Dreams are only transparent.Let my lungs fill,here, now,in simple praisefor ordinary momentsof wanting what I already have.
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Dreams are only transparent.Let my lungs fill,here, now,in simple praisefor ordinary momentsof wanting what I already have.
Hailed a far distance,heart-sore,across broken peaksand thirsty creek beds,to surrender the achein the cooling airat the edge of the stars;home.
All of us here…
we used to be someone else.
We each had a plan;
it was meant to go another way
but there was always a stumble.
We lost balance and compromised,
recycled into this different plan
that fits like skin and teeth.
Farm kids, like me, learn early that a healthy anxiety about the weather is the subtext of every task–from lambing season, to planting corn, to rushing to get the bales out of the hay-field, as thunder booms close by. It’s consulting the dog-eared copy of the Farmer’s Almanac. It’s the habit of listening to the weather report more closely than the news, while pulling on boots first thing in the morning.
Townies chat about the weather as the tiniest of small talk; weather can be an inconvenience. Farmers stake their crops, and the family’s security, gambling on the weather, year after year.
Not much has changed. Now I’m older than my folks were when they gave up their farm. I still depend on working outside but we have smartphones with a few weather apps. I usually check a couple of different sources and then average the results; weather is still a guess.
Last week in Illinois there were rain storms, ice, and fifty degree days. It’s the kind of weather that’s average for November but not now; not in the middle of January.
Here on my small Colorado farm, we’ve had the same temperature swings; the pond ice is unsteady and the pasture is bone dry. There have been some sub-zero wind-chill nights followed by fifty degree days. It’s the transitional weather we watch for in spring and fall. Horse people don’t want to say it out-loud, but it’s colic weather.
Sure, every farm could destroy more pasture and hay fields to build a huge indoor arenas and pretend to ignore the weather. Is this how we want to use our precious land? Besides, this whining about weather is all anecdotal, and scientists don’t pay farmers much mind. Except now.
“A NASA press release pointed out “Earth’s 2016 surface temperatures were the warmest since modern record keeping began in 1880, according to independent analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).” Sixteen of the warmest 17 warmest years on record have been observed since 2001.”
Through December, the mares in my barn were cycling still. They used to take the winter off from snake fights and screaming at geldings but it’s dragged on long enough that we had the vet check for ovarian cysts. My final questioning act for them was to ask my Facebook friends across the country about their mares. The response was overwhelming and the consensus surprised me: Mares were still cycling everywhere, and raw with the long-term hormonal emotions. Anecdotal for sure, and a cynic might call it coincidental. When will we trust what we see? When will we speak up?
This week I read more on climate change. Arctic melting is changing coastlines around the world. Weather scientists are behaving more like mares in estrus. The undeniable change is still being denied… not by farmers but by politicians.
Do these guys ever come out of their offices long enough to look up? I’d invite the idiots along with me for a week of outdoor work if any of them were strong enough to keep up.
We’ve all seen heart-wrenching video of polar bears starving on ice floats, but let’s get personal. Is there a horse owner who isn’t wildly aware of how fragile horses are? Does anyone think that horses won’t be one of the first domestic animals to suffer, and die, for our selfish, arrogant ways? I mean even more than happens now… Will we be this greedy and self-serving until we kill everything dear to us?
And then, when I think post-apocalyptic, I think how few pets exist in science fiction. Okay, Star Trek had tribbles. And there was Mel Gibson sharing a can of Dinky-Do dog food with that genius cattle dog in the movie, Road Warrior. Remember? It was a quiet moment between rapes and car wrecks in the end-of-the-world fight for gasoline. It would be like humans to eat dog food and wear kinky outfits instead of grow crops or raise animals. It’s a fact that there is no romance in farming.
Like I said, I researched climate change and horses. I wanted to share just one article; a brief scientific paper from Australia, a bit removed from our soil. Please take a moment to read The Impact of Climate Change on Horses, and Horse Industries. The bibliography makes the piece look longer than it is. There are certainly some details that I hadn’t thought out before, even though they make perfect sense. Mostly I’m struck by the very fine line between science and science fiction. Like usual, the fiction part is more true than we want to think. There are words all too familiar to horse owners in the article. It doesn’t take much imagination to see the path ahead–like a trashy B-movie.
