How to Love Horses Forever.

WMHannahHug2We were born this way. It should be part of the Apgar test. It would resolve so much if newborns gave an early warning–just like any other heart condition.

Most of us didn’t live around horses in the beginning. We saw them in our first books or from car windows. Or maybe it was cellular memory and we thought we just knew them because it felt like we always had. In the beginning, there was simply nothing easier than loving horses.

We got this far just daydreaming; we were horse-crazy kids cantering around the yard playing horse. Kids who nickered and pranced; loving to feel the wind in our hair and the rhythm of our tennis-shoe-hooves on ground. Maybe a dream horse taught us.

Then we got our first touch; our first shared breath. Maybe we squealed like a siren and flapped our arms to let them know we wanted to fly, but ended up poking them in the eye instead. The deal was struck and it was the first time a horse forgave us, of course, as he would forever. Because he saw a flash of who we might become; because he had as much forgiveness as we had love.

Maybe we were lucky beyond all reason and got to sit on a horse while he was led around. Beware: once that happens, our feet never authentically touch the ground again. And it was all about us. Our love was selfish because the need was too huge to name. So, another tradition began: we cried mad tears when we had to get off. But old horsewomen watching nodded and considered the outburst good manners. They got misty and nostalgic remembering that their first thank-yous were mad howls, too.

Then one day the heavens opened and we got our first horse. We pushed our noses in deep into the mane and the addiction had a smell. Probably more tears, because words are no match for the emotion. It was also the first moment that loving horses got complicated.

We all know this part, too. It was prioritizing money and time. We needed to find a balance while squeezing pieces into a mental pie chart of our lives. We wanted so much and we wouldn’t take no for an answer. We were trying to live our personal version of National Velvet.

We carried our willful bravado into the saddle. Our love for horses was as fierce as a high school crush. We wanted to jump or spin or dance; we wanted to ride every day. Our horses tolerated us but we surely hit some walls while training. Some of our horses were bemused with our folly, while the very best horses bucked our arrogant backsides off. These were the character years. We learned how to hit the ground and climb back on. We tried out leadership styles in the saddle, with varying impressions of success. We cared too much what people thought, whether it was the judge or a stranger at the barn. We may have said we didn’t want to compete, but we still judged ourselves and our horses without mercy. Whatever goal we had, we tried too hard. And so we had to learn to be good losers before we could win.

Some of us gave up everything for our horses and some of us made a strategic retreat in the name of career or kids. Our parents grew old by the time we caught our breath. The biggest certainty was that we loved horses even when it was impossible.

The view from midlife is bittersweet. Some of our friends have quit riding already. By now we’ve come off a few times and our bodies remember, even if our minds have repressed it. Our hormones are failing us and it makes us timid. We can’t stop apologizing for it.

But at the same time, we can feel how strong our love has made us. Strong enough to shoulder whatever life gave us. Strong enough to say good-bye to old campaigners and strong enough to start over again. Horses have taught us to value the important qualities in ourselves above the superficial: patience and perseverance, creativity and commitment, love and partnership.

And when we have had many days, and our childhood need is almost met, it’s more possible to look around and feel the beauty and wonder of this equine journey. To know that the very best part of who we’ve become was a gift from our horse. Maybe it was what he saw when we were babies and now it’s time to come full circle.

How to love a horse is both easy and complicated at this age. Sure, some of us fail our horses without concern, but many more of us grow horse-sized hearts in our chests. Most of us just want to be in the barn. We want to muck until we fall over dead and need mucking up ourselves. We want our bones to bleach out peacefully with our horse’s bones.

 But we have a debt to pay forward, for all those years of weather-beaten hands and sore bones. All those years of mounted ego-correction eventually taught us to think of another’s welfare first. And now that we are less selfish, there’s work to be done. There are horse-crazy kids who need us to hold the lead line and tell the story. Or maybe your heart and barn have room for one more un-rideable, homeless old mare. Or maybe after all these years, you’ve developed an indoor voice for horses, speaking up for the ones who need rescue, just like you did.

