Let Your Horse Be Your Anchor

May 18, 2018 - 10:35 AM

I’m sitting here on the eve of taking my 5-year-old to his first A-rated horse show, and I’m shaking my head at the past six or so months in our process of getting here. This poor horse had 30 days under saddle before he was handed over to my bumbling amateur self as a 3-year-old to learn everything else. Cantering, jumping, lead changes, everything. I would imagine it’s like having a teenaged go-kart enthusiast try to teach you how to drive laps in a NASCAR race. “OK I mean I think you kind of like tuck this shoulder in and fling your legs the other way, and you should just be on the other lead. No, try it again but with more animation, think jazz hands-level enthusiasm. NOT THAT MUCH ENTHUSIASM.”

But despite my decidedly amateur training methods and his youth, we had respectable showings at some schooling outings in Florida this winter (where I’m stationed for the Chronicle from January through March). Now we’re back in Lexington getting ready to jump around the low adults at the Kentucky Horse Park this weekend. I’ve written some comedic blogs about Moji’s misadventures before, and a few people have asked why there haven’t been any blogs about our shows in Florida or anything really since last year.

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Moji killing the game in Florida this past winter. Photo by Erin Gilmore Photography.

I’ve laughed it off and said I just haven’t gotten around to it yet, but the truth is I really haven’t been in the mood. With social media it’s pretty easy to make your life look like a highlights reel where everything is always going peachy, but to be honest it’s been a little rough behind the scenes for me lately.

It doesn’t really matter what happened. We all go through stuff that makes us want to get quiet and spend time sorting through things. It could be a death, a cross country move, a huge career or life change. Or maybe you too have at some point found yourself in the same boat I’m currently in: heartbroken over someone and desperately just trying to paddle your lil’ heart into “Over You!” territory.

At first you’re like, “Oh, this is just a little heartbreak lake. It’s going to take some time to get across, but I can see the shore on the other side. This is fine.” And life is like “NOPE!” It’s actually a very sad rendition of Pocahontas’ “Just Around The Riverbend,” where you’re going, “OMG, am I getting over them around the next bend? What’s beyooooond the riverbend?” PSYCHE, it’s another riverbend. Enjoy week No. 22 of not getting over them. That’s a Disney song ruined by adult reality, people.

I have a friend going through the same thing, and we have a lot of fun going out to dinner together and attempting to answer the obligatory pleasantry: “How is everyone doing tonight?” We usually just laugh and say fine, because it’s socially unacceptable to be honest and say, “Well, I was sobbing uncontrollably on my kitchen floor while un-ironically listening to ‘Bleeding Love’ by Leona Lewis, and she was sitting on a trunk at the horse show staring into space and trying to eat herself into a nacho coma, so we figured we’d come here and be miserable together. And how are you doing, sir?”

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Photo by Lindsay Anne Photography.

I highly recommend humor as a coping mechanism for everything life throws at you, but sometimes you will just find yourself good old fashioned crying in your horse’s mane, and I’ve spent the last few months doing that more times than I care to recount. The human experience is weird in that we all end up going through the same things—you’re the billionth person to have your heart broken; you’re the billionth person to lose someone, but it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t make it hurt any less to know it’s happened before, and you would think there should be some well-worn path to follow out of it, but there isn’t.

Everyone seems to find their own way out, and my friend and I are lucky to live where we do. We’re never far from the creatures we have to thank for helping us find our way out, the pairs of inquisitive brown eyes and soft, bewhiskered muzzles. Maybe it’s a horse hanging its head over a stall door in the stable below my apartment. Maybe it’s walking down the aisle and saying hello to my trainer’s string standing in cross-ties at a show. Maybe it’s my own adorable creature waiting patiently at the gate in the evening after work, the sky behind his pricked ears gone wild in a whirl of soft orange and purple pastels as he calls out with a throaty nicker.

They have no idea and can’t comprehend what’s going on in our lives, and that’s almost the most beautiful thing about them. Knowing that your life can have this tempest crashing on the surface, and they will always be your anchor, a steadying influence in deep waters. That billions of people have felt the way you do, but only a subset of them have been lucky enough to find the peace we do in these animals. It’s a connection thousands of years old, stemming from the first moment a person was drawn to lay a hand on one of these incredible creatures’ heads. There is something so powerful about being with an animal that allowed itself to be tamed, allowed us to put all of our ambitions and hopes on their backs. They let us briefly borrow this unshakable, quiet freedom.

I know I will get through this, we both will, we all will—that eventually around one of those riverbends there will be the open ocean or a cartoon raccoon or something. But I think a lot of us could agree that we owe a good part of our ability to weather life’s darker storms to these animals.

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Photo by Lindsay Anne Photography.

That’s why I’m sitting here cleaning tack and digging out my show clothes without a whole lot of nerves or anticipation for this show. Sure, I’d like to do well. And yeah, if we canter in, stand up on two legs, and make it over zero fences, I’ll probably just canter out of the ring and turn left down Iron Works Pike to try to avoid paying my show bill. But I won’t really be upset. It’s hard to feel anything but immense gratitude for this horse I feel like I owe my sanity to.

There are so many great quotes about horses—so many incredible authors who have attempted to capture what it is about these animals that takes hold of us in this visceral, inescapable and incredibly healing way. I can’t ever entirely forgive William Faulkner for forcing “The Sound And The Fury” upon my 12th grade English class. I have never been so confused by a book I actually took the time to read and not just SparkNote and hope for the best, but he makes up for it a bit with this quote. I don’t think any collection of words really does justice to how we all feel about these creatures, but the last part of this one always comes to me when I find myself grasping at straws.

There is something about jumping a horse over a fence, something that makes you feel good. Perhaps it’s the risk, the gamble.

“In any event, it’s a thing I need.”

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