My heart is sad today because of a huge loss that came after my failed surgery. I lost a lot because of what that doctor did to me, but one of the main things I still grieve is my ability to ride, train and show horses. As I lay on the couch to rest these past several days, I’ve been watching the equestrians in the Olympics with pure envy.
I miss the comradery with such a beautiful, smart, talented animal. There is a total trust between a horse and its rider and a rider to her mount. The rider trusts the animal with their safety - that the horse will listen to the ques, just like in the hours of training put in before a competition. The horse trusts the rider, knowing he will be guided in the right direction, willingly following the rider’s lead. This immense trust and respect make the partnership between the two so beautiful to watch.
As I write this in the cool of the morning, I remember the years of early mornings down at the barn. It would still be dark as I sleepily pulled on my coveralls and boots. I looked forward to the hour of quiet, tending my friends before I headed to school or work. My barn cats greeted me as I slid the barn door open and flipped on the overhead florescent lights, a chorus of nickers greeted my ears along with impatient banging on stall doors. A grin covered my face as the sweetest sounds reached my ears. I called good mornings by name as I walked down the row of stalls to the tack room. Hungry horses circled their deep pine shavings. I inhaled that delightful, sweet pine scent mixed with the perfect combination of horse sweat, fly spray, show sheen and hay – along with a bit of manure. It was an intoxicating smell that I loved.
The tack room had smells all of its own - leather and saddle soap mixed with sweet molasses. The barn cats followed me in and ate their breakfast as I mixed the feed for my impatient charges. Each horse received custom mixed feed and supplements. I grabbed up the buckets and headed to the first stall. Excited neighs and tossing heads greeted me as I pulled the feed doors open to each stall and dumped in the grain or pellets. I gave each horse a quick look over to make sure no one had injured themselves in the night. I passed out thick flakes of sweet Bermuda hay before cleaning out the stalls.
carried on a conversation with the horses and the cats as I worked. I enjoyed a bit of time with each animal as I came in to their stall to clean it. Every animal has their own unique personality which makes them special and some more endearing than others. I loved to bury my face in to the silky-smooth neck and take a deep breath. The smell that only comes from a horse filled my nostrils and comforted my soul. I ran my hand along the strong neck and down the chest, appreciating the large, strong muscles rippling under the sleek, shiny coat.
The wonderful, heady smell of a horse is sweet like honeysuckle yet salty. A salted caramel cupcake is the closest thing I can think of to describe the deliciousness of a horse’s scent. One of the most soothing things to me is a horse’s coat and smell.
I had to leave the barn too soon to head back to the house. But my senses were full of sounds, sights and smells that would keep me going through the day knowing that I got to come back to this sanctuary at the end of each day. I looked forward to the ride I would take that evening.
I felt a huge sense of freedom when I sat a top the back of a horse. The great muscles taking me places I could never go with my own two legs. Be that over a 3’6’’ jump or traveling at a full gallop around the conditioning track or across the pasture. Or the cool evening breeze blowing all my stress away while sauntering down a wooded trail. The gentle rocking of the rhythmic hoof beats reassured and comforted me. All my cares and worries fell away. It was just me and my other half – I felt complete with a horse under me. I communicated with him ever so slightly with a light squeeze of inner thigh and calves and he responded immediately by picking up speed. The wind whooshing past my ears as my body changed rhythm in response to my mount’s movement. I pressed my leg in to his side with a light touch of the reins on his neck to show him where I wanted to go. He responded willingly, eager to fulfil his part of our partnership. He could sense my pleasure the same as I could feel his joy as we made our way across the grass field. We loved doing this together - riding. Sometimes, we had hard work to better our skills for the next show or match in the arena.
times, it was a relaxing day through the trails as we just enjoyed nature and each other’s company. I felt the soft breeze on my skin as it played through his mane under the warm sun. Birds called around us and natures little animals skittered out of the way as the four hooves thudded by. We would see deer or bobcats who were completely oblivious to the human atop the animal with whom they shared the outdoors.
I would feel my body reset slowly to the sound of hoof beats. Calm over came me and a sense of everything being ok with the world dominated my brain. My worries were carried off in the wind that swept past us as me moved at different speeds – walk, jog, trot and canter. As our time came to an end and we headed back to the barn, I already looked forward to the next ride.
I threw my leg off the saddle as I slid down to the unforgiving earth. I patted my mount on the neck as I led him to the tie-up to untack him. I pulled my saddle off his sweaty back and gave him a good brush down. Then, I walked my partner to the pasture gate to turn him out and waited for his ritual after-ride roll. Sure enough, he went over to his favorite sandy spot, knelt to his knees and lay down. He rolled from side to side, scratching his back and working all the kinks out. Then, he heaved himself to his feet, stood splay-legged and shook like a wet dog that just came out of the lake. I loved to watch him do this every time. It made me laugh. I’ve heard you can tell how much a horse is worth by how many times he rolls over, but that’s just non-sense. I still count how many times he rolls, though. He stands up with sand sticking to his sweat and grass hanging out of his mane and tail. He has a look of satisfaction on his face as he walks over to the water tank for a drink of cool, clear water.
I watch him play in the water as he slurps it then lets it trickle back in to the tank from his lips, taking grass pieces out of his mouth back to the water. He’s so silly. I smile as I watch him play and just be a horse. After drinking his fill, he slowly saunters off to graze and to play.
I am relaxed and peaceful after my ride. That is my happy place. The place I go when the world is pure chaos. I can be myself and be at one with a beautiful, magnificent animal. What a gift my horses were to me.
I still have one left. He is absolutely gorgeous! A palomino Quarter Horse, I bought when I was 17. His barn name is Chip because he is the color of a peanut butter chip. I purchased him to show in a two-year-old futurity my senior year of high school, then sell him before I left for college. But I fell in love with my Beautiful Boy and he ended up coming to college with me.
He was stabled about 10 minutes from my dorm room. Every morning about 6:30 before my 8 AM class I would drive to the barn to feed him and turn him out for the day. Each afternoon after class, I would head back out to the barn to ride, clean out his stall and hang out with other stablemates. I loved having him with me at school. It was so nice to know his comforting presence was just a short drive away. He made college less stressful. Other teammates brought their horses to college as well. We had such great comradery. I miss those days.
Now, Chip leads a life of leisure, although I know he misses the rides as much as I do. He loves people. He’s now a ‘pasture ornament’. It is nice to look out my bathroom or dining room window and see him peacefully grazing in the front pasture. I can walk the short distance down to the barn to give him treats and smell his comforting scent. His presence is reassuring to me. He is 22 now. I dread the day he is gone for I know there probably won’t be another horse. There’s no need. Sadly, I don’t think I will ever heal to be able to ride again or have the physical capacity to be active in caring for or judging horses. My dreams of horses, horse shows, winning championships and riding with my children were all stolen from me. I grief my loss and hope there are horses in heaven.