What’s next for you? The horse love is as fresh and hot as that first day, and it’s still your ride.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

91 thoughts on “How to Love Horses Forever.

  1. Well. Sitting here in tears. I had to stop riding about 5 years ago because of arthritic hips. My now old man (he’s 23) was retired to pasture. I always did like mucking and grooming more than riding, sitting in the barn on a tack box, breathing in that magic elixer of manure, horse sweat, hay, mold and sunshine. And now that’s what I do. When he’s gone, at this point in my life I won’t get another one, and probably won’t make it to the barn very often. But the memories…ahh…the very best times of my life. Thank you, Anna, for such a perfect summation.

    1. Maggie Frazier

      I was so fortunate – my old guy was 28 when he was put down and we had been able to ride (on the trail) right up to a few weeks before. Miss him – miss the barn – miss the smell, and yeah I don’t make it to the barn more than maybe a couple times a year. Need to make a trip soon so I can get some plant food on Chico’s pear tree (planted near his grave). He looooved his pears! Anna puts in words exactly how we all feel!

  2. Well, I sit here, half a century old, healing a fractured vertebra “gifted” by my mare and wondering what is next. But I know it will be still be all about the horses, as I have a lovely two year old colt awaiting his turn in a few years. The horses have been there for more than forty years, even when they were “just pets” while I focused on career. And now I know I can never set them aside. You captured it beautifully!

  3. Crystal

    You have so described my “horse life” perfectly from a small child to a woman “of a certain age”. At this moment I can relate most to the “hormones failing us and making us timid”. I hate that I used to be fearless but now I feel that I am over cautious and apologizing to my horse/ to me/ for me. T
    hank you for so eloquently putting into words my emotions.

  4. Judy

    Thank you for summing up horse life so well. Yes, tears but Also happiness. Such a true reminder of my first horse impressions, ownership,62 years of horses Now retired, still riding and loving my horses, In spite of old joints Can not even imagine a day when a horse will not be in my backyard!!

  5. Oh Anna. You made me cry! I still remember the “moment” when I fell in love whole heartedly with horses. The movement, the smell and the sound of them. It was a pony ride at a GE employee “picnic” that my grandfather had taken us all along to. The pony was a little bay Shetland. I know that I inherited the love of horses from both my parents. And I was lucky enough that they were able to nurture that flame as much as they did.
    My husband, who is so very supportive. Doesnt get it. Why I am up and going every day to get to the barn to muck, groom and take my retired OTTB’s arthritic legs. Even though I am becoming increasingly disabled myself, I am there twice a day to make sure his needs are met. I have a lovely “support group” at my barn
    And I know that having had horses in my life from the time I was a child has made me a better human, wife and mother. They have taught me SO MUCH.
    Thank you for writing this. You touched my soul and put my heart into words

  6. Suzanne

    Thanks for touching us to our core – AGAIN! Every word is true for so many of us. I think there are lots of us just like that absolutely adorable little girl!! You could not have picked a more appropriate and moving picture.

  7. Wow, Anna, this is absolutely amazing. It went right to my core. I am one of the lucky ones who was born into a horse-owning family. Embedded in my memory is the first time Daddy led me around our yard on horseback when I was 3. Even now, when riding around my little house, I still say, ‘I can’t believe I am lucky enough to ride my own horse in my own yard.’ Sometimes I really think it IS in our DNA. I am 72, with arthritis, and don’t ride as much as I used to, but just being around them and mucking stalls is as big a joy as it ever was. Thank you for a wonderful writing.

  8. Lynne

    Love your writing… you speak a lot of truth! I look forward to your blog every week.
    My story is a bit opposite… I have been a horse lover all my life, but didn’t own a horse until I was 50. My fist lesson came a day after I became a horse owner! Now I have kids half my age teaching me about riding and horsemanship– there is so much to learn!! It is fun having a horse to keep me young and in shape. It is wonderful to have a group of teenage “horse lovers” to share my passion with! We can all learn form each other!

