The Next Horse: Remounting after the Hardest Fall of All

 

 

This perfect horse of yours has been with you since he was young, or you got him near retirement, but he taught you the best of what you know. Maybe he was your first horse or maybe he was one of many in the course of your life, but this particular horse just happened to fit perfectly into an odd-shaped hollow place that you didn’t know you had before he came. Yes, I’ll say it. He completed you; dorky but so what? Sometimes a horse can do what friends and family never can because riding makes us wildly vulnerable. The truth is he’s special. He’s smarter and more sensitive. He lifted you above the mud; he carried you like a queen in a t-shirt and helmet. This horse gave you the kind of beauty in movement that your own legs never could. With this horse, you took to the air.

But it was more than that. When you flew you felt a thing too elusive to put a human word on. Was it some kind of grace? He didn’t hold your random impatience against you. This horse was always the kinder and more forgiving half of the dance. He took care of you when you didn’t know better or might not have deserved it. This horse was your treasure, so you arranged your life to support him, spared him nothing, and it still felt like you got more than you gave. The two of you had the very best luck and did everything just right, but time passed, and the horse died. You were shocked or you saw it coming but he was just as gone.

You sobbed, choking on air, eyes swollen bloody red, or you went marble-cold, pale and silent. Utterly silent.

If you are her friend, you said the Sainted Horse’s name and told all the best stories, mourning with her because it had happened to you or you knew it would someday. If you’re her trainer, you tell her that all horses are smart and sensitive, you remind her what he was like when she got him. Being reminded what a mess things were in the beginning only makes the Sainted Horse more amazing.

Inconceivably, days passed. Whatever happened, happened, not that any of it was memorable until the day you found your new horse. You had looked just enough, then tried the horse out, and he was fine. You whipped up some enthusiasm and hatched a new plan because you were getting on with your life and being magnanimous. So, you bought a young horse with potential or a rescue horse who needed a home. A horse that belonged to the friend of a friend because he reminded you of your Sainted Horse or because he was the exact opposite. You can’t imagine life without a horse; you want that feeling back.

Meanwhile, your Next Horse can tell something’s going on. Lately, his owner is riding more but seems distant. Strangers ride him, too. He’s been a family horse forever or he’s been traded a few too many times. Mostly, he notices everything and remembers. Your Next Horse is stoic. He doesn’t feel safe so he pulls inside just a bit. He appears calm and polite.  It isn’t that he’s dishonest. Just smart. And sensitive.

Then he’s taken from his herd or from his lonely stall. He loads in the trailer easily or he gets scared and there’s a fight, but trailer rides are stressful either way. He’s been abducted with no idea where he is going or if he gets to come back home soon. He’s alone. Finally, he comes off the trailer and the people are all anxious. Are there horses? He is looked at a little too closely by coyote-like people and scratched by someone with a kind voice but tears. The water smells funny but there is hay. Hay is comforting. Being kidnapped, not so much.

And so it begins. Sometimes the adjustment goes well. More likely it crosses your mind that your Next Horse was drugged when you first saw him. A short trip is enough for ulcers to form, one more pain added to the others. He’ll try to hold it together; he may shut down for a while or he may spring wide open. If there are no other horses, he will crumble quickly. If there are other horses, he will have to begin to find his place. It doesn’t matter if there’s more turn out or less, he isn’t home. Change is hard for a horse.

You have second thoughts. He isn’t the horse you bought. Nothing you know works now, your new plan has failed, and you feel like a rank beginner. All your confidence and skill seem worthless and you are about twenty years older than the last time you did this. You cock a hip and stare. Tense scrutiny that reads as anxiety to your Next Horse. He thinks you are a scattered predator and drops his head, staring back.

This is a tricky time because the doubt is real. This isn’t a Harlequin romance, it’s real life and if you truly did get the wrong horse, don’t be a martyr and commit to owning him till he dies. There is nothing noble about a living death sentence. If you can get past the what-people-might-think part, you’ll stand and admit your mistake and help him find where he is supposed to be. Sometimes horses come into our lives as a stop-over to their perfect place. Are you strong enough to admit it and let go again?

