“When we see horses galloping with ears sharp, tails flagged, and hooves churning up the soil, they are the epitome of strength and sensitivity, intelligence and timeless beauty. Even the most cynical people pause and stand a bit taller, just existing in the same world with horses.”
Like we any of us need to see galloping horses. They can take our breath away just by chewing hay with half-closed eyes. It doesn’t take much when you’re as besotted as we are. Life pushes and pulls in different directions, tugging away time and resources and common sense, and yet we persist. Having horses isn’t easy, but we aren’t the sort to give our hearts lightly.
I’m convinced that part of the magic is a horse’s sheer size. A thousand pounds, give or take a few hundred, makes an impression. What other animals are that massive and somewhat domesticated? We let the earth go and they carry us, held by nothing more than energy and motion. Do you ever think about how amazing that is? Humans have been riding for a few centuries but every time a leg moves across a horse’s spine, it’s a journey to an altered reality. Sitting astride a horse, feeling each step ripple through your body as you allow the release, surrendering control to the rhythm and sway of a horse’s gait.
We had a plan with our horses. Some of us had a dream of flying over jumps or dancing light steps to silent, shared music. Some wanted to travel through time wandering down a nature trail -as if that didn’t require just as much skill. It was ambition, but the very best kind. We wanted to build a relationship that went beyond superficial, more than looking out the window or sharing breath over a fence. We wanted a literal stinky, hairy, sweaty connection, and we were willing to risk what we had for the chance.
Horses don’t have plans. Horses don’t dream or make promises. It was never their goal to be our horse. They live in the moment, and while our thoughts might gallop away like a horse on the track, horses don’t share that mental luxury.
That’s okay, as much as we love horses, overthinking every detail, wallowing with indecision, and cogitating between options, we avoid thinking about the thing we wish we didn’t know, just how fragile horses are.
“How many horses do you have to own before you have one to ride?”
We might flash a wry smile, but we all know it’s no joke. Having a horse isn’t the guarantee of a ride. Not all horses are born sound in body and mind. It isn’t just the elders who have retired, some are younger with injuries or disabilities. Sometimes vet care can put the horse right eventually, and some infirmities are never able to be found by vets. You know in your heart the horse is plainly not okay. You know what “normal” looks like and your horse isn’t. And not in a clever way, but in a sad, cannot-do-this sort of way.
There is much we don’t know about horses. It’s a challenge to diagnose horses with conditions like cancer, pinched nerves, mental disorders, or structural defects, to name a few. Veterinary medicine improves all the time, but horses still can’t talk.
Then there is what we do know about horses. They are prone to lameness in an infinite number of places. They have small hooves for such a large body. Their digestive system is easily upset, resulting in ulcers or colic. It seems metabolic disorders are more and more common. Horses are stoic by nature, knowing that showing weakness would alter their position in the herd as well as being a message to predators, so they hide their pain and limitations from us as well. Finally, even if the riding dream unfolds well, we face the negotiation of age. If we wait to start them until they are fully grown and listen to them as their joints wear with age, their riding years will be fewer than their living years. We aren’t wealthy, yet we’ve spared no expense in the search to heal our horses, hiring specialists in various practices, often finding the injury caused by others before us. We’d pay anything to slow the pace of time.
“Why don’t you ride them?”
It’s the question we hate the most, not because the answer is elusive, but because repeating the reason again opens the wound in us, the pain we share with that horse. The person who asks this question doesn’t know horses. They don’t know that the potential seen in young horses is a gamble against so many ordinary experiences and random luck. That just because a horse grazes in a pasture, there is no promise more than watching.
Perhaps our initial dream is a dark cloud now, as we use kind training methods to administer daily meds or do quiet groundwork, or weirdest to the unknowing eye, take that horse for walks. You may not be galloping together, but he waits for the hay you’ve soaked for him, he offers his eye for the drops required daily or lifts his hoof, as you hurry to pick it out, knowing the shift in weight hurts him. We are humbled to find trust in the most vulnerable times. It’s far beyond a superficial bond, but not what we’d hoped for, except perhaps for the joyful success we feel at the sound of hay being chewed and a half-closed eye.
Here’s to all the horses who might have wanted to join us in our dreams but just couldn’t, and the people who keep them close as kin.
Here’s to the lives we share with horses who are unsound in some diagnosed way, or in some way beyond diagnosing. It isn’t the journey we would have chosen, but it’s where we are. Here’s to a relationship of intimacy beyond riding to a fragile negotiation of well-being. Here’s to the commitment of sharing our lives, no matter what comes. Of giving up even our dreams, to live in the moment with a creature so magical that we will never let go. It was always about them. With that awareness, the horse’s fragility becomes our strength.
Anna Blake for Relaxed & Forward
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