“There’s more to life than horses” is something that has been said to me my whole life. My response? “Yes, there’s ponies too.”
Horses have been an essential part of my life for as long as I can remember. I first fell in love with them when my Uncle put me on one twelve years ago. Since then, horses have been my escape from reality and therapy during hard times.
Three years ago my mother suffered from pre-eclampsia, a potentially dangerous pregnancy disease caused by high blood pressure. The baby came early and my mother stayed in the hospital in the intensive care unit. I was fourteen going on fifteen at the time and doing all the housework on top of caring for my younger siblings.
My Father stayed over at the hospital with my mother, coming home in the early morning and the afternoon to check on us. Everyone went to visit my Mother at the hospital on multiple occasions but I only went once. I could barely bring myself to go the first time as seeing my Mother in that state made everything seem all too real. Every time the phone rang I was slow to answer, dreading the possibility of it being my Father with bad news. I did not cry as that would have been admitting something was wrong. Those were the hardest days of my life. When my Mother came home I felt joy for her and apathy and anger towards the baby. In my mind it was the baby who had caused everything to happen. It felt like forever before I was able to hold the baby and feel only love for her. Since that whole experience I’ve hardly smiled or laughed.
It was roughly a year after my baby sister was born that I got involved with Cody, a buckskin Quarter Horse gelding. This was a big step for me as my last time on a horse had not gone well at all. The horse had spooked pretty badly leaving me pretty shaken. My parents felt I was ready to start riding again and so did I. I started lessons on Cody in September and by November I was leasing him and riding him alone. The stable we rode at was and English riding center that also specialized in Dressage and Hunter Jumping. I was the one and only Western rider there. In the time I spent with Cody I learned trail class patterns, how to lunge, walking, trotting and cantering, backing up, spinning, neck and direct reining, bareback riding, Natural Horsemanship, barrel patterns and even how to give medication.
Riding at a stable where I was the only Western rider and the only new rider was intimidating at times. Seeing all those girls, some younger than me some older, made me feel small. I became tense with nerves and frustration and began to make stupid mistakes and Cody began to act out. I was frustrated with the mistakes I was making, Cody was frustrated with me and my instructor was too. It was all too much. Too many people in a too small arena and too much pressure. Finally I reached my breaking point. I took Cody into the arena and turned him loose. He bucked serval times and took off running. The more frustrated I get the more I need to move, so naturally I started running with him. We ran, side by side, jumping over poles and barrels. When I stopped, he stopped. When I walked, he walked. If I did it he did too. Never ever had I felt more connected to him than I did then. It was as if he was saying he was ready for us to start working together. So we did. I walked over to the corner of the arena where all his tack was and he followed. I tacked him up and got on, it was our best ride ever.
I love being outside more than I do inside, so Cody and I rode out in the pasture more often than not. It was refreshing to ride through the field after an intense workout indoors. Cody enjoyed the pasture to and grew to dislike being in the arena. On one occasion when we were heading back inside he bucked and broke into a canter. I executed the one rein stop as I’d been shown and rode him into the barn where I untacked him and threw him out to pasture.
There were times we rode at the stable and other riders and their horses would be having a bad day. There was one day in particular that we rode in the arena while another rider was there. She rode a handsome Paint horse gelding named Leo who was quite mean. He’d attacked anybody and everybody he could reach. He had attacked my sister and gone after me while I was in his stall with him. This time I was riding when he came tearing across the arena despite his rider’s attempts to stop him, and tried to bite Cody, getting my leg instead. Another occasion Leo and his rider rode Cody and me into a wall. From that point on if he was indoors we rode outdoors and vice versa.
We stayed at that stable for a few months before my riding instructor moved to a different location. She’d bought land a few miles from the stable with the purpose of putting Cody there. I had helped her put up the electric fence and clear the land of rocks and branches and trash, and when the time came I helped her move Cody out there. I rode out at her place a few months before leaving to work at a stable close to my house. My instructor lived over sixty miles away and the stable was ten minutes from me. The last time I rode Cody he’d been having migraine issues and had reacted to being ridden violently. That was the last time I rode him.
I started to work at the Beekman Therapeutic Riding Center in May of 2015. There I did everything but ride. My responsibilities included the following: cleaning stalls and paddocks, feeding the horses and ponies residing there, helping with riding lessons and helping out with any projects the stable had. I did pretty much anything and everything they asked me too. Every now and again I would get on a horse and work on lateral flexion, backing up, stopping and turning. I was never on the horses for more than 10 minutes as riding was technically against the rules. I worked at that stable for one year before leaving, now I’m in Texas.
I came to Texas for two reasons, to get to know my family on my Mom’s side better, and to work on my riding and getting my confidence back. There’s no one I’d rather teach me about horses and riding than my Uncle. He’s my real life John Wayne. My loping could use work, my lead changes are non-existent and my balance while riding bareback needs work. Will I work on those things while I’m down here? I’m not sure but I’d like to.
I haven’t smiled and laughed and written and drawn anything in quite some time. But whenever I’m around a horse I cannot help but to smile and laugh and feel inspired to draw and to write. Horses are my escape from reality and the hard times in life.
So yes, there IS really more to life than horses, but horse are MY life.