Wolkom thús, goeie jonge
I have traveled to many destinations in my life so far. Traveling has always had its challenges, but it’s gotten more stressful over the years. All the safety protocols make checking in a lengthy process just so you can board a plane where you find yourself in cramped quarters with little legroom surrounded by frustrated humans with whom you’ll be sharing the same stale air for hours.
Imagine being a horse and making a transoceanic flight. Taken from your home by trailer, not knowing where you are going. Put in a holding facility at the airport where you’re subject to examination and blood tests for days before you are allowed to leave. Once cleared, there is no assigned seat but rather a large cargo container that looks like the back end of a horse trailer into which you are loaded. The cargo container is raised on loud hydraulic lifts and rolled into the back of a large metal tube, a plane. There are flight attendants who ensure you are fed and watered and kept calm as possible throughout the flight until you land and the container holding you is unloaded. You are transferred to another quarantine facility at the noisy airport until the US authorities deem you free of disease and safe to enter the country. Once again, you are loaded into a trailer and transported to your ultimate destination, wherever that may be.
It’s not something most people would ever think about, but all of this was on my mind as I waited for Thymen (pronounced Tee-mun) to arrive from the Netherlands. I tried to picture what that must feel like and how confusing all the sights and sounds must be. I worried about him and the stress this trip would cause him and grieved a bit for him as the life he knew was now gone.
It was only a few weeks ago he was just a photo and a video, a dream, on my computer screen, but any moment now he would arrive. A dream come to life. At least for me. Perhaps not for him.
I was at the opposite end of the barn when someone came in and let me know that the trailer had arrived. I ran out to see a woman beside the trailer holding a stack of papers in one hand and a magnificent black horse in the other. I quickly signed something and was handed both horse and paper in one fast shot. With barely a word the woman was back in her trailer and gone.
I stood looking at this magnificent creature as members of my barn family assembled around us. We were in awe of how large and imposing he seemed. He was surprisingly calm, but his eyes were looking around at everyone as if questioning where he was and looking for someone he knew.
I said his name, “Thymen. Hello Thymen.” When he heard his name, he looked me in the eyes and dropped his head towards me. It was as if he knew then this wasn’t a mistake, someone knew who he was, this was where he was supposed to be.
I put my hand against his head and stood motionless, awestruck at the sheer magnificence of him. We knew each other.
Then my trainer arrived and suggested we get him to the barn and his stall where he could have water and food.
I lead him, and he followed. After a few steps I handed the lead rope to my trainer and asked her to walk him as I wanted to look at him and catch my breath. There we all were, following a diminutive woman leading a large black horse, phone cameras out, snapping photos like paparazzi following a celebrity.
Throughout the hubbub of activity and all the joyful conversation, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. At times we’d make eye contact. He seemed to bond with me quickly. Perhaps it was because I was the first to say his name, or maybe it was the buckets of feed I held for him to eat once he was in his stall. For me, it was as close to love at first sight as I’ve ever experienced. Not in a romantic way obviously, but in the intuitive way your heart just knows that this meeting was meant to be.
As the days have progressed, it is apparent to everyone what a kind and gentle soul Thymen is.
He has adjusted to his new surroundings and the sights and sounds of the barn, the feeding routine, the turnout and exercise schedule, and the trails around the property.
The first time we walked him to the dressage arena, he visibly perked up. This he recognized. As a competition dressage horse, he knew his place of work. And he was happy just to be here.
Being around horses is always therapeutic but being around Thymen, for me, is incredibly calming. I can feel my blood pressure drop, my heart rate slow, every time I’m near him.
Everyone assumed we would wait a few weeks for me to ride him. That he would need time to settle in and that I would need time to work up the courage. But as I watched my trainer take him for his first ride, I knew I was ready. My trainer has known me to be something of a nervous rider – and I am – so she was surprised when I asked if it would be okay for me to mount up. But some things are meant to be. Sometimes you just know when it’s right.
I felt strangely at home seated atop this tall muscular horse. His size was imposing, but I felt his heart the entire time and I knew I was in a safe place. I can’t remember the last time I smiled as broadly as I did that day.
Travel can be difficult. Whether it’s from one geographic place to another or one place of understanding to another. But there are times when you know the risk you took, the challenging journey you made, was worth it all. That is the journey we both took.
Thymen is magical, and he inspires me to be more like him.
Just happy to be here.
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