It is late evening and I am sitting on an upturned bucket in the barn. My mare is in cross ties, looming patiently over me as I clip her legs. I am not doing a respectable job. Hair, my own or my horse’s, remains one of life’s great mysteries to me. Even when I was clipping regularly, I could not produce a decent job. Now I am tired. I have just completed a fast-paced week in my job as a high school teacher, and I am preparing for my first horse show in five years. I still have to ride. I still have to clean tack. I am not ready and neither is my mare, but horse show world, here we come.
Recently, I have started pushing the edges of my comfort zone in more than one area of my life. And I have gained a new friend, nearly 20 years younger than myself, who has been encouraging me to get back into the show ring. I had competed in a variety of English and Western classes since I was 12, and I don’t remember why I left it; I always enjoyed my experiences. Sometimes, life just happens. I no longer possess a bottomless well of energy.
This reflection leads me back to thoughts of my mare—she represents one “comfort zone” I will not stretch. I am honest enough with myself to recognize that sometimes we are given the perfect horse for the season in our lives. Sally is that horse for me. She would not be considered a fancy mover, but she is consistent and for the most part motors me safely around the arena or over a course of fences.
I appreciate her sameness regardless of the amount of time that has passed between rides. When she and I were both younger, she safely carried my daughter around the arena in walk-trot poles classes; I do not believe that she would ever have considered doing otherwise. Nowadays, she would much prefer to go out on the trails but will patiently consider my other requests. It is beyond me now how I once thought I needed a sportier model. I am much happier with a sedan, if you will, rather than a sports car.
This weekend, I am amazed by the fact that, although Sally hasn’t been on a trailer, been bathed or had anything except her bridle path clipped in five years, she willingly allows me to do all of these things. We have been together nine years now. We know each other’s moods and habits, strengths and weaknesses. We have formed a bond.
The show is a success, although my definition of this word is vastly different than it once was: I am simply pleased that I didn’t fall off. The end of the day finds me exhausted but happy. Although Sally and I were both out of practice and did not perform our best, her behavior was exemplary until the last class. She was tired, her patience with me stretched to its limits. So she managed to work in a couple of crow hops during canter departs in both directions—a bit of naughtiness that provided the entertainment of the day for the small, family-oriented show.
Even this was perfect, serving to remind me that, yes, I can still handle these small mishaps. Horses are wonderful teachers and companions in our lives, and I am thankful to have Sally in mine, not only in this season but for those to come.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #457, October 2015.