Horse people can be a little intense. Come to think of it, I can’t say I’ve ever met anyone who was so-so about horses. Lots of people manage to live rewarding, happy lives without ever thinking of horses. We look at them with awe, wondering what that would be like, while we arrange work, living space, transportation, and even end-of-life directives in support of being with horses for an hour or two a day. The tiniest details take on mammoth proportions. We’re insufferable and it’s just the way we want it.
It’s my job as a trainer to remind you of the big picture. At the end of a ride, it might be the reminder that the farrier had just been here, and the horse is adjusting to a slight balance change. Or that the horse worked hard the day before and it’s normal that his energy is a bit low sometimes. It’s an effort to diffuse our pinpoint focus to take in some extenuating circumstances. It isn’t making excuses so much as encouraging us to come up for air.
It was a ride. It doesn’t matter if it was a lesson, a trail ride, or a competition. There were mistakes and there were brilliant strides. Pride and embarrassment. Flawless forward movement and sticky resistance. Glee and frustration. Whether things went really well or really badly, mortality appeared in a corner and shook a warning finger. All lives are timed events, precious beyond measure.
We laughed, we cried. It was a ride.
Now, the tack is off. You’re done lingering with the curry, picking hooves, brushing girth marks. The saddle has been stored and the bit is clean. (Yes, you cleaned your bit.) Nothing left to do but walk him back to his friends in turnout. It’s time to say thank you for something a whole lot bigger than a carrot can repay.
Sure, you were positive on the ride. That “good boy” or “atta girl” floated on the air, along with “perfect!” and my favorite, “yesss!” with a juicy hiss to it. If you rode with a group, you communicated more with your horse than your friends. If you were riding in a lesson, you still seasoned the ride with praise and deep breathing. If you were alone, you let silence within the movement bind your bodies in rhythm. Amen, but something even bigger than that.
Knowing that regardless of the kind of ride, horses hold us in a uniquely intimate way, their keen senses not distracted by our verbal chatter. Words are superfluous. Our thoughts are as true as tattoos.
When it’s all done but unbuckling the halter, it’s time for the big thank you. It’s the one that the rider says so plain and blunt and wordless, that the horse undeniably feels all that you feel. It’s a flame-thrower thank-you, the kind of gratitude that consumes all that came before.
Start here: You are standing next to a horse. For all the times you dreamed of standing here, and for the times to come when you may not be able to, acknowledge your fabulous luck. This is sacred ground. Nothing less than a perfect moment in time.
Stand back, retreat a few steps, outside of an arm’s reach but still deep inside his heart. See his eyes soften? His poll drops just a bit lower as he shifts to better balance? This connection we feel, this beautiful obsession, is not affected by distance. We don’t need to hold him tight to keep him close. Trust that.
It’s the peace he needs to feel, this affirmation that we will abide together; confidence that it will hold beyond a ride. Stand a moment in this light and remember the whole journey. Awkward beginnings, tumbles and re-mounts. Through sound and unsound years, and if we are especially lucky, on into old age, his and yours.
If you are brave enough to admit it, fear has been there every step, some days obscuring all else but in the end, always cowered in the face of love. If you’re a long-timer, a ghost herd joins you to survey the long and twisting path. It’s your wild good fortune to have been carried all this way.
I’m pretty ordinary. I don’t have a trust fund to support my horses. My truck is missing its tailgate so it makes hauling easier. My little farm always has some fence to fix, the twine is holding for now. I said goodbye to my best old dog last year and there is a young horse in the barn. Days are over-filled with horses and words about horses. Today, as much as any day in my horse-crazy girlhood, I want a horse. Even with a barn full, the desire is blinding. Gratitude takes my breath away and fills me with more… gratitude. Thank you. Who is luckier than us?
Holidays bring it out in me. It’s Labor Day, a line in the sand. School is back in session and it’s a theoretical day of rest for workers. Even those who can’t tell work from play. Seasons are changing, days get shorter here and longer somewhere else on this tiny planet.
Change is eternal and so is saying thank-you. Those beautiful rides at dusk, the sun sending long shadows in pink light, as precious as any in our horse life, deserve a special nod at summer’s end.
It’s my job as a trainer to remind you of the big picture. Everything will be fine. Life goes on, and though our view might be as narrow as a pair of equine ears, the impact of our appreciation is infinite.