You think and then overthink. You settle that it’s a mistake and feel relief. Or maybe a small spark of familiarity shows itself, you recognize the real question isn’t if horses are hard, but is this Next Horse the right kind of hard? Could some it if be that your life was simpler when you got the Sainted Horse? Maybe you know things now that you didn’t understand before? One thing is painfully obvious. You forgot what this first part is like.

Maybe you see past your own drama and get a peek inside his stoic shell. Your Next Horse looks small inside of his bravado or maybe he’s a warhorse squeezed inside a tiny closet. All you know is that he hasn’t had a fair chance. This is not his life yet. One thing you both agree on: The hardest job is being the Next Horse because he always has one huge glaring fault. He’s alive and with every breath, he reminds you of your loss. Who can compete with a saint?

When you’re exhausted with yourself and fear has given way to vulnerability, the answer finally rises. That’s what it takes for a Sainted Horse to get a word in edgewise. A small thought, frankly too kind to be yours, comes with the slightest nudge from behind that makes you take your first deep breath in all this time. The details will work out in time. Yes. That sainted grace is still with you and you make a choice to start again. You make yourself an odd-shaped hollow place that’s just the right size for the Next Horse. Being a true horseperson means becoming one-size-fits-all.

Then you let the Next Horse know he’s perfect, exactly now.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm

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Anna Blake

48 thoughts on “The Next Horse: Remounting after the Hardest Fall of All”

  1. I struggle…..my perfect Saint is still with me but the big bay roan bought as a “husband horse” and later diagnosed with a cardiac defect and deemed unrideable, lives here too. He KNOWS that he’s Number Two but I try every day to make him feel special and yet I don’t succeed. I must try harder. Thank you Anna

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  2. I don’t know what to say except what Nancy Kay says above, ” absolutely perfect!”

    When my Jackson perished in 2013 flood, I acquired Cash much too quickly and he was so perfectly NOT THE RIGHT HORSE FOR ME. I wanted to sell him and god knows I tried to give him away, but no one even remotely acceptable to me was interested. It took a few years to figure out how he could stay with me and me NOT become a martyr to the cause of protecting him from more unhappy and abusive experiences. That meant I had to buy property, so I could take on another horse, and here we are, 5 years later. …. Johnny Cash, Zen Bear, and myself …

    Thank you, Anna, for writing what is so hard to write !!!

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  3. Oh my! This so perfectly describes what happened after my first horse died and I quickly got another horse. He was a calm wonderful QH who was a total wreck with me. Spooky, difficult to handle – but perfect for anyone but me. I took it personally was ashamed and my confidence destroyed. I found him a wonderful home at a therapeutic riding center.

    10 years or so years passed before I found horses again. I’ve spent the last 13 years learning how they think and how to manage my emotions. Lightning has indeed hit me twice and a mare came into my life and we started that amazing dance again together for the past 13 years. She’s 19 and I’m 66.

    Thanks so much for this- it filled in a gap for me that was filled with shame.

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    • Oh my heart, they would never want to cause shame. I bet he did great in his life and we all get where we want to be eventually. Give that mare a scratch… it all works out. Thanks, Kathleen. Best wishes to you and your girl.

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  4. I’m one of many who have “been there”. And yes, I bought the completely wrong horse after my mare Chai died. Took me a over a year to figure it all out and find another home for the rebound horse. He now has nice people who appreciate him. When I see him now all I can say to myself is “What was I thinking?” I was wary after that, and it took another year to find myself, and through that, another horse – I was afraid to make the same mistake. And then, I met him. My new partner. He’s not young, but he’s got the heart of a young horse, and although he originally came out of a tragic situation, he had gone to a young lady who had a lot of trail fun with him for the seven years she had him. He wasn’t shut down or sour on humans. Fast forward, the young owner married and was quite pregnant when I met my “Greyson” – a half Arab (who in his heart is a full Arabian Steed). He’s making me work harder than I’ve ever worked with a horse (turning 70 makes everything a little harder) but I once again I have a true partner and we are having an amazing time. Thank you, my sister, for again putting my thoughts on paper through your words.