This is the way the world ends Not with a bang but a whimper. –T S Eliot
I’m not sure how politicians decided that climate change could even be voted on in the first place. And it’s too late to blame others. This global issue is so much bigger than our horses; other losses will be larger and more pivotal to the planet’s destruction. There is no more time to debate and whine. It’s time to make our voices heard. Time for each of us who make our lives, and our living, out in the environment, to speak up. There are more farmers than politicians and business people. And between rants, we can do every small thing we can do to turn this planet around. It’s up to us; we’re the ones who know first-hand what we stand to lose.
Here on the prairie, I’m pulled to look to the west at dusk. The outrageous beauty stills my rat-on-a-wheel mind. Awe is the only word; the preciousness of each sunset burns my heart. Maybe I’m selfishly aware of the number of sunsets left in my puny little life. Or maybe it’s knowing that my silence contributes to the death of the infinite number of lives that we will surely take down with us.
If this outlandish prairie, sun-burned and wind-scraped, can show up every morning with a torrid definition of what an "earth-tone" looks like, then claim this life deliberately with garish celebration; be no less than sunrise.
It’s that weird week between the holidays. I never know what day it is so I mess up scheduling around Christmas, only to follow through and mess up the same exact way one week later for New Years. Squinting at the calendar doesn’t help tether me and everyone seems immersed on a remembrance vacation. There are the best of lists of movies and books and anything else we give awards for. Those achievements are followed with a memorial for the famous people we’ve lost. It’s a long list this year and it’s all that anyone talks about. It’s like an end of the year emotional profit-loss statement.
I do the same thing here on the farm, with less fanfare and more wonder. This year the Best Geriatric Come Back goes to Lilith, the carbon-dated foster donkey. She gained weight, shed out years of steel wool, and went on Previcox for major lameness. Her physical quality of life is a complicated question, but she’s loud, cantankerous, and she can land a decent kick now. Her life had been fighting coyotes before her rescue; sometimes I wonder if she just can’t find a way to rest. Either that or this warm mush diet rocks.
Most Improved Dog goes to Moose, the corgi, also a foster. He came off his puppy Prozac, his collar still frightens him, even though we stopped the electroshock therapy, and he’s detoxing from his strong meds and over-correcting people. The darkness is slowly getting lighter. I no longer have to lock myself in the bathroom to put my socks on. Rehab continues; he was doing well but then relapsed when we had workers in the house for a couple of weeks. He tore the linoleum off the bathroom floor. That was fair. They made me crazy enough to have a relapse myself.
It was a hard year for losses to our home herd. We said goodbye to Hank, the elderly toothless cat who fought vermin and intimidated dogs well past his prime. And Walter, the Corgi rescue with an operatic bark and a lure coursing title, whose short life was surrendered to chronic liver ailments. To the Grandfather Horse after thirty years of excellence, carrying me over rough ground until I had my footing. It’s easy to see how fortunate we are here, isn’t it?
It’s common sense that with so many animals, we’d have more frequent passings, as well. You’d think that it would get easier to say goodbye. I can remember a time, a perfect summer, when every animal on the farm was young and strong, and I had a season of almost invincible confidence. Even then I was aware of the fragility of life and grateful for every sunset.
In truth, I think the process of dying is a constant and not a special occasion in any way. I’d do better to make friends with it. After all, there’s a twenty-two-year-old llama in the south pasture that’s bound to slow down one of these years and a fifteen-year-old dog sleeping under my desk as I write.
Most of us are linear thinkers trained to see time as a beginning, a middle, and an end, with a straight flat precision. I prefer Vonnegut’s concept of being unstuck in time. I want to think all the moments happen simultaneously, so as the Grandfather Horse drew his last breath, we were galloping the old airstrip when he was five. It doesn’t take a fleck of the pain away, but I do it for selfish reasons. This way the last moment has less power.
