By Catherine Reus
I am coming up on two years of being a horse owner. Two years of glorious anxiety-riddled joy. Horse ownership is better than I could have ever imagined it would be, and I am so thankful for the choices and sacrifices I made in my adult life to make this a possibility in my mid-30s.
Something I didn’t anticipate was the random tidal wave of memories that hit me from my youth. Memories I didn’t know were so vividly kept all these years. I have so many happy memories, but the memories I’m speaking about are the less pleasant ones. The times that I almost left the sport entirely or the times I would pray to God to make me love anything else as much as I loved horses. The times when I saw the dark side of the sport or was taken advantage of in the way of free labor.
For example, the times I didn’t ride or pin well at a show because, in order to be showing at all, I had to be the groom. I was the first one there in the morning and the last to leave. Getting everyone else ready for their classes, doing hair, polishing boots, tacking horses, mucking stalls, hosing horses off, and more took up most of my energy and brainpower. Memories like these are typically filed under “resentment” in my brain. It isn’t the thing I like to remember because it brings up the conflicting emotions. Part of me feels like I missed out, but then I feel guilty because I had a privileged upbringing—even though I couldn’t afford a horse.
Or what about the time when I showed up to the barn for my lesson to check the lesson board and see that the pony I always rode—and was madly in love with—was assigned to my friend. This wouldn’t have been the worst thing, but my friend had her very own fancy Glenmore pony. The burning of my face and the pit in my stomach is a feeling I will not forget. My mom must have seen my rage, disappointment, and confusion because the next thing I remember is my trainer telling me that I was in fact riding “my pony” for my lesson. There was probably a perfectly good reason why the other girl was riding “my pony” that day, but I wasn’t able to see that in my bubble of coveting. The girls who I thought were my lesson friends turned on me that day. I guess word got out that I “pitched a fit” to get my way. Of course, those other girls all had their own horses.
When I was 16, I was half-leasing a mare who I really clicked with. We adored each other. It was the most successful I had ever been in the local show circuit. I did my first rated show with her and it was an incredible experience. My trainer had convinced my parents to seriously consider buying her for me, but my Mom had a bad dream that she went lame and backed out of the deal. The anger I felt toward my Mom for cheating me out of my own horse because of a dream was unlike I had ever felt toward her before. But a few months later that mare sustained a career-ending lameness.
Most teen girls were getting their hearts broken by boys, but mine was broken by horses. Over and over again I watched horses I had come to love be sold or move away. Even while riding in college for my IHSA team I would get attached to horses that I knew I would never see again after I graduated.
For years and years, I suppressed all these memories. I focused instead on all the triumphs, lessons, and love that I experienced in my life because I made a conscious choice to never give up on the sport. My life has been infinitely better because of horses even though some of those times have been really painful.
I have wondered why all of these negative memories have been coming flooding back at random times since I have now embarked on my horse ownership journey. Maybe I am subconsciously “re-filing” them into a different category inside my memory bank. On some level, I am revisiting my younger self and telling her, “Just wait! One day in your 35th year your dreams will come true, and all of this will be worth it. Somewhere out there a soul is waiting for you to grow up so that it can find you at the perfect moment.”
All of those hard memories have started to lose their bitter taste. I can see clearly the lessons they taught me. The jealousy, resentment, and frustration all seem worth it now. Patience and tenacity have made the joy of horse ownership so much sweeter than I could ever imagine.
To all the horse-crazy kids who are priced out of the sport or owning a horse, don’t give up on it. Keep showing up in any way you can and you will find a deeper and more meaningful appreciation of horses than you ever thought possible. It’s hard to see it, but I am living proof that it is worth working for and waiting for. Horses are always worth it.
Catherine Reus has had a lifelong love affair with horses and has been riding for 26 years primarily in Hunters and Equitation. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Equine Business from West Texas A&M University and was very successful as a student athlete on her IHSA team. She made a conscious choice to move into the corporate world to be able to make her dreams of horse ownership come true and is now a Marketing Director for Professional Office Environments. Catherine resides in St. Louis, MO with her Husband, two dogs, four chickens, and of course, one horse named Juniper.