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  5. I took on my Next Horse when my Sainted Horse was ready for retirement. This makes me so happy that I did. Sainted Horse helped me train Next Horse, after already training me exactly what my perfect horse was like. Now I have an embarrassment of riches – two perfect horses for me. When Sainted Horse (28 years old) is ready to cross the rainbow bridge, Next Horse and I will mourn together. But we’ll be OK, we have each other and all of the wisdom Sainted Horse has blessed us with.

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    • This is me as well. Sainted horse is 27 and Next horse is 12. I have had a few bumps in the road before acquiring Next horse and I still occasionally ride Sainted horse. I think having Next horse will help somewhat when I lose Sainted horse but I still dread that day with all of my heart.

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    • Melinda, I went through a similar situation. Sainted Horse passed away 3 years ago, at the age of 27. He allowed me to learn SO much, and that let me build a connection with Next Horse, who had an unknown, but obviously ‘not nice’ history. We had a great time together for 2 years, Sainted Horse giving Next Horse the calm and confidence that he needed to settle in. We mourned together, and have now gone on to other things that I never dreamed of doing with Sainted Horse.

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  6. My trusted mount of 20 years just turned 31. We still get out on the trails and he surprises everyone with his energy (which he saves for the trails… the arena or pasture…not so much). I try not to think of the inevitable, but neither of us is getting younger, (I’m 70) and the last three summers have been tough on him. This piece is so beautiful, and spot on. Should I look for another horse, I will keep the message close to my heart.

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  7. Anna, thank you for once again writing my life. I am four months into the Next Horse after the loss of two Sainted Horses – a partner of 13 years and a partner of 30 years! Everything you wrote here has happened – all the doubt, all the “what was I thinking”. New Horse is just now beginning to let down her guard a little – luckily she has found a friend and a playmate in the 22 year old pony gelding – one of the Sainted Horses was his best friend and Next Horse seems to fill a hollow place for him. We want to know the whole story from the first day and we forget all the time it takes in between. Have you ever felt uncomfortable when everyone keeps asking about Next Horse and you don’t know what to say? Thank you for writing about a thing that I didn’t realize was a thing! We’re going to take our time and see where the journey goes – am also so thankful for the wisdom of Calming Signals – this time around is different because I am better able to hear what she is telling me!

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  8. It’s amazing that you seem to ‘hit the nail directly on the head’ with your writings! This is me, except now, in my senior years, I finally have the perfect horse and sincerely hope that he will be with me forever.

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  9. I couldn’t have said it better. I have had my Next Horse for 8 years now. She has taken me places I couldn’t dream of. Yes, I started over and so did she. I was her 7th owner and she was 13. She was a barrel racer on the rodeo circuit. That all stopped with me. We’ve been a couple of beings trying new things and most importantly, just let her be a horse. She is a part of my herd and heart.

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  10. Oh my, this was too close to my story to be comfortable. I did have the perfect mare. We did have the perfect relationship. I trusted her with my life. How could I not? She was perfect. A saint. But the years did pass; all too quickly. And then she died and was just gone. Death is too damned final, and I hate it. There were times I didn’t think I’d make it. I loved her that much, and yes, at the risk of sounding dorky, she did complete me. She made me a better person. I always did get the best part of the deal. She was so much better than me. But, that rescue horse with so much baggage caught my eye and to sound even dorkier, I fell in love with that direct gaze staring back at me from the computer screen. Seriously, I was lost in that one look. To most, he wasn’t anything out of the ordinary to look at. Plain Jane bay horse. A BLM Mustang that had a sketchy background, but obvious to everyone that it had been unjustly harsh. He had no confidence and was highly reactive. He scared too easily. Strongly built with big, solid bones and lots of mass; he easily intimidated me. Suddenly my life-long of experience with horses meant nothing. I was as green as grass, and so was he. I drove halfway across the state to meet him, hoping beyond hope that he was nothing special and I was just being ridiculous about considering adoption. I wasn’t a kid anymore, what was I thinking anyway? Out of a sea of bay horses, he stood out like a diamond in the dust. The moment I laid eyes on him, I wondered – is that him? Then he turned his head and looked directly at me. Looked me squarely in the eyes. A pure gut reaction, I sucked in my breath and tears formed without my consent…that same gaze that I’d fell in love with from the beginning. Did I mention that I’d lurked on this particular website for almost a year before I went to meet him? Yeah, I could not forget him. Many had come to meet him before me, everyone thought he was beautiful and loved him, but no one ever took him home. Until I came along. I knew without a doubt, that I’d never be able to not take this horse home. We were fated to be together. I’ve had him for almost 9 years now. I’m still completely infatuated with who he is. He is bigger than life, and still makes me nervous to ride sometimes. He’s so powerful and so quick…but he is the kindest, most patient and loving horse I’ve ever known. He is perfect and I will never stop trying to have that level of comfort that I had with my beautiful, little mare. He has more try than I’ll ever have, and even though we have a long road ahead of us, I hope I never give him a reason to feel like he isn’t the perfect horse. I keep working on me and can only hope to keep up with his goodness and his grace. I will forever be blessed for having him in my life. Thank you Anna, you’ve given me a reason to remember how very lucky I am.

