Most of us start with an allergy. Our noses get stuffy and our eyes are red and teary all the time. We’re allergic to not having a horse and it’s chronic. We start sniveling when we’re kids. We cry if we can’t have a pony, we cry when we get a pony, and we cry if we have to say good-bye to the pony. Mostly we cry because we love the pony. It happens if we have one pony or twenty, if the whole family rides, or if the family looks at you like you were left on the front stoop by a band of gypsies. Or gypsy cobs, no one remembers.
Either way, we’re single-minded about horses. It’s as if we see through a telescoping pirate spyglass from then on. We scrutinize his eyeball, wondering if we got the wrong horse. Most of us do, of course, but we keep our worst fears to ourselves. In extreme cases, you’re kindly told by trainers and friends you have the wrong horse, and the smart ones manage to switch to a horse who is every bit as challenging but in a less dangerous way. We’re livin’ the dream.
The seller agrees to deliver your horse to the new barn, and he walks right into the trailer. A while later a different looking horse runs off the trailer, flying on the end of the lead rope like a kite, white-eyed and sweaty. Meanwhile, the horse thinks he’s just been kidnapped and taken to an undisclosed place, met by a white-eyed sweaty woman who seems to have an allergy. She is not entirely recognizable as his soulmate.
The undisclosed place is a boarding barn that’s only a forty-five-minute commute from home. The horses looked healthy and there were lots of riders there and a kind trainer. They don’t charge extra for feeding supplements, which reminds you that you should get supplements; those cute, individualized serving-sized ones they print your horse’s name on. This barn is a great choice because the monthly board is only about half your mortgage payment.
You decide to let your new horse settle in. You take time and go slow, waiting almost 18 hours to try a saddle. You might have a dozen saddles but none of them fit. Or you have no saddles, so you go out and buy a brand-new saddle that doesn’t fit. While you’re at the tack store, maybe a new winter blanket that has special breathable waterproof fabric that folds up into a quart-size ziplock, a special saddle pad that has the same substance they use on rockets to protect them when returning to Earth’s atmosphere, and sure, a new halter. The total doesn’t quite come to what you paid for the horse.
The next day, you’re in the saddle, scrutinizing the ride. He jigs at the mounting block, he has a problem with his trot, your inner thighs burn, not that you were tense in the saddle. Come to think about it, he doesn’t seem like the horse you bought at all. His eyes look a little wild, so you tell him that he’s home now. He looks away and screams a bone-chilling nicker. You tell him everything is going to be fine, as you hack phlegm onto his bedding and wipe your nose on your sleeve. It must be the hay. No, not the fairy tale you planned, but you take the blame because you’re besotted. You hope it’s your problem because you can change.
The first trail ride includes a two-mile sprint back to the barn. On the first attempt at jumping, only one of you clears a single pair of cross rails. He looks at the tarp like there’s a goat under it. And there is. You hit the ground before you know you’ve left the saddle. Not the only time either. It was so easy to be brave before your unplanned dismount, the moment you gained a fraction of the common sense non-horse people have. While your body mends, you consider changing riding disciplines but decide to plow ahead. You decide at three in the morning because that’s when all the good horse decisions are made.
Maybe it’s time to get help from a trainer. You make the appointment, fill out the check, and the trainer climbs on your horse. They dance like Fred and Ginger, his neck soft and his stride long and true. The trainer says you need a new saddle. On the high side, your horse seems peaceful when you lead him away, so now it’s lessons all the time, maybe even a show in the fall. You go ahead and buy a horse trailer. Right after you get the truck big enough to pull it. Just one more reason to have a bank account in your own name.
About then the barn manager calls on a Sunday at dawn. Your horse has a deep bloody gash or is three-legged lame or it looks like colic. You drive all the way without taking one breath, beating the vet by forty-five long minutes. Soon your horse is out grazing, and the vet will send the bill because he has another call, not that you’re in a hurry to see the weekend rate. You have a life-threatening allergy attack on the way home, but at the same time, feel a need to celebrate by taking some of that allergy medication that comes in a bottle with a cork. Before noon.
Time flies by, so many details to focus on. Your spyglass lets you see one thing at a time; problems to solve, details to study, choices to make. Not that you’d want it any other way.
It’s winter today, another Valentine’s Day, almost his birthday. That ragged old blanket needs a buckle replaced. How old is your horse now? You lower the spyglass, un-squint your other eye. Tunnel vision softens and you see a few gray hairs on his brow. His back has dropped a bit, you have no words. He moves more cautiously on frozen ground. So do you.
You’re different now. You’ve learned to fall and awkwardly pick yourself up, more than once. You’ve had to make peace with fear and forge bits of patience together, not that you’re prone to psycho-speak, but you like yourself better with a horse. How many days have you cared for his needs, found compassion for his shortcomings, praised his courage, and not acknowledged your own? How far you’ve come. The two of you and this precious life you share, not that you’re the sentimental type. But how extremely far you’ve come together. You slide your hand up to his wither, feel that familiar congested pressure in your sinus.
There’s really no choice. Your good horse will need a place to retire, so you’ll buy him a farm. And he’ll need some company in the pasture.
Anna Blake for Relaxed & Forward
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