Horse ownership can be many things: Magical, joyful, fulfilling, engaging, adventurous, easy—all are adjectives one strives for in a partnership. You and your horse, on the same page, working together towards the same goals, both happy and healthy and all-in.
For me, the past year has been anything but that. My horse-owning experience has been one of frustration, setbacks, apprehension and uncertainty. Callie’s left hind splint break last November set things off on a much different trajectory than I originally envisioned, but with her eventual full recovery in March, I fully expected that, by now, we would be back to jumping small courses and having a blast together.
Spoiler alert: We’re not.
From the start of our legging-up process, Callie explicitly let us know that she enjoyed her vacation, thank you very much, and also enjoyed the extra padding she accumulated during that time, and please stop trying to make her go back to work. This attitude presented itself with pinned ears, backwards glances and snarky kick-outs whenever asked to go more forward than her preferred pace.
Now with my trainer, things were a different story. Callie sometimes flicked her ear or tossed her head, but for the most part, it was all business whenever Liz was in the saddle. It was only with me—her momma who loves her more than life—that she turned into a less-than-willing partner. And only in the saddle. On the ground, she was her usual sweet, loving self. She gave no indication in the crossties, while grooming or tacking up, that she was anything less than stoked for the ride ahead. She always called when she saw me coming out to catch her or heard my voice and trotted right up to the gate.
To make things even more complicated, sometimes she was perfect for me: forward, willing, soft, balanced, all the things we loved. I memorized the variables of those rides so I could replicate them, only to have the same mix not produce the same magic the next time around.
So we started to check off the boxes. We got her out of the ring more. We scoped for ulcers, we X-rayed her back and started her on a core training program, we injected her hocks, we put her on a regular massage and chiropractic schedule, we tweaked her supplements and looked at her nutrition, we started to trim down her weight. I even had a saddle-fitter out and—gulp—pulled the trigger on a custom XW County Innovation, even though previously she had been going fine and several vets had cleared my already wide Antares. I finally felt like we were in the best possible position to move forward.
And then, she got kicked. No tendon damage, but stitches and a cut bad enough to send her back to tack walks. And that’s where I am now.
There’s no real larger point to this story. There’s no big lesson I’ve learned or major epiphany I’ve had along the way. It’s just been one thing after another with no real light at the end of the tunnel.
But as I’ve been sitting here over the weeks and then months trying to come up with something to say, something that’s meaningful to share from this experience, I’ve decided that maybe having nothing to share IS the thing to share. Horse ownership is not always a rainbow. It can be draining and depressing and demoralizing. You can question every day why you bother to do it and when it might be time to just throw in the towel. And as much as having an amazing time is normal, so is this time I’m going through now. And I know I don’t even have it half as bad as many.
Do I still love and adore my Callie? Yes. I love her tremendously, and I cherish the time I get to brush her and dote on her, and I know that even on the many challenging days, I’m lucky and privileged to be a part of this sport. For now, I’m going to take care of her cut and wait for my magical saddle to arrive and give myself the space and permission to say, “Man, this sucks,” while also saying, “And I still don’t want to give it up.”