  9. rhonda scott

    At 76 I still remember going to a movie as a very young girl where they were giving away a pony. I cried so hard when I did not win. Now i am lucky enough to be loving the appaloosa my daughter, Lia Scott, obtained for me and caring for her small herd

    while she heals. Thank you for the memories resurfaced and the tears

  10. Sharon

    As all the other comments… I sit with tears in my eyes, so happy you get it and are able to understand how each of us has a separate horse journey. You help not only with words in your book and blog, but on Sunday afternoon when you come and keep John, our horses and I safe… and make sure we have one more positive experience in our banks for this journey. I do miss the day when I could jump on my horse at least once a day and ride off through the trees… but I appreciate those days and the ones I have now. We are so fortunate to have fairly patient horses that continue to teach us and make us better… and so glad to have a trainer that can translate the horse language into words. Thank you Anna.

  11. Sally

    Loved this! I felt every word running throughout this beyond-middle-age body. Tears of happiness and truth and life. I can’t remember when I started loving horses, they were just always a part of me growing up in a little suburban ranch house. Why can’t I have a pony in the backyard? I WAS the horse, trotting or cantering instead of walking. At this age I sometime wonder why I muck other people’s stalls, then I look to the field and see his bright red coat and know I do this for him to show me the way.

  12. Sandra Murray

    Through tears, I thank you, Anna, for giving words to our deepest feelings. And yes, “Most of us just want to be in the barn. We want to muck until we fall over dead and need mucking up ourselves. “

  13. Also in tears.. this is totally me. I always loved horses however, I didn’t even ride until I bought 3 Arabians at 33 years old.. but still went through the same issues and life you describe. Now at 61, I do have the old unridable rescue mare you describe in my pasture along with 5 old friends over 25 years old that I am obligated to care for until they tell me it’s their time. I feel strongly about exposing children to horses and the outdoors so I give lessons and work through the 4H program. I gave up career advancement to do this knowing I could not do both. Luckily one of my prodigies has stayed with me, keeps a horse at my farm and helps with the farm work or I couldn’t continue.
    Thank you for putting in words what I can not. Non horse people won’t understand, but those that do with shed tears with me.

  14. Karen Hall

    Truth. “To know that the very best part of who we’ve become was a gift from our horse.” I’ve read this at least five or six times and teared up each time. This is such a beautiful and real piece – thank you.

  15. Oh good, I’m glad I’m not the only “woman of a certain age” wiping the tears today. After nearly 30 years of missing my first-horse-love, I am now the proud owner of a yearling filly. Am I insane owning a baby at my “certain age”? Probably. But when their soul speaks to yours, there is no turning back. My girl and I love each other – and, more importantly, my pre-teen daughter has found her true love of all things equine.

    Thank you for such a beautiful article, and for touching that place in my spirit where the tears hide.

  16. Anna, I shed more than a few tears over this one. You capture what it is to love horses perfectly. I’m nursing a couple of cracked ribs right now thanks to a flying dismount from my new boy. The first thing I did when I picked myself up was reassure him because he looked really worried. On Sunday my little granddaughter had been promised a ride and I know my 29 year old Highland will take great care of her. In return I’ll try to teach her what it is to truly love horses: chapped hands, freezing feet, and that wonderful smell of warm horse, fresh hay, and manure.

  17. Caroline

    Great post and well said. I’m currently in my “horseless” years, but by gosh, I’ll be back as soon as I can!

  18. Nancy Buck

    My mom told me I became a ‘cowgirl’ at the age of about 3, after hearing the story Black Beauty. She said I was never the same 😉 My sister remembers instead of dolls, I played with my own ‘horse farm’ and I remember using my allowance to buy the newest toy pony/horse to add to that farm. A year ago, at the age of 64, I bought my first (and probably only) horse, a 20yr old 3/4 arab-1/4 qh gelding. I am living my childhood dream; not quite what I had imagined, but in a lot of ways a whole lot better. Anna, you have so beautifully conveyed my love of horses to a ‘T’…please continue writing. I could never say it as well as you do ^_^ Thank you.

  19. This made me cry Happy/Proud tears! You Truly spoke to my heart, and I couldn’t have said it better myself. Honestly, it’s one of the most relatable articles I’ve ever read! Cheers, Hooves and Happiness to you. Thank you Anna!