Yes, mourning is a good thing. Our beloveds deserve that affirmation that they’re loved and missed and worthy of our tears. And after the cards and condolences, after our friends forget, the beloved memory lingers. There’s a hang-time for loss. It can circle around and ambush us when we least expect it and then the smart thing to do is just give in and have a good screaming cry. Nap during the day. Feel sorry for yourself. But beware: it’s just in this moment that we must be the most careful.
Because if we let that moment of loss have too much power, then death gets as loud as an overbearing house-guest and we can become afraid of having an open heart. Afraid of rescue puppies and cranky old donkeys and our own mortality.
“What good are they if they are just going to die on us?”
What a stupid question. What good are your parents, then, or great philosophers or authors or artists? Religions can debate terminology but the spiritual truth is undeniable: Life is a continuum and even when the landscape appears barren there is life everywhere.
Most animals do have shorter lives than humans, but what if that isn’t wrong? Not just that the design of this Circle of Life isn’t wrong, but also that death isn’t the villain. It’s like railing against gravity.
Then, by adjusting your perspective and making a conscious choice, experiencing loss can be a path to insight and even inspiration. Wouldn’t that give purpose to the lost life as well as our own?
So now I reserve the warmest run in my barn for a lost elder who needs a soft place to land. I do it in memory of my Grandfather Horse but I’m the one who benefits by staring down death and loss. When you screw together your courage and look it straight in the eye, it just doesn’t deserve the same respect that a skanky old donkey does.
Maybe the problem is that we’ve lost our sense of proportion. None of us humans are getting out alive either. There is nothing remarkable about death. It’s sad and ordinary and as common as dirt.
Yes, it’s been a rough year. Winter encourages us to contemplate the dark and the landscape chimes in with agreement. But even now the days are getting longer and the sun is coming back to us. Death will always be a part of life, but we can put it on stall-rest and get about living life in a way that honors those who have gone ahead.
As long as we breathe, there’s promise in a New Year and that’s worth celebrating.
There was that time years ago, that I had a date over for dinner. We hadn’t known each other long and I always want to get off on the right foot. We were sipping wine in the living room when I went to check on dinner in the kitchen. I had rice on the stove. Lifting the lid, there was no water visible. I could see the beginning of a light golden color around the edges. So naturally, I turned up the heat and returned to the living room.
For some people, cooking is a creative passion. I mean no disrespect; I hope they invite me for dinner. Somehow cooking wound up being political for me.
I was raised in traditional home, meaning it was plain to see that men and boys had all the power and unhappy women cleaned up after them. My mother, who also hated cooking, tried to teach me right. She knew that ordinary girls, ones who couldn’t get by just on their good looks, would need serious domestic skills if they were ever to find a husband. Especially an ordinary girl with a mouth like mine.
So yes, I sew beautifully but I used the concept of piecing fabric into clothing as a way of understanding how to hand-build gemstone settings, using tools like my oxy-acetylene torch, when I was a goldsmith. And it’s only recently that I’ve admitted knowing how to type. It’s been decades since a man has asked me to type their term paper. And now, three books later, I seem to have found good use for those “secretarial skills” they talked about in high school. Finally, truth be told, I’m a great cook… but it gives me no joy.
To each his own; it wasn’t the life I wanted. Once I left home, I shunned any traditional “women’s work.” Maybe I was afraid if I faltered once, I’d be type cast forever. Instead, I bit my tongue and pretended ignorance.
It was horses who made kitchens safe again. My pie recipe will make more sense now.
First, it must be understood that the pie is always made from fresh apples. At first, I used to make my grandmother’s crust recipe. It has a secret ingredient and is outlandishly good. Now, I buy the pre-rolled Pillsbury crusts. They’re passable and my grandmother was always disappointed with me anyway.
Next, the apples. Buy a huge bag of them and do the worst job of peeling them possible. Sure, I was born with the gene that allows a paper-thin one piece curl of apple skin, but that’s just showing off and doesn’t serve the big picture. I like to hack thick slabs of the peel off, so that when I’m done, the apple has a wonky octagon shape and is only two-thirds the size it was before I started. Then core the apple and slice what’s left into the pie shell. Continue until the pie shell is heaping full. Quarter the rest of the apples and put them in with the peels.
