The older I get the easier it seems to connect the dots, and what I’ve come to discover is that what I first view as totally disparate experiences may, in fact, come to share the most unexpected similarities. There I am, engaged in a new pastime, and–wham, it’s deja vu. What I thought would be unfamiliar territory suddenly feels like coming home. That’s how it is for me when it comes to riding horses and fishing.
Looking back, I remember when I the made the first connection. We were bottom fishing for black fish, and there I was alongside the gunwale, plunking my jig off the bottom, waiting for who knows what, setting the hook every time the jig bounced erratically over a rock. Gary came over, steadied my rod, then gently tapped on it. “Wait for it. You’ll feel it in the rod.”
For the rest of the day, I continued to fixate on my rod, but where before I was actually looking for movement in the rod tip, now my hands were listening for movement–not yet sure what it would be. Then I felt it–a tentative tap. I tried to set the hook, but, although I “felt it,” I was too excited to wait for the fish to take the bait. The ability to wait would come later, but the quiet electricity I felt in the rod, that sense of communication with another animal were so similar to communicating with my horse through my reins that I couldn’t help but feel at home.
How can riding and fishing possibly share any similarities? A rider controls their horse with their seat, legs, and hands. While the seat and legs provide impulsion and direction, the rider’s hands hold a thousand pounds of moving animal together. Like with the rod, there can be no death grip on the reins either but rather a fluid connection, gentle but strong enough never to have rein or rod ripped from your hand. Just imagine having to maintain contact with a moving horse’s mouth, only applying pressure to gather your horse beneath you and communicate directions. It’s called “breathing through your hands,” and, while you breathe or talk to the horse through the reins, conversely, the horse speaks back to you through the same conduit. Look, I know this may sound like a lot of mumbo jumbo, but this back and forth communication with a horse takes years to develop. This ability to feel an animal’s intentions and convey yours through your hands is no easy feat, so you can imagine my surprise when I felt it–the tap, the tentative bite. If I closed my eyes, I could see the fish dart. I wanted to scream, “Wait! I know this feeling.”
Well, I’ve come to learn that chatting with fish is no easier than communicating with a horse through your hands. I can’t feel the fish all the time; sometimes “breathing through my hands” resembles short staccato breaths or hyperventilating. Sometimes, though, I can talk sweetly and coax the fish. Sometimes, tap…tap, he answers back.