Thursday, May. 23, 2024

Relationships For Their Own Sake

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The first several months of 2024 have brought rampant change for me. In January, I made the difficult decision to retire my coming 20-year-old mare Dixie from competition and training. In February, I moved her from the barn we’d called home for nearly four years, away from our friends and teammates and trainer. In March, I bought a 2-year-old gelding named Scotch, and in April, I moved him to a friend’s farm, where he’s living with her 2-year-old and their babysitter pony.

At this time last year, I was impatiently rehabbing a torn medial collateral ligament in my right knee. I was out of the saddle for about two months from the injury. I caught rides to the barn to visit Dixie and spend time around the horses whenever I could, and as soon as I was cleared to drive, I resumed my six days a week minimum trips to the barn. I was absolutely itching to ride again. I had plentiful training and show goals for the year. That show ring high was like a drug to me, and I could not wait to get back in the swing of it.

I recovered without incident, resumed riding, and was back in the show ring by the beginning of June. Dixie and I attended several competitions throughout the year, culminating in both the GAIG/USDF Region 1 Championships in Virginia and the Colonel Bengt Ljungquist Memorial Championships in New Jersey. It was an ambitious season, but nothing hugely different than the seasons prior.

Laura Adriaanse and Dixie Rose. Photos Courtesy Of Laura Adriaanse

The difference this time was the burnout. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to compete. I’ve always picked a productive training session in the arena over a trail ride. The desire to learn more, train more and be better has always been innate in me as a rider. But last fall, I found myself just wanting to hack around the farm and spend time grooming and hand grazing with Dixie. I felt a foreign sense of resentment when I thought about ramping back up through the winter to attempt a fourth level debut in the spring.

Dixie’s feelings seemed to mirror mine. She was quite unhappy when we tried to resume even light work after her fall vacation, and even in the barn her personality changed, becoming sullen and even losing interest in some of her favorite treats, a massive red flag for her. I hated seeing her like that, and I hated that we’d both lost the joy in our work. Our step backward, however hard to accept at first, was necessary.

These days, we ride maybe once or twice a week, and it’s mostly walking and trotting around to get a little exercise and maintain somewhat of a topline. She and I have always been quite bonded, but our relationship now feels stronger than ever. I don’t know if it’s anthropomorphizing to speculate that she’s grateful and feels like her voice was heard, like she matters to me as more than a vehicle to reach my goals. Regardless, that’s how it feels to me, and it’s been absolutely delightful.

Meanwhile, I bought my first young horse. Solidarity LJS, or “Scotch,” is a 2-year-old Hanoverian (Sarkozy—Telula, De Laurentis) bred by Marie Taylor Emrey of Lazy J Sporthorses in North East, Maryland. He is everything I have ever wanted and more. My dream for at least a decade has been to start a young horse from the ground and progress up the levels with them. It always felt like a “someday” situation, as far away and as hypothetical as my future wedding (not a prospect in sight on that front). But the timing felt right, and I was in a place in my life where I could make it happen, so I did it. And man, did I hit the jackpot with Scotch. He is the very embodiment of love and joy. He adores people and has such a good, rational mind. I’ve had him a little over a month now, and I still routinely pinch myself that he’s real and he’s mine.

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Laura Adriaanse is enjoying getting to know her new 2-year-old, Scotch.

I’m having the best time with Scotch. We go for hand walks around the farm and explore anything he’s interested in (which is just about everything!). I hand graze him while I groom him (like I said, an exceptional brain on this baby). I feed him cookies and scratch his top lip the way he likes, and he licks my hand and rests his head on me. I’m getting to know him, and he’s learning that he can trust me and enjoy his time with me.

The feedback I’d receive when I would tell people about my young horse dream was mixed. There was a lot of, “Are you sure?” and several inquiries of, “Wouldn’t you rather get something you can ride?” But the idea of a 2-year-old was not just a random age I came up with. I wanted a horse I’d have at least a year with on the ground before even thinking about riding. Dixie has taught me that the relationship between horse and human is everything, and I wanted to form that connection with a young horse to lay that foundation.

I think back to myself a year ago, how I was twitching waiting to get back in the saddle and train and compete. If I could tell that version of myself that in a year’s time, I’d be content and fulfilled as a horsewoman without really riding, I don’t think I’d believe it. It’s not that I didn’t treasure my relationship with Dixie; I just had that drive to do things. But in a weird way, I think the season-end burnout was a blessing in disguise. It made me zoom out a bit and appreciate my relationship with my horse for what it is. She is everything to me, and riding doesn’t have much to do with that. A horse person isn’t exclusively one who competes or trains hard or even rides regularly. A horse person is one who loves spending time with their horses.

And now, with the addition of Scotch to my little family, I feel doubly lucky to have another blossoming equine relationship. With two horses, I have twice as much time I get to spend with them, twice as much love to give and receive. Growing the connection from the beginning with Scotch is just the best experience, and I simply cannot wait for what’s to come. I’m loving every moment of the journey.

I don’t doubt that my drive to train and move up the levels will return. But in the meantime, I couldn’t be happier just being with my horses. And if that desire doesn’t come back in full force, I’m confident I’ll still enjoy every moment of the relationship I have with both of them. I consider myself incredibly lucky to be able to form these connections with them, and that is what’s most important to me.


Laura Adriaanse is an avid amateur dressage rider and USDF bronze medalist. She has three horses: Dixie Rose, a 20-year-old Hanoverian mare; Solidarity LJS, a 2-year-old Hanoverian gelding; and Change of Heart, a 24-year-old Thoroughbred gelding. She currently resides in Wilmington, Delaware, and works in marketing and communications.

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