BY LAUREN MAULDIN
“She talks about these horses like they’re people. All of their different personalities and stuff. I don’t get it. I mean, it’s just a horse!”
I’ve heard different versions of this conversation my entire life. When I was younger, I used to get defensive. What do you mean it’s just a horse? How could they not understand this wasn’t a utilitarian farm animal, a piece of sports equipment?
These days, I just shrug and smile to myself. They’re never going to be part of this secret that I know—that every equestrian knows. That it’s never “just a horse.” These creatures are anything are so much more.
My horse is just a partnership. One that develops slowly. Each time I walk up to his bright, doe-eyed face, I’m asking him to trust me. With every hoof fall and gentle rub of my spur, we communicate with each other. If I get frustrated and kick too hard, I lose a little bit of the trust he gives me so openly. When that happens, I have to apologize and do better in the terms of more tactful riding, maintaining proper care. As I massage liniment into a knot in his haunches, he sighs deeply and drops his head. For some, it might be just a sigh. For me, I know it’s a “That feels amazing. Thank you.”
He’s just part of my overall confidence. People who ride understand this power. It doesn’t matter if you’re learning proper canter transitions for the first time or nailing the distance on a 3’ vertical. Untapping that one perfect moment, the instance that you feel, “We got this!” empowers me to tackle the world. My step is brighter when I’m on a good path with my horse. What’s a corporate showdown in the boardroom when I know how to lunge a fresh young greenie on the first chilly, windy day? I hold the memory of maintaining soft contact with a powerful, extended canter in my muscles whether I’m in the barn or not.
My horse is just the personification of a dream. How many people do you know that get up, go to work, come home, and watch Netflix? Day after day. That’s the routine. For equestrians, this feels insane. We squeeze and push hours into busy schedules so we can drive out to the barn. We somehow pull dollars out of nothing to make sure our horses have the right vet care, to fit in just one more lesson. I have wanted this life since I was a little girl who didn’t understand how hard it would be. But as I live the harsh realities of this sport, I look at my horse and see how many of my dreams have come true.
He’s just my meditation guru. There is no better way for me to melt away the worries of the world than going out to the barn. The minute I grab the lead rope, I’m tuned in to a world more basic and primal than most. I pay attention to the way the wind blows the grass. The cadence of my horse’s breath. How each of his legs feels, the warmth of his skin underneath my curry comb. There is no room for anxiety over bills or boyfriend squabbles at the barn. There is only feeling and movement and breath.
More important than anything, my horse is my friend. He is a steadfast companion when days are hard. He never judges me. He doesn’t care if I’m successful. Doesn’t know if my clothes are fancy or if I’ve ever won anything notable. He asks nothing of me but to be kind and respect him. I don’t know if he can comprehend how each time he drops his head for me to rub that soft, wide forehead, he heals a little bit of my trauma. But the details don’t matter that much. It’s just wrapped up in the wordless communication between friends.
These aren’t just horses to us, like a dog isn’t just an animal or a friend isn’t just a person you see from time to time. It’s true that society was built on the backs of horses. Centuries ago, they might have been more utility than anything else to most. But the people that ride today see so much more than that in their eyes. We know the magic.
About the Author: Lauren holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of California Riverside, and is a lifelong rider and writer. She writes as a way to explore life. She’s interested in the impact horses have on our lives as well discussing 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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