Opening a can of worms, or a barn of horses. Let the fences fling open and the horses fly free. Where do I begin, such a huge and important part of my life… Will only skim the surface, like brushing off the last of the winter’s coat to reveal the shiny spring hair hiding beneath. But it’s still no more than the shell. What matters most is deep inside.
I wasn’t raised with them, didn’t have the opportunity to ride as a kid, and wasn’t lucky enough to have my own backyard pony. This is not a sob story, just a fact of life. It didn’t matter to me then. You don’t desire what you don’t know exists. I didn’t know a horse back then, let alone anyone who had one. We didn’t watch Westerns, and the mountains in which I now ride were very far away.
I think this is an important point to note. Most horse people I know talk about their childhood longings. And then, more often than not, I hear of their adult distance. The horse, who once held an important place in their life, has become no more than a fond memory.
I’ve done things backwards. The horse came into my life later and expanded its importance, value and attachment.
The horse became my work.
Something I believe in, for the horse is a creature bred to work, not just sit around and look pretty, which I will admit they manage to do quite well. But they, like us, have the inner spirit that thrives with duty, responsibility, accomplishment, and a job to do. Tell me, who has a better life? The person with a point and purpose to every day, or the one sitting idle watching the world go by? Yes, this may be a matter of opinion, with my working class mentality…
So giving up the title of “outfitter” was an odd evolution in my journey with horses. Yet as that part of our business began to fade with the changing demographics and shrinking horse industry, lo and behold, our opportunity of taking on “the ditch job” was a blessing. A prayer answered. Careful what you ask for. I want to keep working with my horses. I’m not ready to become a hobby horseperson. No offence to those who are, but it’s something that’s mattered to me. Part of my identity. I take my horses, horsemanship, and learning and growing as a horseperson quite seriously. I don’t intend to be the horseperson tomorrow that I was yesterday. Today is for experiencing, learning, growing.
My relationship with my horses is thus changing, as is my role of mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend and neighbor. Nothing stays the same. Our relationship has transformed, and continues to do so. The ignorance of fun, beauty, simply sitting on the horse and enjoying the ride has been replaced with the deep bond of time, work, experience, shared trauma.
I have grown beyond looking for a horse to make me look good, and am now enjoying learning to make a horse look good. It’s not about me, it’s about the horse. I look at the few horse people I respect and admire and thrive to learn from them. Watch how they sit on the horse, move with him or her, communicate and become one. The fluid motion, subtle movement. You notice the horse. The rider is no more than a pure and positive passenger, perhaps subtly directing the movement, but not where the observer can note. Yet for those who pay attention, the rider is often the center of attention in the deal, and more often than not, because he or she looks so awkward and out of place upon their back. Those riders still must chose the horses that make them look better, not learn more. Me, I’m still somewhere in between.
The days of just getting on and enjoying the ride are behind, though there will always be moments of that bliss. Replaced with understanding, analyzing, evolving. It’s gone deeper and once you go that deep, the shallow sitting on the horses back is left far behind.
And then there are the cold hard facts. There is so much more to horsemanship than riding. That’s the little fancy candy flower on the icing on the cake. The rest is the feeding, cleaning, mucking, brushing, vetting, trimming, shoeing, training, fencing, transporting, worrying, day to day care and paying the bills for all of this to happen. Compare this to the amount of time, money, planning, preparing, practicing, etc. that goes into making a movie, and all you do is pay ten bucks and see it all in two hours.
I’m sorry, my friends, I know most of you are not horse people, don’t know much about horses, and may not even care. I share this on the chance that you understand what the horse means to me, and what in turn such a beautiful, vulnerable, powerful beast might in turn mean to you.
My focus and attention and time returns now to my horses. This is the time of year. We are riding most days, getting the horses and myself in shape, clearing trails, maintaining routes we are passing on… and finding new ones.
I must leave you now. Time to slip on the muck boots and head out to feed.