A Time to Give Thanks To Healers, Friends, Family and Horses

Dec 2, 2012 - 6:52 AM
For Catherine and Greg Staller, horses are a common thread. Photo by Malcolm Stern.

Dear Rita,

I left sunny Florida to spend Thanksgiving weekend with my husband in New Jersey. Greg was on call for his veterinary practice, Running S Equine, so we agreed to spend our holiday visiting friends between equine emergencies. Several poignant reminders of why I should be grateful in this life were presented to me as I traveled through the weekend.

Thanksgiving Day

First Stop: On call with Dr. Staller, the emergency phone rings. Lame horse. Been looking funky for a few weekstrots like a crab behind. “Is this really an emergency?” I think, as we gobble down our breakfast and hop into the vet truck to venture out on a field call.

When we arrive, it’s immediately obvious that it is indeed an emergency. This big horse is foundered and desperate for some help. Normally a bit belligerent with any vet, he stands quietly while my husband puts an IV catheter in his vein and starts pumping in the drugs that will at least save his life and I hope help him recover from his acute state of pain and inflammation. This horse knows he needs help.

I stand watching my husband take time out of Thanksgiving Day to treat this noble horse, and I am reminded that we in the horse industry are very grateful to our veterinarians not only for the excellent care and advice they give us on a daily basis, but also for the dedication and skill they bring to us as first responders in an emergency—day and night, 24/7, holidays not exempt.

To all the vets who have touched the lives of my horses: Thank you!

Second Stop: Hawk Hollow Ranch in Bedminster, N.J., for Thanksgiving dinner. Greg has gone off on another emergency so I take the sweet potato casserole he has prepared to the Leoni’s home at Hawk Hollow where good friends are meeting for a bit of skeet shooting and feasting. Greg will arrive in time for dinner. I am elated to see Randi Leoni—she is such a good friend of mine that I can ring her up and invite my husband and myself to her home for Thanksgiving dinner without a shard of embarrassment!

Turkey is served. One of the other guests is also Lebanese, and she has contributed a pumpkin kibbi dish to the meal. Her two children answer her in French when she poses a question, and I take the chance to show off how well I swear in the Lebanese dialect. We hear an occasional snippet of Italian from the skeet shooters as I look around the table at friends who have cooked together and produced this lovely American-Jewish- Lebanese-Italian feast. I am grateful not only for the good food but also for the chance to live in this great country where the melting pot becomes reality no matter how hard we try to keep our separate identities.

To all of my friends whom I love and who love me for our shared values and our common outlook on life no matter where we were born, who educated us and what language was spoken in our various childhood homes: Thank you for being my “home” whenever I am with you!

Third Stop: New York City for a film interview at the studio of photographer extraordinaire, Monica Stevenson. I am casually dressed, perched on a stool with hard lights frying the makeup on my face thinking, “I HATE MAKEUP” until the interview begins.

I am asked about my life. How I got involved with horses, what they mean to me on a spiritual level, how I communicate with them and vice versa. I tell the story of Inner Mongolia and the epiphany I had there. I talk about the Language of the Horse and how I came to hear it for the first time. I tell the irony of meeting my husband at a horse show and being able to share ALL of my life with him because we share the common thread of horsemanship. The makeup is quickly forgotten as I focus on explaining some of my innermost thoughts on the deeper meaning of life with horses. Oh Rita, I still have stories to tell.

To all the noble and generous horses who have steered me on my path: Thank you for believing in me and guiding my way.

Fourth Stop: Fundraising event in Bedminster for Mane Stream, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of people with special needs through their interaction with horses. Greg and I manage to dress ourselves and go out for an evening of dining and dancing without an interruption from the emergency phone! The event is well organized with an impressive display of donated items for purchase and an auction to benefit Mane Stream.

The most inspiring moment of the night comes when a video of the activities at Mane Stream is shown on the big screen and 300 guests get to see with their own eyes how sitting on a horse improves the communication skills of any rider at any level of functionality. I smile to myself as this is yet another confirmation of my beliefs about horses and communication. It is just coming from a different sector of the horse world.

You will be hearing more about Mane Stream in the near future, Rita. I might even get a chance to share that inspiring video and some of my thoughts on why I will connect my competitive career to this charity in the near future. In the meantime, please visit the website and donate if you can!

Both Will Rogers and D.H. Lawrence are credited with this quote: “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.“ I have always known this, Rita, from the moment when I was 3 years old and sat for the very first time astride a POA at the farm of my father’s friend. It would take me 20 years to articulate that feeling and consciously surrender to my destiny with horses. In the meantime, I would break in my first pony, compete in 4-H shows, go to college, travel the world, start my own business and offer to teach an autistic child who changed my perception of why horses share their lives with humans.

Later I became a good rider, made a profession out of my passion, won many accolades and achieved many of the goals that I set for myself. And to this day, I learn every day from the horses in my life. Horses are great teachers and by “great” I don’t mean good at what they do. I mean grossartig, magnificent—bigger than life. They are here to teach. It is their purpose. They polish the mirror in which we can see ourselves.

To all the patient and wise horses that have waited for me to learn: Thank you.

I’m Catherine Haddad Staller, and I’m sayin’ it like it is from sunny Wellington, Fla. (Oh yeah.)

Training Tip of the Day: Are you listening when your horse teaches you?



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