Baby Horse Lessons on Patience, Healing and Being Kind

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

BY LAUREN MAULDIN

I’m not historically known for my patience. Blame being a Capricorn, but once I decide that something needs doing—I want it done yesterday. 

Last spring, I bought Poet, a four-year-old greenbroke OTTB. Perhaps I should have reminded myself of my lack of patience before I handed over a check, but all I could think about was his sweet expression and exquisite canter. He was meant to be my horse, plain and simple. Patience be damned.

That was ten months ago. The new-horse-honeymoon period has worn off, and now I find myself smack in the middle of a case of the Baby Horse Blues. It’s not that he’s not a good boy (he really is). It’s not that he isn’t fun to ride (most days are great). It’s not that he’s isn’t improving (things are slowly coming together). It’s that we are in the early stages of what is going to be a very long process turning him into my show horse, and my lack of patience is killing me.

Here’s a dirty truth I don’t want to admit—I don’t care all that much about “enjoying the journey” right now. Now before you go typing up angry comments about how I’m not a true equestrian, hear me out. 

My last horse Simon, an OTTB that I referred to as “my heart,” was nothing but an never-ending journey. We went through three different rings, two different states, illness and injury, wins and losses, confidence spikes and debilitating fear all together. I can’t say I loved every moment of that process. There were times that I was frustrated beyond belief, and my waning patience caused more than one issue. But everyday with him was a gift, and I knew that we were in for the long haul together. Simon was the journey. There was no destination besides enjoying his company, trust and partnership. 

When he died from colic three months before I bought Poet, my viewpoint on horses changed a little. Horse shopping wasn’t to find another life partner and heart horse like Simon, but rather to find the most attractive hunter prospect I could afford. Find a horse that could do the job well, and hopefully get some success in the show ring. That was my goal.

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

Shopping on a limited budget, that horse turned out to be a greenbroke four-year-old. I bought Poet knowing it would be a long road to get where I wanted. As I signed the check, I remembered how proud I was of how far Simon and I came together. Even though I was still heartbroken, I hadn’t fully given up faith in the journey. 

But right now, the road feels very long. 

I am officially impatient. I miss riding a creature that would just trot in a straight line without turning into an octopus on a whim. I miss jumps over 18”. I miss knowing what will (and won’t) spook my horse. I miss horse shows. I miss reliable steering. 

I want it all back, and I’m trying of being patient.

When I stopped to think about things, it’s clear that what I really miss is not the training or the competition, but Simon himself. This current lack of patience, though certainly a personality flaw I have, is really just grief in disguise. Once I realized that, the baby horse blues shifted. It’s not that I need to be horse showing and winning right now. Instead, I need to be kind to myself and acknowledge this sadness. Because there is no timeline on grief, no expiration date on missing someone. 

Photo © J Mock Photo

The next time I went out to ride, I decided to focus on Poet’s qualities that were different than Simon’s. His incredibly sweet and cuddly personality. He is the kind of horse that wants to hang out with you all day long getting petted and loved on (and licking your face if you let him). Thinking about that makes me excited to take him to school at his first horse show this spring to let him and soak up the atmosphere without any pressure of competing. He also has this amazing natural canter that makes the jumps come up easy. I know that when we do start jumping more solid and bigger fences, the distances will come easy if I get him forward and straight. 

It is a constant struggle at the barn for me to not only be patient with Poet, but also not compare him to Simon. Some days are easier than others, but I know there are good things coming for us. The tedious rides working on straight lines and accepting contact will eventually create beautiful two strides and clean lead changes. 

Horses don’t care about our timelines. They don’t even have one of their own. Not a single horse is sitting in their pasture thinking, “I better get my hind end stronger by February so I don’t have any late changes at the March show.” Horses don’t even know what patience is—except when it comes to feeding time at least, and they certainly don’t show it then. 

Photo courtesy of Lauren Mauldin

What they do care about is partnership and mutual trust. The way I built that with Simon was through countless rides that continually pushed him in fair, small ways as well as rewarding his efforts. I will do my best to build that same relationship with Poet. 

In the meantime, I will remember to be as kind to myself as I try to be to my horse. I will allow myself the occasional day of being grumpy because I’m not where I wanted to be, so long as that grumpiness is never taken out on my horse. I don’t have to put on a fake smile and say that every single ride with a green, young horse is super fun. Spoiler alert—it’s not. And, I will admit that sometimes I simply miss what I used to have. 

I think training green horses is less about being patient, and more about doing what’s right for the horse in any particular moment—even if it’s not what we want. Though I am not patient and I want to be showing with my friends sooner than later, I will try to always do what is best for Poet. Because I want things done correctly even more than I want them done yesterday.

Sometimes you don’t enjoy the journey until you’re further down the road. Though I have tried to rush past many parts of my life in the past, I usually realize how good things actually were once I take a minute to look back. There is clarity in the rear view mirror. For now, I just need to keep driving. 


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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