Then I drag out my Betty Crocker cook book with the red gingham cover. Mom gave it to me while I was still in high school and I certainly haven’t bought another since. I turn to the Perfect Apple Pie recipe to remember how much flour, sugar, and cinnamon to sprinkle in. Then dab butter on top, but use more than they say. See? I’ve gone off recipe already. Put the lid on the pie, crinkle the edges together, and put it in the oven.
Now hurry. You only have an hour. Scoop the chunky apple peels into a bag and scurry out to the barn. Put a handful of peels in every feeder, while relaxing into first equine thought that comes into your head. For me, it’s always my Grandfather Horse but I miss him. This will be the first year in thirty that he and I haven’t avoided this holiday together.
So I made the pie early this year; I needed the apple-peel ritual that’s part political, part spiritual, and part therapeutic. It’s been a mean year and I’m behind on my breathing.
As the horses chew, my jaw softens. Sinking down on a bale; the barn feels like home and all the memories of good horses come galloping back. It’s good to be reminded. If you’re like me, you’ve been stronger than you ever thought possible. Some days you failed your horse, but you didn’t quit. Other days, you’ve been lifted high and carried like treasure.
(If you don’t have a barn, it doesn’t matter. Quietly remember the first horse you loved. Call him to you; let him star in his own movie. You know the plot by heart.)
Through the manure and the mud, the horses saw something in us that had nothing to do with sex or career. It was beyond hair color or dress size or age. Horses treated us in a way that our own species struggles with. They treated us as equals.
An hour later, back in the house, the air is sweet with warm cinnamon and now you have a second apple treat to share with friends or family. They welcome you in with a hug that lasts longer than usual and they hold eye contact. The pie is an after thought.
There is something about women who know horses. It’s part apples and part muck boots, along with some stray white hairs on her sweatshirt. She’s comfortable in her body because she knows acceptance; the glow that lingers from the barn.
At any age, we should know better than to confuse a silly pie with a woman’s real worth. Never underestimate her. A heart filled with horses can accomplish anything.
Chatting lightly about weather is considered the tiniest of small talk, unless you live outside the urban bubble. We take it more seriously out here on the prairie.
There was ice in the water troughs this week. It’s dark early now, and the sun is cooling. The flies are slow and stupid, but still with us. The horses and donkeys have grown their winter coats and just like usual, I haven’t added a single hair.
Are there flies in heaven? I mean just tell me now. (I notice I’m a bit testy.)
For a start, I cleaned the tack room, updated the first aid kit, and pulled out the winter blankets, just in case. Then I mucked out my own mind for a while. It was sorely needed.
There’s a term used in the caregiving world: Compassion Fatigue. The physical expression of that term has to be a long deep sigh.
It isn’t an accidental condition, like getting a cold. It’s a term we first heard of in medical caregiving professions, but it soon spread to animal welfare workers and many other helping professions. The shoe fits a lot of us.
I like this definition. It’s broad and it includes real life: “Compassion fatigue is the cumulative physical, emotional and psychological effect of exposure to traumatic stories or events when working in a helping capacity, combined with the strain and stress of everyday life.” –The American Bar Association. (Who would have thought?)
It’s when a few layers of normal things like work and financial responsibilities and world events meet up with fear and loss and exhaustion, along with the awareness that you aren’t getting younger. It feels a bit like doubt, only sticky and dark. Your horse might be the first one to mention your change.
There’s always a fence to mend before the weather changes, and in that quiet work, I indulge my voices. Yes, I hear voices. It’s my parents, both gone for decades now, who come back to nag me for my foolishness.
My father did not suffer idiots. Well into my adulthood, he wanted me to “grow up,” which always meant act like him. After all, the world is cruel and no place for ridiculous idealists. Idealist is my word for it; like most bullies, his terminology was more coarse.
My mother’s approach was practical; she pleaded with me to be more “normal”; to keep my head down. Always reminding me that life was a veil of tears. My mother knew the safe comfort of giving in and suffering silently.
