Growing up in a small Maine town, Chris Lombard had never ridden a horse—never even touched one. But on one fateful night, as what he’d thought was a happy twenty-something life full of love and possibility fell suddenly apart, he met two horses and looked into their eyes. What he saw inspired him to leave everything he had, and everything he didn’t have, behind, and go in search of what was missing. In this excerpt from his memoir Land of the Horses, we remember what it is like to ride for the first time…and feel alive with possibility.
I sneezed twice. My nose was running, and my eyes were itching like crazy.
“Are you allergic?” asked Anna, the riding instructor.
“Hay fever,” I replied, like it didn’t matter.
Behind Anna was a rather large horse. His name was Oberon. He was a bay Thoroughbred gelding, and he was about to be the first horse I had ever ridden. Anna took me through the grooming routine and showed me how to saddle him. Then we walked out to the riding arena.
As I gathered the reins in my left hand and placed my foot in the stirrup, I paused for a moment and looked into Oberon’s eye. Just like the two horses in the barn, it had a locking effect on me, drawing me in.
I breathed in and stepped up and swung my leg over his back. And as I sat in the saddle I breathed out, and something clicked into place.
I rode Oberon as he walked in a circle, and from what Anna was saying, I was doing well, except for the twenty times she reminded me to look up and breathe. At moments I was entirely lost in what I was feeling. The gentleness in how the big bay carried me. The softness in how little this thousand-pound animal needed to guide him. The simple grace in the rhythmic sway of his back as he walked. The perfection of it.
How is this possible, I thought, this horse allowing me to sit on him and tell him what to do when I have no idea what I am doing? What is this? What is going on here?
“Okay,” Anna said. “That’s good for today. Great job.”
Oberon came to a halt, and I went to dismount, but as soon as my feet touched the ground, it hit me. It all came back. The hurt and the pain.
But while I was on Oberon… it hadn’t been there.
“When can I come back?” I quickly asked.
I went home that day and made myself a salad. I picked up the empty pizza boxes off the floor. Took a shower and shaved. And then I grabbed the car keys and drove out to my mom’s house.
“Colorado?” she said like it was on the moon.
“Yeah. Bart has a house there and he asked me to come out a while back.”
“And what are you going to do in Colorado?”
I paused for a second, thinking about how it would sound. “I’m going to look for work on a horse ranch.”
“What? You don’t have any experience with… anything on a horse ranch.”
“I work hard. I’m honest and reliable. Somebody will give me a chance.”
My mother shook her head. She had seen me go through many phases. Breakdancing. Skateboarding. Bartending. A career in criminal justice. And now it sounded like I wanted to join the rodeo.
“Mom, something is… going on here. I don’t know what it is, but something is opening up here for me, and this is my chance. I have to go to Colorado, I know it. I don’t know what will happen, I don’t. But I know it will be good.”
She looked at me intently and I felt a test of my resolve. She had always been there for me, supporting me in everything I wanted to do. She might not have understood me right then, but she believed in me.
“Do you think the car will make a trip like that,” she asked with a skeptical eye.
“The Grand Prix? It’s only ten years old with two hundred thousand miles on it… and has gotten me everywhere I’ve ever needed to be,” I replied with a grin.
She smiled back. “A horse ranch, huh? What in the world ever brought you to that?”
I looked at her very matter-of-factly.
“Horses,” I said.