boots on. Grunt slightly while zipping them up with brass zipper pull. Sit down and have a glass of wine while waiting for leather to warm and soften. Take first walk in new boots. Experience very minor discomfort at their initial snugness; vocalize it as though you are breaking in a new kidney.
Take/post more photos of you wearing boots.
Put back in box and look for hiding place where your husband will never find them. Stick box behind vacuum in utility closet.
Wait for right moment to show husband. Extol the virtues of superior materials and construction and make only vague references to cost. Experience relief when husband smiles. You interpret this as meaning he is OK with your purchase, when in reality he is making plans to buy new golf clubs.
Take immaculate care of boots. Clean, insert boot trees and store upright in padded bag between uses.
Enjoy boots until zippers break, usually the morning of the finals.
THE WAY IT USED TO BE
Vocabulary words for those under 50:
Boot pulls: Captain Hook-like metal appendages attached to a perpendicular wooden handle (think less-pointy mini hay bale hook). A necessary tool before boots had zippers.
Boot jack: A small wooden leather- or suede-lined crotch into which you wedge the heel of your boot when there was nobody else around to help pull your boots off. Boot jacks also came in a cast iron version that was shaped like a long beetle. You wedged your heel between the beetle’s “antennas.” This version also made a great doorstop or impromptu self-defense weapon.
Pull faded boots out of tack trunk a week before horse show. Notice that the fourth pair of replacement soles is wearing thin and cracks in shaft are widening despite being expertly patched with black electrical tape. Try them on to assess whether you can eke one more show season out of them.
Foot goes straight through toe of boot.
Admit grudgingly that it is time for a new pair.
Visit local tack store during your lunch break. Peruse in-stock selection of black field boots. Select half size bigger than your normal shoe size so you can stuff your heavy socks in them in the winter. Spring for extra set of bootlaces, just in case.
Pay with cash. Take boots and laces, leave box behind. Make it back to work in less than an hour.
Once at home, find boot pulls and attempt to pull boots on. Get foot wedged halfway through ankle of boot before foot begins to go numb. Try to shake boot off of foot; accidentally whap ankle bone on other foot with boot heel. Curse loudly; scare dog. Try to manually pull boot off. Get foot hopelessly stuck in impossibly, painfully over-flexed position.
Hop around on other foot until you find boot jack. All attempts to effectively hook flopping boot into boot jack fail. Hop into bedroom. Open lowest drawer on dresser. Insert boot/foot, close drawer until boot/foot is lodged and painfully, slowly, draw foot from boot, hoping the accompanying cracking sound is the drawer and not your ankle.
Limp to bathroom. Find talcum powder. Coat socks in powder until slick.
Repeat attempt to pull boot on. Get foot slightly further into ankle of boot before circulation to lower limb ceases.
Repeat dresser drawer extraction method. Wait for tingling in foot to subside. Gradually put weight on foot until you can walk again. Relief accompanies return of mobility. Pain accompanies return of blood flow.
Limp to kitchen and raid breadbox. Dump bread onto counter. Wrap leg in plastic bread wrapper and repeat attempt to pull boot on. Third time is a charm: leg and foot finally go all the way into boot.
Repeat process with other boot, using hot dog bun wrapper this time.
Attempt to get rigid stovepipe boot shafts to flex. Walk stiff-legged like Frankenstein’s monster until you feel blisters forming on front and back of ankles and behind knee.
Wedge heel into boot jack and attempt to pull boot off.
Boot will not budge.
Loosen laces as much as possible. Re-wedge heel into jack.
Boot will not budge.
Pull kitchen chair up to refrigerator and sit down. Open refrigerator. Sit with boots inside fridge to help legs unswell. Have a beer and read latest issue of The Chronicle of the Horse while waiting. Extract legs when toes begin to feel frostbite.
Wedge heel into boot jack.
Foot slides partway out and gets stuck in ankle of boot.
Hobble to bedroom. Wedge heel back into boot jack and hook toe underneath dresser. Gradually torque your foot up the boot shaft. Finally yank foot free amid explosion of talcum powder.
Repeat with other boot.
Have more beer.
Massage ankles/feet until sensation is regained.
Put ointment and Band-Aids on burgeoning blisters.
Vacuum up powder residue.
Attempt to expedite break-in of boots. Saddle soap and oil the bejeebers out of them. Bend back tops and secure with clothespins. Manually flex ankles of boots while watching the news. Open and close dresser drawer on boot shafts. Throw boots down stairs a few times. Put boots in dryer on no-heat setting and tumble.
Repeat ritual daily for two months until leather softens, boot shaft “drops” and blisters turn to calluses. Forget to mention you got boots until friends inquire about your newly acquired limp.
Occasionally clean boots with standard saddle soap.
Toss them in the tack trunk or back seat of the car between uses. Lacquer them up with black boot polish and buff to a mirror-finish for horse shows. Wear with pride, knowing that replacement soles and black electrical tape will keep you well-heeled until the scars from breaking them in have faded and it’s time to start again.
After years of trying to fit in with corporate America, Jody Lynne Werner decided to pursue her true passion as a career rather than a hobby. So now she’s an artist, graphic designer, illustrator, cartoonist, web designer, writer and humorist. You can find her work on her Misfit Designs Cafepress site. Jody is one of the winners of the Chronicle’s first writing competition. Her work also appears in print editions of The Chronicle of the Horse. Read all of Jody’s humor columns for coth.com here.