Lessons From a Lease: To the Horse Who Made Me Who I Am Today

Photo courtesy of Dana White


To Mack

Do you remember that hot mid-September day in Saugerties, New York? After finishing two Marshall and Sterling Finals courses, we both held our heads high as I sat in my saddle waiting to hear the announcer’s loud, bold voice broadcast the final results of the competition. We both felt the heat from the day. I still dripped sweat through my shirt and jacket, but my polished black boots stood out against your shimmering chestnut coat.

As the announcer began, I held my breath because I was so nervous. I scratched your neck, my signal to let you know you were a good boy. “And in eleventh place is entry number 1222, Dana White.” I fell forward on your neck, hugging you because we just placed eleventh out of seventy-two top riders. Arms reached around you, my tears dropped on your neck, looking like rain drops sparkling in the sunlight. Tears of joy. When they placed the ribbon around your neck, I never felt prouder of us. It was a long, sometimes hard, road to get there. But we did it together.

Two years ago, you became my horse to take care of and ride. I was so excited, but the first ride was tough. I could barely get you to canter. All I could think was that it was going to be a fun time figuring you out. I also quickly found out that you did not have any barn manners. You were unruly in the crossties and continuously begged.

As each day passed, I slowly started to understand you. On the fourth day, we finally cantered a full circle, but the progress wasn’t consistent. Sometimes we’d fall back, and I’d get upset. I would untack you in the crossties and stand there holding the heavy saddle with tears rolling down my face as you looked back at me. Tears of frustration. I explained to you how we had worked so hard but went backwards. It pushed my confidence back, but I remembered we all have bad days. I tried to push it out of my mind.

I remember one time during the early weeks when I left your door open a little because I trusted that you would not try to escape. Well, I was wrong and ended up clinging to your blanket so you wouldn’t run down the aisle. I slowly pushed you back into the stall and realized I was going to have to build your trust inside and out of the ring.

Photo © ESI Photography

When I think about how far we’ve come, I’m speechless. You showed me how my determination and hard-work can pay off. I learned how to persevere through frustration and learned how to approach your stubbornness with respectful yet stern tactics. I learned how to handle different situations in the show ring and at home, like how to contain a galloping, run-away horse. You taught me about jumping 2’6”, and I taught you about barn manners and what it means to be cared for, loved, and respected by a teenager. Our mutual respect for each other grew as each day passed.

It took time, but you began to recognize my voice. You’d stick your head out of the stall when you heard me, eyes lighting up. When you were turned out, you always came to greet me. You followed me around to ask for my attention, and I always gave it to you.

Our first show was amazing. It was a cold, cloudy, windy day, and I didn’t know how you would act, but you were a perfect angel. We won two tough classes, and it was only the beginning. At every show, you put on your game face and rose to the occasion. I will always remember our blue ribbons and show successes.

I made mistakes when I rode. I trotted when I was supposed to be cantering or chose the wrong distance, but you always took care of me. You forgave me for my mistakes and helped me learn.  I remember more than once I miscalculated a jump, but as we went over together, unbalanced, you held your head high so I would not fall. Thank you for respecting me as your rider.

Photo courtesy of Dana White

As we took a victory lap at the Marshall and Sterling Finals, I knew this competition was a highlight and one of our greatest accomplishments, but we had many successes along our long, and sometimes difficult, journey together.

After our last ride together, you lowered your head for me to pet you. I kissed your head and whispered in your ear, I will always love you Macky Mack. I held back the tears as I turned away after our final good-bye. My lease was over, but today I think about how, through the tears – tears of frustration, sadness, and joy – we both learned and grew. This was the end for us, but the true beginning of my equestrian career.

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About the Author: Dana, a sophomore at Delaware Valley University, rides on the IHSA team and holds the position of team Secretary. Dana has been riding for four years and loves meeting new people and horses!

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