    Brianna Scott
    MM Equestrian Center

  20. Thanks for this post. I’ve never been fortunate enough to hve my own horse, at this point, considering my circumstances, the likelihood is very remote. I can’t remember a time I didn’t love horses, there won’t be one in the future. I think it’s something completely primal, this consuming love for horses. You’ve said it beautifully.

    1. Agreed. I am totally fascinated with whatever it is that hooks us so hard with horses. It isn’t based in reality. But if you’re hooked, you’re hooked. And if there is no horse with your name on it…well, there are places that need volunteers. It’s what I did between leaving home and my first horse as an adult. Time to get creative. Good luck.

  21. My journey began in NYC with the police horses. I would get to scratch their necks and spend the rest of the day inhaling the aroma on my fingers. Fast forward to over fifty years later when I am my most comfortable and happiest in the middle of a herd of horses or squatting down in front of a curious foal, allowing him or her to smell my hair and face; fast forward to over fifty years later when I am the chosen person of my Spanish Mustang and want our ashes to be scattered together over a rolling meadow when the time comes to leave this place.

  22. Caroline

    Utterly gorgeous…. “of hearts and minds”… I still feel the way I did as a child 🙂 And I loved your book too…. you are a warrior woman indeed xxx

    1. Thanks, Caroline, That child-vision still works, doesn’t it? And thank you for the kind words about Stable Relation. I’d love a short review on Amazon if you haven’t. It makes a difference on Google… but either way, Most of all I appreciate your time spent reading. Thank you.

  23. I was the pony. The pony was me. We spent hours walking up and down the dusty rows of soybeans in the hot summer heat. When we tired of that, we ate lunch together in a musty stall where I read her books and we shared an apple. I cried when my parents came to pick me up, whispered that I’d be back again in just a week. I was maybe 9 or 10? That, after years of begging, pleading and so many pony rides that I fear I may have traded my soul to the carnival man. To this day I can’t listen to Chris LeDoux’s song “The Ride” without weeping. It’s my story too. Our story. And I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the whole, wide world.

    1. Wonderful comment, wonderful memories. I always have a soft spot working for ponies in rescue. I never connected it till now. Us dressage queens usually like a taller horse, but I get stuck on the short ones! Thanks, Cheryl.

  24. I don’t believe the tears aren’t tears of sadness. They’re tears of utter recognition. Resonance that (practically) defies articulation.

    But you do a damn good job of trying Anna.

    Thanks for the gorgeous writing.

  25. Sally Collyer

    No words … just beautiful, thank you! I am convinced you are my long lost twin! I can identify completely with every single word written here 🙂 The horse is a healer and a teacher, a friend and an ally when things aren’t going so well, how many times have I fled an upsetting moment in my life to breathe in that sweet, warm smell? And in an instant all is well with the World! Magical beasts they are and you are right they were there in the very heart of me before I was even born, some deep and distant memory… I am from England but was in Colorado earlier this year – so many beautiful horse people out there… keep on doing what you do, your horses have taught you well xx

    1. Thanks–credit given where credit is due. They have taught me well, it’s what my book is about. You are so right, magical hooks they sink into us! Thank you for commenting.

  26. jacklincke

    Anna,

    Thank you! I truly resonate with your words in this post with every fiber of my being . . . nothing has come as close to capturing what I feel.

    You had me in tears until I read the line, “We want to muck until we fall over dead and need mucking up ourselves.” Then I laughed out loud . . . so true.

    Again, with sincere thanks,

    Mary Jo Lincke Redding, CA

  27. Dana Johnston

    How beautifully you express yourself! I feel a tinge of jealousy when I read about girlhood relationships with horses. I discovered them at the ripe old age of 64. I ride every day with the this love of my life. I don’t have the time to learn as much as I would like, but the love for my horse is so powerful – and I do believe he returns it!

    1. Oh, most horses don’t care much about anything but this moment right now, and neither should we. Congrats on riding, now is the best part. Thanks for your comment.

