My parents grew up in the Great Depression and were frugal; we kept things “for good.” It was the first Easter after we lost our farm and we’d moved across four states and settled in a tract house, trying to pass for suburbanites.  I was nine and mortally wounded from losing my horse, so in a vain effort, my mother got me the only brand new dress I ever remember having. We were poor relation and my mother’s aunt sent us boxes of hand-me-downs from their girls. My older sister got them first, so I could see my wardrobe coming at a distance. This Easter dress was precious, partly because it was a washed-out green color and it had a full skirt with a layer of actual chiffon on top, and partly because it was the same year that I had set my heart on becoming a nun. It was the only dress I ever loved. So after wearing it to church once, I kept it “for good.”

You know how this ends; a year later we’d moved to the edge of town, I’d already outgrown the dress, in more ways than one, and I was still whining about horses. The other thing that stuck was my mother’s frugal habit; everything special was kept safely out of reach.

Many years later, my mother bought me a beautiful wooden bench with carved horse heads, and a brand new butter-soft bridle. Well, that’s an exaggeration but she had passed away and she would have wanted me to have them. Okay, probably not, but it’s what I’d like to believe. Cats took to sleeping on the bench but the bridle went in a show bag where I kept it “for good,” because I’m a grand-daughter of the Depression.

The dark side of frugal runs to being stingy. It’s the worry that comes from fear and lack. The feeling that nothing good will happen and if something does, somehow, it must be held separate. We did it with Easter dresses, birthday bubble bath, and mother’s heirloom sterling–which I saw it for the first time a month before she died. And of course, she and I held back the best in ourselves as well, put in a dark closet, while we struggled on. We didn’t know another way.

At the same time, my other family–the one in the barn–was giving me their generational hand-me-downs, too. Good horses encouraged me to open my heart and trust that good things could happen. They rewarded me constantly. The more I let go of my fears and reached out to my horses with kindness, instead of worry and limitation, the steadier we got. Sometimes people told me that I had a push-button horse; some magical creature that you might find locked in a glass cabinet, but we knew the truth. My horse and I took what we had and polished it up a little every day. We became larger than the sum of our parts. Most of us stick with horses because we end up better people than who we were when we started. That happened for me.

My poor mother was wary from loss and so, trying to control outcome, she labeled things good and bad–mostly bad. But even that was too meager; horses taught me the real challenge is choosing between love and fear.

So a few years back when it was time to start my young mare, she inherited the Grandfather Horse’s patched and faded first winter blanket, for good luck, and that brand new bridle. Because she’s good enough before she starts and with time, I’ve learned to be generous–in more ways than one.

So that’s my question; what are you holding back–keeping “for good”–in the barn? I know you have a saddle pad squirreled away. And maybe some nice breeches. You know the waist could get tighter on those if they hide in the drawer too long. Besides, they were on sale. Let yourself have them.

And what about your horse? Do you keep a critical eye peeled because you need to prepare for the worst? Are you quick to find fault, judging your rides harshly before other riders have the chance? Do you strive for perfection so hard that your horse feels your constant doubt? Or do you never actually ask for his best work because the two of you are nothing special to start with? And then, are you conservative rewarding him because he was never quite good enough? Finally, does he act like the Great Depression is on his back, and is he right?

Then fear has won and it’s time for love to rise up. Remember what horses have always meant to you and feel your heart warm, as your shoulders soften. Then say thank you, just like your mother taught you. Ask for your horse’s very best work, because you respect him and you both deserve it. Then become the rider you need to be to receive it. Sit tall and proud; you’ve already won just being there. Most of all don’t let the tatters and tears of everyday life convince you that your horse is any less than perfect and waiting to shine. Reward that flawless possibility because it isn’t bought with money or luck, and the more you affirm it, the stronger it gets. Then with a freeing breath, know that we are all made of stardust; this perfection is inside us every day.

Sure, bad things happen and fear is a natural response. But we shouldn’t let it change who we are. It’s up to us to remember the stuff we are made of.

There will always be two stories about horses. One is that they are brainless tools; too crazy or lazy or just not worth the effort. That you’ll always be a victim of a horse’s whims and habits unless you dominate them to a stupor. The other story is that horses are mythical creatures with brave hearts who lift and carry us in perfect unity. That together, we can break free of earthly limitations.

Both stories actually start the same way. After that, we get just about what we think we deserve.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

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