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Lahey: Seen By Saddle

The trails around my home are so familiar to me that I avoid roots, adjust to slopes, and leap over fallen trees without breaking stride. I know the seasons of my territory; where some paths will be too muddy, when to avoid a mother bear’s favorite scratching tree, and which trails are best left untraveled during hunting season. I’ve been exploring the woods around my home in Lyme Center for years, and I thought I knew everything about them.

But this year, I’ve been re-discovering these woods thanks to a generous friend and her horse, Joy. Joy is a placid and pokey chestnut mare with a fondness for apples and a fear of startled turkeys. Most days, I write until three, then pull on my boots and head up to the barn for our afternoon constitutional.

The trails I know well are not the ones Joy and I travel. My favorite routes are often inaccessible to her, so in order reach my chosen destination, we must seek out alternative routes. We’ve had to backtrack, bushwhack, and trust each other’s judgment about culverts and solid footing. Together, we've found places I did not know existed, places that had been in my backyard all along, hidden just beyond the boundaries of my solitary explorations.

I've come to depend on these outings and Joy’s gentle companionship. Horses require calm mindfulness, the perfect combination of vigilance and quiet reassurance that taps into a state of flow I can’t seem to find anywhere else. My mind rests, allowed to unspool from its tightly wound ball of word counts, endnotes and to-do lists, and by the time we return to the barn, I have crawled out of my tangled head space and can once again feel my body, shifting and rocking in the saddle, as Joy carries us through the trees, over the mountains, and back home again.

Jessica Lahey is a teacher, speaker, and author of The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed. She writes the bi-weekly column The Parent-Teacher Conference at The New York Times and is a contributing writer at the Atlantic. You can find out more about her work at
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