Recently I popped over to the barn hoping to squeeze in an afternoon ride. Storm clouds were gathering, but I thought I might have some fun before the rain started. Or perhaps the forecasted thunderstorms might go around us, as they so often do here in the valley where I live.
But as I was leading my mare, Sally, into the barn for her pre-ride grooming, the first few raindrops began to fall. The storm blew up quickly. Within seconds, trees were swaying in the wind. Thunder boomed and lightning forked across the sky. I decided it was far safer to stay put than to try to make it to my car.
As the storm continued to gather steam, the cracks of thunder drew close. The trees swayed lower to the ground. I cringed as I watched a sapling break over the fence of my riding arena. Rain pelted the tin barn roof, drowning out all other sounds. I had left my phone in the car. Only the two of us were in the barn, a point of calm in a raging storm.
I unclipped Sally from the cross ties and backed her deeper into the barn. To keep both of us calm I began talking to her of nonsensical things. I brushed her coat, braided her mane and fed her cookies. She sighed, lowered her head and rested a hind leg. The storm continued outside the barn, but inside a sort of spell had descended upon us---a connection deeper than the day to day. Still bound by the spell I looked back up the aisle and saw the cross ties, and it brought back a bittersweet memory.
Four years before, a different horse stood in those cross ties while I said my last goodbyes. He had been my once-in-a-lifetime horse. Common sense tells me that he must have had his faults, but if he did, I never saw them. He was athletic, with automatic lead changes, and his joy in jumping was second to none. I’d met him when I was 16, and he and I shared a bond for 25 years.
Sally, purchased to replace him upon his retirement, was different in so many ways. Although I have loved her for many years now, I suddenly realized that nearly every conversation I have ever had about her compared her to my gelding. My heart sank a little when I realized that the comparison was seldom favorable to her. Her lead changes had to come from cues, for example. She jumped because I asked her to, not because she especially enjoyed it.
As I mulled over these thoughts, I realized that I had to let my old horse go, and that it was OK for Sally to be different. In fact, she has special traits of her own, not the least of which is a sweetness and kindness foretold in the depths of her large, dark eyes. A patient mount for beginning riders, she is also a trusted companion on long trail rides and a forgiver of mistakes. My heart swells as I realize that she doesn’t have to be like my old horse to be perfect just the way she is.
As the storm subsided into a gentle rain, the spell was broken. I hated to see the moment end. We had been standing together for nearly an hour, and dusk was gathering. Our ride would have to wait until tomorrow. I returned Sally to her lot, slipped off her halter and gave her a quick pat on her neck. She whinnied, anxious for her feed. As I wrapped up my evening chores and prepared to leave, I was not upset by the change in plans. Instead, I was grateful for the special time with the mare I now know is my second once-in-a-lifetime horse.
This article was originally published the February 2016 issue, Volume #473 of EQUUS magazine