Come What May
Unsurprisingly, fish are not known for their great riding skills.
I wasn’t raised in the equestrian world, but I loved riding and being at the barn as a kid. Even then I knew that being with horses made me happy, but in truth I knew relatively little else about them. So now as (ostensibly) an adult and a relatively new horse owner, I have so much to learn. It can be overwhelming at times. But if you don’t move forward, you don’t move at all.
Deciding you want a horse is easy. Finding the right horse is a little harder. Parting with your hard-earned cash to purchase said horse can cause an uncomfortable twinge. But bringing them home is when the pain in the wallet really hits. I have had to resort to something called “budgeting” (shudder) to ensure I can pay for their care and every need.
Once you own a horse, there are a lot of ongoing costs. There are the monthly boarding, feed, and training costs. For two horses this is equivalent to a mortgage for a really nice house. Like a house with a pool even. There are occasional health issues and even anatomy and breed specific issues which require ongoing medical attention. There are different types of feed and a dizzying array of supplements to treat or ward off problems. There are (I’m not kidding) regular chiropractic and acupuncture treatments. There is an investment in different types of tack and equipment. There are breed associations with membership dues and there are different types of horse sports each with local, regional, national, and global organizations that me and my horses have had to join if we wish to compete. Then there are the shows and all the fees to enter and the cost to travel. It’s…um…a lot.
But hey, it’s just money, as they say. I’m not sure who they are but I’ve heard they say that. I don’t suppose they, like me, lay awake working out how to move to a smaller, cheaper home and community and trying to calculate how many more years they’ll have to work beyond when they had planned to retire. My financial advisor says it’s I like I have two kids who are attending an expensive, exclusive, private university. A university from which they will never graduate. Ever.
And then there’s dressage. It’s fancy. And like anything fancy there are a lot of rules. There are so many rules, and they differ depending on where you are, what level you’re riding, and what you’re doing. And sometimes, just for fun, they change them all. And the riding tests, the defined geometric patterns and skills a rider and horse have to display for judging, can be complex and there are so many of them to memorize.
Sometimes I feel like a fish, no not just a fish, but a really really stupid fish, flailing around out of water. And fish, unsurprisingly, aren’t known for their great dressage skills.
Yet, even so, being with horses makes me happy. It really does.
I remember a story my dad told me once. He grew up poor in rural Indiana. To make money he worked on local farms, doing chores and picking produce. When he joined the Navy to see the world, television was in its infancy, and there was no superhighway, digitally or otherwise. He was an eighteen-year-old kid who graduated from high school by the skin of his teeth and was literally fresh off the farm. He knew almost nothing of the world or other cultures. The term “hayseed” comes to mind.
As a young Navy seaman at one of his first postings on the east coast, he’d been sent by senior officers to go pick up a pizza that had been ordered for takeout. Truth is, and he couldn’t admit it, he didn’t really know what a “pizza” was. He described the look of horror on the face of the restaurant owner who handed him a bag containing the pizza box as my dad took the bag by the handles and carried it out the door, holding it vertically like a briefcase. It wasn’t until he delivered the pizza to its destination and saw the devastation that he understood what he’d done wrong.
He was embarrassed but I guarantee he never made that mistake again. He moved forward. In fact, that hayseed from the farm went on to become a senior officer himself and earned four university degrees, including a doctorate. But even more importantly, he developed a love for pizza and he and my mother mastered how to make some of the best I’ve ever tasted.
Now I’m not equating horses to pizza. Mind you, there are variety of types and colors and I suppose no two pizzas, like no two horses, are exactly the same. Just like some may like their pizza plain, others like toppings, and some people even like pineapple on their pizza (even though the New Yorker in me declares that morally and ethically wrong, discuss amongst yourselves).
As I navigate the equestrian world, I know that I am now the hayseed, bound to pick up a pizza by the wrong end or flailing around like a truly idiotic fish. But what matters is, I’m learning.
Every now and then, amid all the teachable moments, I have that one day that my leg is on just right and I get that perfect connection with my horse and it’s hard to explain the serene joy in that feeling. After my accident I wondered if I could ever relax on my horse again, if I’d ever be able to just settle in and connect. But I did. And it was even better than before. For a time, I didn’t feel like a person on a horse, I felt linked to this incredible living being that I love so much. We were one complete amazing unit. Afterwards, I walked around the barn looking like a lunatic with the broadest smile stuck on my face for hours.
And so, fish or not, you’ll find me at the barn or in the dressage arena. Come what may. Because if you don’t move forward, you don’t move at all
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