I love horse riding. I’ve only been riding for a couple of years, but it’s quickly become a very important part of my life, so much so that I wonder how I ever survived without it. It isn’t a ‘special interest’ or a ‘passion’ in the classic autistic sense – I mean, it is special, and it is an interest, and I am passionate about it; but it’s a bit different from the months I spent getting no sleep because I was playing Fishdom or the time in my life I knew absolutely everything about the role of dispossession in the confessional conflicts of 17th Century England. It’s considered a bit pejorative and un-PC to call these things obsessions, but to my mind, there is definitely something obsessional and almost addictive about them. It is wonderful and exhilarating to have an all-consuming interest like that, and sometimes they can even be useful (guess what I wrote my Masters Thesis on…); but they do tend to take over your life. When I realise that I am rapidly developing a new special interest, mingled in amongst the excitement is a heavy dollop of apprehension, because I know that this is likely to screw up my work life, my sleep pattern and possibly my bank balance for a while to come.
Horse riding is different. Within ten minutes of getting on a horse for the first time, someone told me I was ‘a natural.’ I didn’t feel it then, but I do feel it now – which is not to say that I’m a particularly good rider (I’m not), but just that something clicks for me and somehow it just feels right.
So the hour a week I spend on horseback has become vitally important to me. It’s the one time when I don’t worry about ‘passing,’ when I don’t think about making eye contact or saying appropriate things or stimming or not stimming. It’s also the one hour of my week when I don’t think about my overflowing filing system or the forms I haven’t filled in or whoever in the Church happens to be cross with me at the time – although, bizarrely, I sometimes find that by the time I’ve finished, I’ve formulated some sort of solution or action plan about a seemingly intractable problem that I may have spent the week worrying about, but didn’t even realise I was thinking about while I was riding.
Increasingly, my weekly riding lesson has become sacred time – in both a general and a theological sense. And, week by week, that time has stretched to include not only the riding itself and the time with the horses before and afterwards, but also the journey to and from the stables. I deal with emails on the bus up, and listen to music on the bus home again; it’s a little routine of me-time, and it makes me deeply happy.
But today, finally, the inevitable happened. I got on the bus, and sitting there waving at me was one of my Parishioners, with a free seat next to him. Don’t get me wrong, I like this chap immensely; but nevertheless, it was painful to have to forego my usual bus withdrawal activities and spend the entire half-hour journey making small talk instead.
On the way back from the riding school, a funny thought suddenly occurred to me. Every single week, we spend about half the lesson working on the lunge, and that means that every single week I spend about half an hour talking to my riding instructor. Not talk about leg aids and posture, but just chat – about anything from animals to the news to the other people who ride there, and sometimes even the weather. Basically, I guess, we make small talk; and, do you know what? It doesn’t bother me a bit.
As I walked back to the bus stop, I tried to work out why it’s so easy to make thirty minutes of conversation while I’m riding and yet so difficult to do it on the bus. To be fair, I like my riding teacher a lot; but then, I like that Parishioner a lot too. There just didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it.
I suppose the train of thought must have been making me feel a bit stressed out, because as I walked, I began to notice that I was stimming. Just low-level stuff – a bit of flapping, a bit of thigh-tapping, a bit of running my hands along walls and suchlike – but definitely stimming nonetheless. And then the answer hit me.
See, I’ve got this weird stim, something I’ve ever seen anyone else do. It’s not an anxious stim; and, although I sometimes do it when I’m getting excited, it’s not exactly a happy stim either. It’s more of a “something good is in process” stim – it happens when I’m close to figuring something out, or saying something that I think is important, or listening to something which is making ideas start firing off in my head. I have to be sitting down to do this stim, and what happens is that I start rocking from side to side, not moving my legs or any part of my torso, but shifting my whole upper body weight from one hip to the other in a rhythmical movement. Sometimes this graduates into a gentle, almost imperceptible, rocking motion as I move my torso back and forth.
I’ve only been doing this stim for about two years, and I’ve never understood where I picked it up or what it’s all about. Until today. Because today I realised that whenever I’m formulating ideas or working stuff out, I start riding an imaginary horse.
This is a marvellous discovery. If I could just spend my entire life on horseback, the world would never be a problem again.