I have a confession to make.
For the past two years or so I’ve had a love/hate relationship with my horse. Some mornings I would wake up and go down to the barn and he would nicker softly and I’d give him a kiss on his soft little nose and all would be right with the world. Then other mornings I would wake up and go down to the barn and he would nicker softly and I’d kindly tell him to shut the hell up.
Now, before you call me the worst person ever, hear me out.
A horse’s whinny can mean different things. When you’re in a good mood and you’re able to forget that you’ve started yet another work day at 6:30AM and you still have thirteen more hours to go before you can collapse on the sofa and pull a blanket up over your head a whinny from your horse can be the most fabulous greeting there is.
But when you’re in a slightly less than stellar mood (which, let’s be honest, I most often am at 6:30AM when I’ve just rolled out of bed and my keurig is being a bitch AGAIN and the dog took off after the deer AGAIN and the other dog ripped my arm out of its socket AGAIN and my boss is texting me before seven AGAIN) a good morning whinny can be worse than nails on a chalkboard.
Me: I’m working on it. Hold on.
Me: You get fed EVERY MORNING after Day and before Cody. Hold. On.
Me: Son of a bitch, SHUT UP!!!!!
When people ask what I do for a living and I tell them I’m a barn manager their eyes light up and they make cooing sounds and they rant on and on about how “cooooool” that must be and isn’t it awesome I get to do what I love every day and how it must not seem like work at ALL because I’m always with horses and horses are awesome and OHMYGODYOUHAVETHEBESTJOBEVER.
And I do. I really, really do.
But sometimes… Well, sometimes it’s hard not to fall out of love with what you love.
Darwin since I was a sophomore in college. He
was an underweight, untrained four year old thoroughbred off the racetrack. I was
an idiot. It was love at first sight. For the next two years I scraped and I
saved every penny I earned to pay for his care. I worked three different jobs
(not to mention going to school full time) just so he would have the fancy
stall on the end with the nice view. I basically had a child, without really
having a child. Then I graduated and Darwin and I moved up in the world.
I got a full time job as a barn manager which came with (gasp!) a free stall for my best buddy. Life couldn’t get any better. I got to take care of horses all day and ride my horse every night BECAUSE HE LIVED WHERE I LIVED!!!!!!! and everything was all rainbows and butterflies.
I used him for lessons AND HE WAS THE BESTEST HORSE EVER and I took him to horse shows and I used money I didn’t really have to pay for training and even when my instructor rolled his eyes and muttered under his breath it didn’t matter because Darwin was the BEST and the BRIGHTEST and there wasn’t any other horse cooler than him.
Then, on Christmas Eve,
Darwin got kicked in the
eye by the worst pony in the world. Long story short, the vet bill was $3,500
and he was out of commission for the next three months. And just like that,
some of his shininess began to wear off.
It didn’t happen all at once.
I nursed him through the eye injury and I paid off my bill every month without complaining (too much). But by then my job had begun to catch up with me, and since I’d gotten used to not riding Darwin every day because of his injury, it became easier and easier to make up excuses as to why I shouldn’t ride him even when he got better.
I was busy.
He was crazy.
Lunging for fifteen minutes was easier.
And (my personal favorite) after a long day of taking care of other people’s horses, the last thing I wanted to do was spend more time with my own.
There were periods where it went back to how it used to be. I would make a grand effort to ride every day and it would continue like that for a few weeks or a month. I even started using him for lessons again, but he was never quite like he was before and because I couldn’t put my finger on it and it frustrated me to realize the horse I had now wasn’t the same horse I’d had in college, I made more excuses and more excuses until one day I didn’t even bother making them any more.
Sometimes I toyed with the idea of leasing
out, and for one summer I did. I even considered selling him, but in the end I
couldn’t do it and besides, who would ever take him? He was a neurotic twelve
year old off the track thoroughbred who couldn’t jump, hated trails, and
spooked at every thing that moved.
Except he didn’t used to be that way, and I knew it was all my fault.
He knew I didn’t love him, not like I used to. He knew I resented him, just a little. He even knew I considered putting him down once, but that’s only because it was pouring rain and he was galloping around in the field like a maniac and I had just slipped and fallen flat on my face and I couldn’t help but think: why am I out here trying so hard to bring in a horse I don’t even enjoy riding any more?
Somewhere along the way I lost my confidence with
It’s embarrassing to admit, especially when I teach lessons and run a barn, but
I was afraid to ride my own horse. The same horse I’d once adored more than anything
else. The same horse I’d galloped bareback in the field and taken around the
track and shown at the horse park… I was now afraid of. Well, maybe not afraid.
But I was frustrated. And annoyed. And, worst of all, angry.
I was angry because somewhere along the way I’d lost my connection with him, and even though that probably sounds silly to some of you, I know there are others out there who will understand.
The trust between us was gone, lost somewhere between an unlucky eye injury and two years worth of excuses.
Sometimes I liked to pretend the trust and the love was back. I’d march up to his stall and take him out and tack up him, just like I used to. And I tried my best to ignore him when he jumped and spooked and rolled the whites of his eyes like he never did before. And for the first five minutes of our ride he would be good, but then my nerves would seep through and the horrible, gut wrenching feeling of having had something that was now irrevocably lost would sink in and I would get off in tears.
Tomorrow, I always told myself. Tomorrow I’ll go down to the barn and things will be different. I’ll love him like I used to and he’ll love me and we’ll be best friends again.
Well, I’m here to say tomorrow has finally happened.
I’m not exactly sure what clicked this time when all the other times I failed so miserably to get through to a horse who, above all else, just wants to be loved and understood. All I know is I rode
yesterday and for the first time in over a year he felt like my horse again. I
wasn’t nervous and neither was he. We trotted all around, doing the best crab
walk counter bend you ever did see, and I was smiling so big my mouth hurt when
I was done.
I gave him a bath and he nuzzled my pockets for treats which for once I finally remembered to carry, just like I did when all was right with the world and his morning nicker signified a soft, quiet greeting instead of the hard, miserable weight of responsibility.
After I was done work today I grabbed a book and took him out of his stall and we went out on the lawn and he grazed while I read. A helicopter flew overhead and two days ago he would have spooked and jumped and ripped out of my hands.
Yesterday he didn’t even lift his head.
I don’t know how such a significant change can occur so quickly. All I know is it did, and I can’t wait to get up tomorrow morning and rush downstairs and see my horse. The road to getting back to where we were won’t be an easy one, but we’ve started the journey, and sometimes I think that’s the hardest step of all. For most of you, if you’ve even made it this far, this post probably seems stupid and ridiculous. After all, it’s just a horse. What’s the big deal? And I know that’s what you’re thinking because that’s what I thought. Now I know better. I fell out of love for a while. It’s a hard thing to admit, especially when you’re talking about an animal you’re supposed to care for no matter what. But I’m using this long, rambling story to say I’m in love again.
And it feels wonderful.