BY LAUREN MAULDIN
Earlier this year, I found myself unexpectedly (and unwantedly) horseless. Suddenly, my life was completely open. No more having to drag myself out to the barn on gross days. Sunday brunch? Absolutely, since lessons wouldn’t get in the way. And let’s not even talk about my bank account. For the first time in who knows how long, money wasn’t stressful. My income actually felt like enough for a change.
But why was I so unhappy?
Don’t worry—I didn’t live in this horseless utopia for long. Like any right-minded amateur with a broken heart, I went out and bought a green prospect. Eight months later, I find myself back into the routine of a cramped schedule built around horses and a bank account constantly stretched to its limit. Yet, I don’t question this life for a second. I’ve spent long enough in the barn by now to recognize the gifts that horses—even on their worst days—give us.
Horses Make Us Feel Beautiful
Even people who are afraid of horses admit that they’re beautiful. I mean, do little kids put up posters of guinea pigs galloping through a field of wildflowers? Not exactly. Whether we ride or not, horses capture our imagination and exude this inner power and majesty. I know, us veteran horse owners tend to get immune to the magic after time. You see your gelding scare himself farting, and luster wears off a bit.
But I have always felt like horses loan me some of that beauty when I ride. Astride, I don’t worry about cellulite or acne. I’m too busy concentrating on lengthening the trot, and have never felt more confident and attractive than when I trot into the show ring on a well turned out horse in my favorite jacket. Horses have carried me from the awkward kid who worried about dancing with boys at the middle school dance to the (still awkward) adult navigating dating apps. They have boosted my self-image all the while.
Horses Introduce Us to Horse People
Even though we’re crazy (me included), there are no friends I’d rather have than horse friends. It’s not just the common subject at the dinner table, although that’s certainly nice. Horse people are the most ambitious, driven, salt of the earth friends I have ever had the pleasure to make. Think of that person who will come bail you out on the side of the road when you have a flat tire. You know, the one you can call no matter what. For riders, I bet that’s a horse person.
Almost all of the close friends I have made in my adulthood are horse people, and I notice the common denominators now. We’re smart. We don’t settle for mediocre. And, let’s be real, we know how to have a good time. I think it’s because horse people, through the heartbreak of this sport, have a real sense of how fragile life is. Whether it’s losing our heart horse or getting through tough injuries, we witness constant reminders to live—truly live—every day.
Horses Teach Empathy
I’m going to tell you something that I don’t like to admit often—I have a temper. Not a small one either. Early in my riding career, I had a saint of a Quarter Horse that didn’t have a buck in him. Trail riding and fox hunting were his favorite things, but ring work and show hunters were not. Due to budget and arrogance, I didn’t take enough lessons and ended many rides frustrated. But what I still feel awful about is how much I took it out on him when things didn’t go well.
Why am I sharing this? Because now when I get frustrated, I just get off. If I can’t ride with a clear, unemotional head, I shouldn’t ride at all. I’ve had the privilege to be on good horses that have bailed me out of so many of my own bad choices. They didn’t have to do any of it—the trot serpentines, jumps, whatever. I’ve learned the kind way is the only way, and they don’t deserve to have our emotions dumped on them on a whim. I’m still working on consistently treating people the same way.
Horses Train Us to Be Confident
If it’s been several days since I’ve ridden, I fall into a slump. Life seems very hard when I haven’t had a chance to canter. Work is intimidating. Housework is just too much. Life is lesser. There are a lot of scientific reasons for that I’m sure. Vitamin D from the sunshine, endorphins from exercise, the decrease in the stress hormone, cortisol, that comes from being around animals. However, I think another is that my confidence climbs every time I ride.
The best horses and trainers build us up through series of small wins, and I don’t mean ribbons. Learning how to post the trot was the first big “ah ha” moment for many of us. Cantering without stirrups? Even better. Jumping your first oxer? Oh man, so great. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been riding for ten years or fifty, there is never a limit of things to learn.
The most confident I’ve ever felt was when my heart horse was alive. Especially if the weather was cold or he was a little bit fresh, I knew if I had my leg on and hands up he would take me over anything. We could conquer the world together. In many ways, we did. That experience transcends the barn. It carries over to tough meetings at work, awkward first dates, and stressful situations. Horses teach us that we can do much more than we think, and there’s no cap to our capabilities.
Horses Give Us Permission to Dream
Try this experiment sometime: ask a person who doesn’t ride what their big dream is, the kind that is so big that it feels a little scary. I’m sure there are exceptions, but my experience is that many people stumble on this. But ask a horse person? You’ll get an answer.
Horses inspire me with each lesson, show, year that passes by. What felt impossible three years ago is doable now. Give me a promising young horse and a good trainer, and the world seems to open up. I’ve never been the kind of person to believe that I can accomplish much on a grand scale. My personal goals have always been safe, but horses have widened everything. They bring out that horse-crazy little girl who didn’t realize how hard the world was going to be.
It took me a while to warm up to the young horse I bought after my beloved heart horse died. I won’t lie to you and say that we had a magic connection at first, but I will say this: When I looked him in the eye, I was hopeful for a crystal ball to predict all of the experiences we’d share together. Of course I didn’t get that, but I got a shudder of excitement that I still haven’t lost. I got a look back that said, “Why hello, let’s see where we go together.”
When I go to get him from the pasture these days, the first thing he does is stare at me with his big, soft eyes. And I realize that, in a day with long meetings in cold boardrooms and hurried human interactions, my horse is often the first being to truly see me. I put my hand on the middle of his forehead between his two swirls, and decide that is a gift in itself.
About the Author: Lauren holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of California Riverside, and is a lifelong rider and writer. Beyond equestrian journalism, she explores body positivity, mental health and addiction through personal narrative. She enjoys showing on the local hunter/jumper circuit in Austin, Texas.
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