Here’s what I like about replaying the old tapes–I remember who I am. I remember my particular rebellion–it hasn’t changed. I choose to care. In their eyes, I cared about things that were like gravity; things that weren’t worth fighting because they were never going to change. You can’t save them all, so don’t even try.
My steadfast response: For the ones I help, like this relic of a donkey, all is saved.
Now I’m preparing for my hay delivery by pulling out pallets to clean out the musty hay underneath. Change is inevitable. That’s a given, but the passing of a season is like an arm around your shoulder, urging you to scurry along. Okay, okay.
I admit it. It’s been a rough summer. I don’t think of myself as a worrier, but I do keep my mind busy. It’s a choice to be aware; choosing to care is a kind of prayer to the world. What some people see as a weakness, I am most certain can be our greatest strength: To stay vulnerable in the face of darkness. To hold a vision, against the odds. It’s our superpower.
Perhaps compassion fatigue isn’t the worst thing. It means you have compassion as a pre-requisite, and that requires a special kind of strength in the first place. It’s knowing inside that you have enough to spare and then taking a step forward when a door to possibility opens. It’s the best in us. Against skeptics, fly that flag high and proud.
I drag the tank heaters to the barn with a smile. Hail damage got us a new roof and I upgraded. I know the animals will be a bit more snug this winter. Everyone’s weight is good, the llamas are in full fleece, and I’m considering growing some hair between my toes. It seems to work well for the dogs.
Experts say that the remedy for compassion fatigue is self-care. It’s the art of showing yourself the same compassion you have for rescue horses, stray dogs, and your dear ones. It means letting yourself be the stray dog that you welcome into your own heart. To come in out of the cold, welcomed by the person you were meant to be.
My spiritual beliefs rest with nature. It’s my test of true; I’m comforted that gravity works on all of us. I trust the natural laws. I trust that the monotone prairie is just resting and that the sun’s warmth will return. Nothing dies; it transforms. And as butterfly-vulnerable as we can be, the more compassion and growth are possible.
Sometimes there is a sunset like tonight. Just one beret-shaped cloud perched on Pikes Peak, Jupiter is alone in the southern sky, and a peachy pink and orange gloaming soaks down to the tall grasses; the world is filled with unbearably precious beauty. This dusk coats good things and bad things as equals, as we choose. Being vulnerable means that I can have this infinite moment of perfection.
Meanwhile, back in the house, there’s a new Corgi foster dog here. He’s just a year old and the survivor of both shock collar “training” and canine Prozac. He’s a trainwreck, and maybe part of me is, too. But we’re going to bark and chew our way through this, under the prairie moon.
It’s deep fall here on our farm. Most of the leaves are gone; Canada geese are on the wing. Each morning there’s a thin shell of ice on the water tanks. Local horse-people know the season change in Colorado can be extreme. The barometer goes nuts for a few weeks, temperatures dance wildly, and we keep a special eye on the elders. My Grandfather Horse usually has a veterinary emergency every fall, but not this year.
Trigger warning: The peaceful passing of a well-loved horse.
Our story started with a foolish decision: I bought a colt who wouldn’t let me touch him. In my lifetime of horses, I have no explanation for why this scruffy Appaloosa colt hooked me as deep and true as he did. Breed shows, trail, reining, jumping, and finally dressage. We had a good thirty-year run; all of his life and half of mine. Maybe it was giving him such an infinite name; there was no telling where my spirit stopped and his began.
The Grandfather Horse had a rough summer. Chronic arthritis controlled his movements–even on warm days. His knees wobbled and even collapsed on him sometimes. He had a collection of tumors; the largest one had grown to ten inches. I asked a kind vet for a consult; I didn’t need a diagnosis. It isn’t a crime to get old.
I was told that the thing most likely to kill him wasn’t even the condition that caused him the most daily pain. The management options were exhausted. Of the three possible outcomes, two were brutal. The vet left and I languished in selfish thoughts, intense memories, and the inability to verbalize anything.
Then I practiced saying the words out loud, like a spoonful of poison a day. A week later I called for the appointment to euthanize Spirit. I got some of the words out.