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  11. I’m a member of the Sainted Horse/Next Horse club too, and like I’ve told you before, if I hadn’t come across your blog and learned about calming signals, I don’t know if I could have kept Next Horse. Now, he’s more like Sainted Horse Jr. All 3 of us are grateful to you.

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  12. Sainted horse died just before Christmas. He was 37 and I bought him from the breeder before he was born. Twelve years ago I retired him and bought Next Horse who was 9. I knew immediately I was in over my head but I could not bear to think of what would happen to him if I sold him on. He destroyed my confidence but I stubbornly refused to give up and five years ago found a better way of horsemanship that changed things for us. We are still muddling along and my riding skills have suffered because of my lack of confidence in him. So now I am about to start some lessons on a school mistress to improve my riding and hopefully make things better for Next Horse and we might have a few good years before he has to retire. Your first comments made me feel guilty because he may have had a better life if I had sold him on, then your latter words made me feel better and gave me a bit more hope that things will work out. He is a lovely horse and now that I have a little more time to put into him, I’m sure he is becoming my Next Sainted Horse. Thank you Anna for putting our thoughts to paper so well.

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    • You are my hero… doubt is natural and I would never tell everyone to keep a horse they are at odds with, but sounds like you made the right choice. Thanks, Christine, from me and your horse.

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  13. Ok – so I now have tears streaming down my face as I read this on my lunch break at work. It is like you saw in to my heart. Its like you know me, you know our story, my past saint and my present. I’m speechless, except to say – its taken us about a year and a half – but I can say that it is exactly as you wrote ~ I saw the glimmer, I’ve felt the gentle nudge, my new “Saint” and I are figuring it out together, slowly but surely…You Anna Blake are truly a gifted horsewoman and writer…thank you for this article…xo

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  14. O, thank you for this today. “New Horse” is a 4 year old with a good and willing mind. I shall now head to the barn to visit after leaving my – he’s fine, but less than, attitude behind. The Saint taught me to be better than that! Thank you again for the reminder.

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  15. So true, and so eloquently said. You had a post a couple years ago that likened the purchase of a new horse to kidnapping (from his perspective) that was EXACTLY what I needed to hear at the time, having just kidnapped a horse after my Saintly Horse horse had passed. It saved me from acting like a total ass towards New Horse. I can’t believe I never thought of it that way but we’re all always learning, right? New Horse and I have come a long way thanks to that post and the sanity check it gave me. Thank you for your realism, sense, and advocacy for equines great and small 🙂

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  16. I really get the whole “kidnapping” perspective, especially when you look at these horses that are passed from one owner to another – more so with horses going thru the auctions lately. The distant look in their eyes says it all.
    I was so lucky that I had the 16 years I did with my boy – but when he was put down – couldnt do it again. Financially or emotionally. I have to admit I envy all of you who can.
    With my dog & cat – knowing how short their lives are and the heartache when they’re gone – somehow every time, I bring another home. Cannot imagine living without animals near me. And then there is the wildlife outside!
    Beautiful post, Anna

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