BY DIANNE MAY
Recently I overheard moms talking about horses at my daughter’s soccer game. One mom smiled and indicated that her daughter loved horses, but she wasn’t going to do the whole “horse thing.” I thought about her comments long after the soccer game ended, mulling over the dismissal in her voice. I understand a person’s reticence to jump into the world of horses. It’s a hugely costly endeavor—an entire world with its own language and many subsets of horse sports. But as most of us reading this know, if that young girl really loves horses, that kind of love is hard to squash. The positives of horses far outweigh the negatives.
There has never been a time in my life that I could pinpoint when horses and my love for them didn’t exist. My earliest memories are of stopping at farms to pet them, asking my parents for a pony for Christmas, and then repeating that request every Christmas thereafter. I watched horse trailers on the road, craning my neck to see passing horse farms on long road trips. I felt giddy when I saw both.
Early on, my parents made it clear that as one of four kids, there was not enough money to buy a horse for me, but I could take lessons and lease horses—which I did for years. I learned to ride short stocky stubborn ponies, quick fast thoroughbreds, and everything in between.
When I was nineteen, I hit the jackpot with a little OTTB that my trainer took in as a resale project. Salty became mine in theory to help her train, and after several months he actually became mine. My mother shook her head sheepishly and remarked she couldn’t believe they were giving in after nineteen years, but they did. The joy, wonder, and knowledge that Salty gave me and the relationship we forged were immeasurable. I kept Salty for twenty years before he succumbed to colic. A lot of those years were spent doctoring his numerous lameness issues but I wouldn’t trade any of it.
The love of horses, my passion for them, is a thread running through my life. At times, this passion has waned and taken a backseat to raising kids or achieving an education, but it has never disappeared. I’ve been fortunate to have parents and now a husband who might not understand my passion but certainly accept and support it. This thread has connected me to people I wouldn’t have met otherwise, travel to places I wouldn’t have gone, and overall enlarged my world.
We bought our six-acre farm thirteen years ago and though at first, I was happy with the newness of owning and running my own barn, over time I struggled with taking care of the horses on my own and loneliness. I took in my boarder, Jennifer and her mother Amanda, ten years ago and that set me on a path I never could have imagined. Due to them and their knowledge and passion for eventing, I started taking dressage lessons and then got back into jumping and finally competing.
Learning to event has been challenging, rewarding and so much fun. Almost paralyzed with nerves at my first event, I trotted around the green bean cross country course of ten jumps my horse could walk over. Five years later I’m still nervous when we leave the start box but we canter out, jump the sizeable sixteen or so beginner novice jumps and don’t stop until we cross through the finish flags. The feeling when we do is unbelievable.
Through eventing, I’ve challenged myself in ways I never thought possible while also enlarging my world by meeting people I never would have known. I’ve stabled next to juniors giddy with enthusiasm and older confident experienced women competing at levels I can’t fathom, parents nervously assisting their children and professionals offering smiles and encouragement. We are all different but are united in the love of these thousand-pound animals. It’s humbling and exhilarating.
My horse interest has afforded me a place to escape when the outside world is overwhelming. It has taught me about hard work and perseverance. It has made me cry and laugh, sometimes simultaneously. At times my head has ached with anguish over an injured horse and at other times my heart wants to burst with joy and fullness from a soft nuzzle, a jump well executed or a floating trot down the long side.
A few weeks ago, I fell off competing at Stableview on cross country. Luckily, I popped back up and was immediately surrounded by my trainer, the jump steward, and the medic who all peppered me with questions to make sure I was okay. The medic asked me if I hit my head, if I knew where I was, and if anything was hurt besides my pride. I was able to say no to all the questions, but told her the pride especially hurt. We all laughed.
I understand the mother’s skepticism at the soccer game when regarding the horse world, the wariness to embark on a hobby that can cost thousands of dollars with no guarantees of success. But at the end of the day, it is a hobby and passion that can stay with you for a lifetime. It can sustain you through the tough times and along the way enrich one’s life immeasurably, which to me is the very definition of success. There’s always something to learn and so many different ways to participate with horses—no matter what discipline in the horse world you choose, English, Western, vaulting, trail, endurance, it is the horse that remains. The horse is at the core. All that really matters is this magnificent powerful animal that bestows trust and love. The rest is details.
A few weeks ago I participated in a clinic. On the way to the ring, I talked to an older gentleman riding next to me. He was on a big black Percheron mare, and me on my pony sized red roan Quarter horse gelding. Both of us rode in the same group. I told him I was part excited and part nervous. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined I’d be trailering my horse somewhere, much less doing a clinic with a top eventing professional. He smiled and replied, “Me too. But here we are on this beautiful summer day doing the thing that we love. And that’s really damn special and lucky.”
I couldn’t have agreed with him more.
Dianne May grew up riding hunters on Long Island and earned her Bachelor of Arts from Connecticut College and her JD from Albany Law School. She now resides in Davidson, North Carolina with her husband, three kids and a menagerie of animals including her Quarter horse gelding Gilligan who she competes in eventing. When she’s not riding or driving her kids somewhere, she writes romantic suspense novels with an equestrian twist. You can find her at www.authordiannemay.com and her most recent novel, The Perfect Distance, online at amazon and barnesandnoble.