Friday, May. 24, 2024

Amateurs Like Us: Who Am I Without A Horse?

Right now, the closest thing I have to a horse is a 7-month-old yellow Lab puppy who’s rehabbing from OCD surgery in both hocks. She’s transitioning from strict stall rest to hand-walking, has had PRP therapy, and is on a regimen of joint supplements and bi-weekly Adequan injections. I monitor her soundness obsessively.

So, you know, I pretty much have all the vet bills associated with a fancy, high-maintenance show horse without any of the rideability of an actual equine. 

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Right now, the closest thing I have to a horse is a 7-month-old yellow Lab puppy who’s rehabbing from OCD surgery in both hocks. She’s transitioning from strict stall rest to hand-walking, has had PRP therapy, and is on a regimen of joint supplements and bi-weekly Adequan injections. I monitor her soundness obsessively.

So, you know, I pretty much have all the vet bills associated with a fancy, high-maintenance show horse without any of the rideability of an actual equine. 

I never expected to be in this situation—completely horseless. I’ve shaped my life around horses, both personally and professionally. For so many years, my life revolved around caring for horses, plotting training goals and scraping money together for competitions. At one point, I had three horses and cared for two different barns at each end of my full-time workday at the Chronicle to help support them. I lived and breathed horses for 14 hours a day.

But now life is very different for a variety of reasons, and I have found myself without daily contact with an equine companion for the first solid stretch of time in probably 30 years.

I read with interest the blogs COTH Managing Editor Sara Lieser and COTH blogger Jennifer Barker St. John wrote on the topic of balancing motherhood, marriage, work and horses. They each had very different experiences both from each other and from myself.

It’s one of the things that has made the Amateurs Like Us series on the COTH website so much fun for me to oversee. Every single person has their own take on how they stir in family, work and horses and come out with the recipe that works for them. It’s truly an individual thing, and it’s inspiring to me to hear how other amateurs choose to stir in each ingredient.

I tried to include an equine in my stew when my son turned 1. The horse I’d had for 10 years had been relegated to pasture puff with a diagnosis of kissing spine, and I will admit that I was feeling quite lost without swinging a leg over every day.

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So, I did what I used to do when I was in my 20s. I impulsively bought a flashy, young OTTB off the internet sight unseen. He was smart, athletic and… hot. Very hot. The dream horse of 24-year-old me was way too much for the 40-something mom me of today. It took me a year to admit it, but I finally decided he needed a different person and I needed a different horse. 

Of course, the universe has a way of kicking you when you’re down sometimes, and in a pre-purchase that very sound horse ended up with a bone chip in one knee. I brought him back home, paid for the surgery to remove it, and paid way more than my board budget for someone else to care for him intensely (and very well!) during his rehab.

Once he was ready to start back under saddle, I decided to cut my losses and give him away. He found an excellent home with a 20-something who knows exactly what he needs to be successful and he’s thriving. I was left with no horse and no funds left in the horse budget.

And, a somewhat disenchanted non-horsey husband who had watched a lot of money flow out without much happiness washing back in. The whole “horses make me happy” argument didn’t hold much weight in that scenario!


I do miss this view.

So right now, motherhood, marriage and work have crowded out horses in my life. Every now and then I get my fix of saddle time when a friend who has a similarly complicated schedule asks me to ride her horse when she can’t. So I do still go for a hack every now and then, which I enjoy immensely. But the things I used to enjoy so much about having a horse—the gradual progression of training, the goals pursued and achieved, the challenges of figuring out a relationship with an animal—aren’t part of my life at the moment.

I know this is temporary—as my son gets older, it’s easier to find chunks of time for myself. And I am working on a savings account for a new horse—which took a hit when the puppy needed thousands of dollars of surgery and our house foundation needed some TLC. So… still horseless. But that’s how life goes—priorities shift. 

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I am lucky in that my work life is all horses, all the time. I get to talk to people about their horses, watch horses, follow horses. I still have a foot in the world. And I truly, 1,000 percent love being a mom. I will admit that there’s a part of me that loves having my weekends free to devote myself to my family, doing things I might have missed out on if I were competing.

But there are also times when just don’t feel like myself somehow, like my anchor of being “me” has been cut loose. My social life had always centered around horses—chatting in the barn aisle, going to events, discussing my horse. So, not having that casual interaction leaves me, the quintessential introvert, feeling a bit stranded. And I really miss having goals with a horse—somehow those goals felt so much more achievable than getting my email inbox count to zero.

But this too shall pass, as I’ve learned is the mantra of parenting. 

Am I still a horseman without a horse? I think so. I take so much inspiration from all the amateurs I’ve talked to who’ve taken decades off from riding to realize other goals and then returned to the saddle.

When I’m ready to start paying a board bill again, the right horse will be out there. I’ll figure out how to budget time to be both the mom that I want to be as well as the horseman I want to be. And I will enjoy it so immensely more than I did when I was 25 and the world was my oyster, because I’ll realize just how lucky I am to have found my recipe for me. 

Every now and then we feature a blog from a member of the Chronicle staff. We’re just like you—juggling riding and competing with work and family. Senior Editor Molly Sorge has evented herself and groomed at Rolex Kentucky and Burghley CCI****s as well as spending a few years grooming on the A-rated hunter/jumper circuit before settling in at the Chronicle

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