  28. Sarah Jackson

    You have so many lovely, heartfelt comments here ! You always seem to be so “spot on” with your topic…. how do you do that? I think the more personal one writes, the more universal the message. I have been horse crazy for as long as I can remember…and so lucky to grow up on a farm with horses in Virginia. … then a hiatus of 30 years away from horses. How did I manage that kind of disconnection?? Career, graduate school, toxic relationships took up a lot of that precious time. And now, here I am at 64, with an extremely difficult horse. … having lost my wonderful saddle horse 2 yrs ago. Even though I yearn and drool for a horse I can actually RIDE , while there is still a wee bit of time for me to do that, there is joy in loving this horse in equal measure to the frustration. …just gotta get creative and figure out how to afford TWO horses… so I can have one who is quieter and safer while working and whittling away at this horse’s issues………oh, dear, off topic….but thank you again. I’m so lucky to have found your blogs and book. Hope you write another book….hint hint !

    1. Horses are never off topic here, and I have no doubt you are on the right path, even if you don’t recognize any markers. And thanks Sarah, you are right… this is personal. I have been marveling at this attachment disorder we all have for years, and I’ll write about it till I figure it out. Thanks for the great comment.

  29. So beautiful. So true. Love holding the lead rope and passing the story on. I have seen horses work in the lives of many children! Hope you don’t mind I reblogged this lovely read on barnraised.

  30. I don’t ride horses but I love them. I was a wannabe cowgirl. Now I am an older hen lol, that cares about people and animals. I really dislike hearing about horses being rounded up and some shipped over seas..etc. It is sad. Horses are beautiful and deserve to be respected and taken care of.

  31. Wonderful!!!! Love the pink tutu. I was lucky and on horses when I was so little they couldn’t put the stirrups high enough. Only allowed to ride English. 🙂 My uncle was a forest ranger (on his horse Penny) and shoed horses for his brother. His brother ran the stables and lived there as well.. I went every week end, and sometimes in-between. We would stop and pick up carrots from a farm stand, so I could give them to the horses. When I was older and walking little kids around the ring, I would put the carrot in my back pocket and the horse would follow me:) We had to groom the horses and muck out the barns before we could ride. This was right by Chicago, since that’s where I’m from. It’s all built up now but I loved it so very much. Blue Heaven was one of my favorite horses. There were a lot of cowboys hanging around and I remember every detail. The Tack room and all the cats and kittens. And the goat. They had square-dancing on the week-end, on horses. LOL So funny. My friend had her horse boarded there and his name was Scuddabach, for Butterscotch and he would bite anyone who rode too close to him. He was the only horse I ever knew who loved to bite people. 🙂 Life with horses is like being in a happier world, one that is beautiful and full of soft noses and swishing tails.

  32. Linda

    And then there are those of us who never sat on a horse until our mid-50s and once we began riding, had an entirely different kind of appreciation for this incredible animal.

    1. Dana Johnston

      Or 60’s! I am so in love. Riding consumes my days ( to discover horses in retirement was bliss!)

  33. Thérèse Cartier

    My love for horses started exactly as you said, being sat on a huge black, blind horse when I was four that and listening to stories about my grandfather,whom I never new, who had a horse and was a founding member of the now defunct Montreal Polo Club. And the rest is history, buying a poney at 65 while recovering from a bad ankle fracture after a fall from the said horse. Accidents hapen, I love him to bits! Thanks Anna again and again for putting into words our thoughts, you must be a mind reader of sorts….

  34. Rosemary Mullen

    Loved reading this, I fell in love with horses at the age of 5 climbed on gypsy horses in fields, drew horses, pretended to be a horse, and rode as much as I could until I had a very serious accident in my teens thanks to a car scaring my horse. I was not allowed to ride again and then after many many years in my late 40’s I started with horses again, it was like being reborn. Even though I am no way fearless now and in fact spent about 5 years dealing with my fear and riding it until I was no longer scared of it. To be afraid of fear is the worst thing, and horses have helped me deal with this and become a stronger person in all areas of my life, they have given me such a gift again. Thank you for writing your beautiful article.

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