I chose a day at the end of September; far enough off that I could torture myself with doubt, screw up my courage, and say a last, best, thank you. For half of my life, he was my only constant. I wanted to hold steady for him now.
Then he made it easier for me. Don’t you hate that? There was a strange incident that left him disoriented and out of balance. After that day, his eyes were dimmer but we doddered on.
Thirty years; closer than kin. Readers and clients sometimes lament that they wish, for the sake of their horses, they’d known me thirty years ago. Spirit would be the first to tell you I was no prize. It was always him.
As our horses age, we continually lower the bar when thinking about their quality of life. We know they’re flight animals but we mitigate their lameness with supplements and injections. We want to believe they don’t miss running. As teeth are lost, we make mush for creatures designed to graze 24/7. We keep them safe from younger, stronger horses in turnout. When they can’t move enough to stay warm in winter, there are blankets. Eventually, the bar got so low that he was a shadow of the beautiful gelding who changed my life.
Looking at the Grandfather Horse, well, Nature would have taken him a decade ago. Truth: I became more afraid of a painful midnight blizzard emergency than I was of losing him. There were no better days ahead. I knew he’d given me everything he had, and I’d done the same; now there was only this one final kindness.
The day before our appointment, I stayed in the pen with Spirit and our family horses. It was a golden day, Spirit reeked of Showsheen, and the curry was as warm as his old heart when I finished. I took hundreds of photos. He looked miserable in most of them; his eyes were almost closed and he only moved a few steps all day. But we were all together.
Some of you knew him, and some of you befriended him here and through Stable Relation. Thank you for sharing my Grandfather Horse with me. There’s nothing special about death. What matters is how we live–celebrate that.
On the last morning, the family horses had breakfast together. Spirit wandered away from the herd, stood in the sun, and dozed. I stayed close, not that he noticed, and kept my breath matched with his, treasuring each inhale.
We’ve been thrown some curve balls over the years, but I won’t ever regret a single moment with this horse. Not even this one.
Spirit had no fear of vets or needles; I didn’t need to hold him. So we shared an apple, in the way that we always did. I bit off a piece, sweet in my mouth, and gave it to him. The vet began the procedure and an instant later, Spirit was free. My first feeling was relief. It went well. No fear or suffering. I felt like I’d saved him.
“Let the pain wash over you. Don’t fight it, feel it. Let your tears free. Cry without judgment; it’s just a different kind of breathing.” I wrote that years ago; horses taught me to believe in emotional honesty.
I brought the family herd into the pen after the vet left. Nubè was curious and quiet, while Clara was frightened, flagging her tail and galloping arcs around him. Edgar and Bhim were stoic. Eventually, everyone made their peace. Little Arthur, Spirit’s goat, stayed longest. He laid down by Spirit’s back leg, as I sat by his head, holding vigil until the truck came for his body.
A cut this deep has a purity about it.
I’m sorry to share this; there’s no shortage of sad news already. My voice has an aching squeak; it’s taken a month to write this eulogy. Everything I say sounds trite and superficial. The words feel insignificant, like an out-of-focus snapshot. I’ll live in the shadow of this horse for the rest of my life. If I’m lucky.
Personally, I’m not a fan of the Rainbow Bridge. If it gives you comfort for loss, take it to heart. As for me, I hate the idea of all my animals waiting for me. Besides, I think horses might be Buddhist. I hope he’s gamboling through a pasture, on brand new wobbly legs, catching the eye of another horse crazy girl who has a lot to learn. I’d wish him another life just like this one.
Mostly, I’m overwhelmed with bittersweet gratitude. I knew he never belonged to me. He was always part of something bigger than my tiny, conflicted life. I had to leave my puny-sad-self behind to keep up with him. It was the best trade of my life.
Go the distance.
Do it with grace or do it ugly,
because some days
that’s what your best looks like.
It only matters
that you go the full heart distance.
I think I’ve heard all the clichés about change that I can stand. At a certain age, we don’t need to be reminded how hard change is. But fall is all about change, I notice. Most of us get poked by the passing of time, in one way or another, right about this time of the year. Falling leaves and all that…
Like usual, there are extremes: Every now and then, I read an article declaring that riding horses is cruel. Any horse. That it’s just too demeaning for horses; that ethics require that all horses be freed from their slavery to humans. I might be imagining the righteous tone. Return them all to the wild, I guess.
