Embracing the Experience

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By SUMMER GRACE

“You may not have accomplished the dream, but the experience itself was a dream come true.” – Lewis Howes.

I heard this quote the other day, and to many it might seem obvious, but approaching the two-year anniversary of when I lost my heart horse, it really struck a nerve as I reflect on my time in the sport.

If there is one thing I’ve learned to appreciate most in the time I have spent without my horse, it’s the experience he granted me. When I first got Abraham, I had goals and saw him as the horse to help me achieve them. From the time I began working in Wellington, for one of the top trainers in the country and at one of the top-level venues in the country, I wanted to be like the people who competed there. Really, I wanted to be someone who competed there. I had a taste of it on my trainer’s former lesson horse and I desperately wanted to achieve that status of accomplishment that seemed to follow those good enough to compete there.

Ultimately, my unrealistic self wanted to (and still wants to, even though I know it’s about as real as dragons) become a grand prix rider. There were a few issues with that — including but not limited to finances, horsepower, and most importantly, the bravery to do so. I was always what would probably be considered a timid jumper. When I bought Abe, I felt the closest I ever had to finding my way into a braver territory, a feeling I’d never had before.

Having this incredibly brave horse underneath me, I also felt more confident. He was quirky, to put it lightly, and most people underestimated his ability because he was small and plain — not a ‘papered’ warmblood with a passport and a brand. But what he had was a heart I had never experienced and a bravery that took him confidently through every part of life.

Our first lesson in Wellington – something I never thought I would achieve with my own horse until Abe came along.

With Abe, I would spend three incredible seasons competing at WEF. We spent most of our time in the training jumpers, and in the final season we competed, I felt like things were finally progressing as we moved into the meter jumpers and had some of the best rounds of our careers together.

Our competition career was put on hold for several years as we worked to address a bad bolting habit that shook the foundation of our relationship, and adult responsibilities began to consume a large majority of my available time. In the first week of May 2021, we were prepping for our first venture back into the show ring in over two years. In the middle of that week, Abe died.

Once I finally made it through the haze of grief, I realized in the weeks that followed that my show career was almost certainly over, or at the very least on an indefinite hiatus. But in the following months, it became clear that it wasn’t the show horse I was pining for. 

Abe overlooks the field in Tryon. Exploring new places and going to new places just the two of us was one of our favorite things.

See, the thing about having Abe in my life was not that I accomplished my dreams. We didn’t jump any grand prixs, and we never rode in the International Ring at WEF. We never won a jumper class, and we never traveled across the country from horse show to horse show. And yet, I know that even if I ever do accomplish all of those things, fulfilling the dream will never be the dream come true that my experience with him was.

My goal was to compete – but what I was able to do was so much more, and it has become the little insignificant moments of our time together that I treasure most. My favorite mornings consisted of those where we spent hours out on a trail ride, exploring the quiet depths of Loxahatchee with just one another, because he gave me the confidence to do that. The experience of horse showing was only fun because it was him I was horse showing. He made it possible for the two of us to set out on our own and accomplish all that we needed to. He was brave for the trailer rides, and he was unfazed each time I unloaded him at a new location — just ready to set off on his next adventure. Wherever we went, he would get out and look at me, as if to say ‘ok, as long as we’re here together I’m good with it’. He was often my first thought in the morning as I set off out of wherever I was living and down to the barn to give him breakfast, and he was my last thought at night as I gave him a flake of hay and one last cuddle before bed. Through everything he was my rock – lost loves, lost friends, old pets passing on, new jobs, college graduation – he was the glue that held it all together.

The moral of this long-winded story? It’s so easy to get caught up in the goal, or what we feel should be the ‘dream’ that we often forget to stop and think about the dream we are currently living and may never have imagined we’d ever have. Looking back, beyond the years when the horse show became all-consuming, most of us started off as horse-crazy girls and boys that were for one reason or another inexplicably drawn to bonding with these creatures. Knowing what I know now, I wish I had allowed us more grace; I wish I had focused less on what I was lacking, and instead been more aware of the incredible gift I was given. In the darkest of times and on the really bad days, the thought of being apart from him was enough to keep me going. 

I met my heart horse in May of 2015. He was the first horse I sat on at a new barn, and became my inseparable partner for the next six years. I lost my heart horse, best friend, twin flame, and soul mate on a normal Wednesday morning. Yet, the ongoing pain of the loss will still always be worth the experience. The thing that made those six years unique was Abe himself. The term heart-horse almost doesn’t feel like enough to explain the bond I am most grateful to have had in my life. The greatest gift he gave me was the experience of having him as my horse. I appreciated it back when he was alive and knew what we had was special, but I appreciate it so much more now.

In loving memory of Abraham (Potato) who made this world a better place for me to call home every day until he left us on April 28, 2021.

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