Dear Friends, October is Horse Appreciation Month (or it should be)
*These photos are old and have withstood many years and low image resolution. Apologies in advance!
I have learned something from the people around me yet, even more from the animals I choose to spend my time with daily. Horses. Horses have been a part of my life since I can remember. My passion for these noble creatures began the day I saw a horse and rider walking down my suburban street in Washington State. The velvety muzzle and the gentle exhalation of breathe made me fall in love. A love that has lasted and will continue to last forever. Horses are a part of my soul.
From there my passion began. Each horse has taught me something- an important lesson about my self or life. Perhaps, sometimes learning something about myself I didn’t like or needed to work on.
First horse I took a lesson on. Perhaps you were not a flashy or sweet mare. I remember gunpowder grey and overweight. But you were what I needed you to be- bombproof and stubborn as a mule. You took a petite 9-year old girl who was timid and shy and taught her to be a little more assertive. Even if it was just to get you to move. You gave me a foundation.
You handsome, Paint. You loved to roll on the ground whether you had a rider mounted or not. You taught me to keep your head up because that was the only way to prevent you from dropping. My arms would burn by the end, but I was arguably the only rider who never had to bail off of you to save herself. You were predictably unpredictable and you stand out perhaps more than any other horse. Even now when I meet other equestrians who rode at Watchung Stables, you are infamous.
Fiery chestnut. I learned what it was to be bitten, to ride a buck, a rear, and keep you far away from other horses. Perhaps you were naughtier in my memories than in reality, but I was proud to ride you.
On that cold, rainy autumn morning of my first rated horse show you reflected my own anxiety. Instead of walking to the warm up ring, you wheeled and raced back to your warm, cozy stall with me on your back. I didn’t blame you. In fact, I was such a bundle of nerves that I used this as an omen of why I couldn’t show that day. You sensed my nerves and I let you turn around. I could have stopped you if I’d truly wanted. But secretly I was glad. I stopped riding not long after this moment. This is something I’ve always regretted but somehow everything worked out just fine.
Dressage schoolmaster and thoroughbred. The first horse I rode after returning to riding after 17 years away from horses. You seemed so large when I sat astride you and so much bigger than I remembered. But you took care of me. You made me feel safe and helped me to find again my love and passion despite my insecurities. I was a new mother, both overweight and lacking in confidence. You helped me to overcome my fear and reignite my passion for horses. When you passed away, I grieved for you.
There is just something about a Quarter Horse. A sweet but naughty boy. Often I was assigned you because I wouldn’t back down when you were misbehaving, cutting corners or refusing a jump. Even if I didn’t want to ride you, the barn owner had more faith in me than I did myself. Something that happens more often than not.
You taught me to ride any horse and learn from them. From you I learned to keep working until I got it right, and then work on it some more. I had so much trouble getting the transition to the canter with you that sometimes I would end in tears. But, since then my canter transitions are pretty awesome. Patience and perseverance.
So sensitive to every change in balance or pressure. I learned from you to become a quiet rider. Begin with a little pressure and gradually increase. I learned how to hold a forward horse and how to let her show me when I was wrong. I learned to use my body subtly and to trust in my horse.
Super animated and sassy, you were not affectionate but you had a heart of gold.
The Mexican Gangster and a beautiful bay Quarter Horse. Amazing trail horse turned schoolmaster. You were never quite a packer because you were stubborn and not afraid to show your feelings or try to get your own way. But you were steady, predictable, and sweet. Never mean or dangerous. As an adult rider you were the closest thing to a security blanket that I could get and taught me more confidence over jumps. I actually returned to the show ring with you and fought those childhood demons.
Even now when I ride you occasionally, it’s like putting on my favorite hooded sweatshirt. Warm and comforting.
Oh boy. Probably the horse I was most excited yet nervous to ride. I was there right after you came to us off the track and rehabilitation. When you were skin and bones. I watched you gain weight and confidence with training. I took care of you for 8 months: blanketing, turnout, and feeding. I knew your personality and you became my favorite to take care of. When your owner told me I could ride you I was both excited and terrified. A young ex-racer, still in training when I was not the most confident rider?
My trainer and barn owner had been telling me for months I was ready to move up but taking that leap was terrifying. Mounting you was hilarious. Even still growing you were the biggest horse I’d ridden. I thought you were going to take off on me, but you sat there sleeping. Getting you to move off my leg was hard work.
Perhaps I’ve learned the most from you about myself. I’ve learned to sit up and back. You need a confident rider- even though you are smart you look to your rider for guidance. I trust you to take care of me just like you trust me to care for you. To always hold your excitement on the inside and recognize the subtle clues. To not use a spur on your left side. To distract you with food while I’m saddling you if you’re in a cranky mood. And recently I’ve faced a fear and learned to fall off HARD in front of my kids. But then get back on again even if I’m in pain and it’s not pretty.
I’ve also learned that just because I love a horse doesn’t mean they are meant to be mine. That is still a question that looms as I strive toward horse ownership.
There is a pattern here when I look back. I roller coaster between confidence builders and challenging horses. Because we can’t be confident all the time. Sometimes our confidence is shaken and we seek out what is safe. These are not all the horses I have ridden in my lifetime of course. These are the horses that stand out. Every horse has taught me something important about myself. Of course, the one thing they all have in common is an amazing personality!
I could not appreciate these animals more than I already do. They have a unique way of giving us what we need even if it is not what we want.
What is the most important lesson that you learned from animals?