On the other hand, I hear from riders in their nineties, riding horses in their thirties, with an arthritic shell of bravado. Good for you, really. So pleased that your horse has avoided injuries that long, and the same for you. What luck.
Then there are the rest of us, pushing the muck cart and casually wondering which hip will be replaced first. We have horses that had long careers or got hurt in turnout or weren’t born with perfect conformation. Or maybe we just aren’t lucky. Is it time for someone to be turned out to pasture?
Has it crossed your mind that your horse is slowing down? Maybe more than once? Is it really hard to push him to the canter and then he breaks right away? Or maybe he’s reluctant about being caught. After a sluggish warm-up, he seems depressed and you kick him a little more all the time. Or maybe he drops his head lower and lower. That’s if he’s stoic, of course. Not every horse has that patience.
So you check with the vet, try some stronger supplements, and that buys you another year. Then you start negotiating. No more steep trails, or maybe you get new arena footing. But now you’re asking yourself again if it’s time.
I’m sorry it hurts, but listen to him. Good horses don’t randomly start lying. And if your horse really is asking for the break, I know it breaks you even more, but let him rest. In this light, a career-ending injury has the clarity that slow-motion decline lacks. Maybe he’ll feel better in the spring and maybe not, but for now, let him be and tell him he’s a good boy. A horse’s riding life isn’t a race where the last one standing wins. Don’t make him feel he’s failed you.
Love him enough.
Maybe it’s you that is having a hard time; your past injuries are catching up and it’s hard to get comfortable in the saddle. Maybe you are a certain age and your courage hormones have abandoned you. They do that, you know.
Or time makes you rush too much. You have a list of all your lists and so many people depending on you. You burst into the barn and ride fast, but you’re still late. Your horse behaves like the victim of a drive-by assault. It’s an honest response and you’ll deal with it when you have more time.
Or maybe your fear has just grown an inch at a time until it became disabling. It isn’t that you aren’t as brave as you once were; it’s an actual full-blown anxiety attack that you’re trying to fight but it never goes away. It’s a fear that paralyzes your lungs and you can’t control your limbs. It isn’t the usual common sense alert that something might happen. It’s an air raid siren that never goes silent. Never. You know your horse feels it, too. Would it be different on another horse?
So, you get the help of a kind trainer and you do your very best. Still, you dread the worst, every stride, and fear never lets you breathe. It happens every time, but you don’t admit the truth. Months pass, you know you’re safe, but there’s no logic or relief when it comes to fear. It’s possessed you.
You feel obligated. You feel like a loser. You’re too old or too busy or too frightened. You’d hate to think what people might say. You’d be letting your horse down. But in the quiet, when you listen to your heart, you know.
Love yourself enough.
We all have dry spells and going into winter is a great time to take a break. Nothing bad will happen. He won’t miss your holiday stress. He won’t forget his training and neither will you. I promise. Come spring, you’ll be back in the saddle and the view will be different. That’s the way change works; you can depend on it.
If you know it’s bigger than a season, take a breath and try to tell the truth. You might have to say it a few times to get through it. Integrity matters because secrets, or the illusion of them, are poison. Besides, he knows.
What if it isn’t wrong?
I have a barn half-full of retired horses; some have been retired longer than they were ridden. They let me know every day that they are no less for it. We should have that confidence.
Humans seem to put so much self-judgment on whether they ride or not. I see it every day, as an instructor. Riding is wonderful; I’m glad I’m still in the saddle. But the longer I’m around horses, the more I believe that they don’t care if we ride or not. Relationship, as it relates to herd dynamics, is what matters to horses, and that isn’t defined by our altitude. Maybe it’s time to re-invent ourselves and up the conversation. Wouldn’t it be ironic if no longer riding meant that our horsemanship improved?
The scary question: If it’s the end of the world, what will you do instead of riding? Love them, just like you always have. That never changes.