Most of you know that I spend the majority of my time with my horse Joe. In case you didn’t already know, he is a horse. I have to clarify this because at my sister’s wedding someone asked me why I didn’t bring Joe as my date. I responded that would be a little awkward on the account he is a horse and he would probably end up spending the entire night trying to eat every last carrot in the vegetable display. Case in point I apparently need to say Joe is a horse when talking about him now to new people.
I have had Joe for over 2 years now and we have come a long way. When I first tried him before we bought him I could barely get him to trot. Now we are jumping here and there and getting along nicely. He certainly keeps me entertained whether we are riding at home or at a horse show. I know Joe’s waiting for the day that it will finally all click and I’ll have all my shit together.
For me, riding is where I find my peace of mind. It is where I can go and forget about all the shit that is going in my life. I can walk into the barn, make a kissing noise and immediately am greeted by a familiar face eager for my arrival. Plus, he figured he’d get a treat if he complies. Don’t worry, the only way he gets a treat is after a good ride. If you treat him before you ride he turns into a little shit. When I finally get to sit in my saddle and stretch out my legs, I get my sense of normalcy. I know that for the amount of time I’m in the saddle my primary focus is riding. I’m not thinking about doctor’s appointments, chemo dates, side effects, being tired, or anything else. It’s one of the few places I can focus and concentrate on the task at hand.
Another reason I love hanging out with Joe is that nothing ever changes. He always treats me the same no matter what. On days that I am not feeling my best he doesn’t take it easy on me. He still makes me ask for the canter the right way and is always giving me a run for my money. He snuggles up to me on days when I can’t ride and always loves getting a treat. I mean who doesn’t love free food.
There has been a lot of uncertainty in my life and he’s one of the constants that I can count on. When I found out my clinical trial wasn’t working I went to the barn to ride. When I got the call I wasn’t eligible for another clinical trial because of an elevated level I was on a trail ride with Joe. When I had to go for a scan in the afternoon I rode in the morning. Some people have yoga and I have my riding. When friends stopped talking to me or would ignore me when we saw each other in public, I went to see Joe. When I have mornings that I wake up and need to get out of the house and go somewhere I head straight to the barn. I go enough that if for some reason I don’t show up at my usual time I get a text from my trainer asking if everything is ok.
My favorite thing to do when I ride is jumping. It is so much fun cantering up to a jump and then asking a thousand pound animal to take you over it. You have to have the confidence and commit to it. Otherwise you’ll end up flying head over ass straight into the jump and yes I know this from experience. It is the closest you can get to experience what it would be like to fly. Horses provide us with the wings we lack. Plus, could you imagine how ridiculous I would look trying to jump over a jump myself. I can barely jump a cross rail on my own let alone a 2’6” oxer.
What I love about the barn is that when I go there everyone treats me like a normal person. They don’t look at me and say things like, “oh you don’t look sick at all,” or “I can’t believe you have cancer.” I also know that when they are talking to me it’s not because they feel bad for me or feel obligated to ask how I am. They are my barn family. They make me laugh and keep an eye on Joe for the days I can’t come out because of appointments or when I feel like crap. They also appreciate my random t-shirt collection. I am known for wearing the most random t-shirts that range from tie-dye to kielbasa festivals. They are always willing to lend a helping hand and give Joe extra treats.
My favorite part about spending time with Joe is his unconditional love. We are a team who works together. There are some days when I will do stuff when I’m riding and think this is it, he’s going to buck me off, but then he shakes his head and moves on. Then there are days when he is so stubborn about things that I have to work harder to remind him that I am not simply his token passenger for the day. We recently did a clinic together at our barn in November and the trainer said to me, “you know he really looks like he’s your horse.” The last time we did a clinic with this trainer over the summer she told me I needed to have more confidence in the saddle and show that I knew what I was doing. I completely agreed with her 100%. I was nervous about the lesson and she didn’t bullshit me. She told me exactly what she saw and I loved it! To hear her say that we looked like a team now made my day. Yes, we did also learn a lot of other things that have been super helpful but it really puts it into perspective that all those hours spent in the saddle are starting to pay off.
My tack trunk neighbor has a sign over her tack trunk with a quote by William Steinkraus that says, “we must never forget, every time we sit on a horse, what an extraordinary privilege it is: to be able to unite one's body with that of another sentient being, one that is stronger, faster and more agile by far than we are, and at the same time, brave, generous, and uncommonly forgiving." It reminds us that we wouldn’t be there without your horse. Yes, sometimes we are champion one day and the next our horse thinks it’s a great idea to refuse to go over a jump or start freaking out when another horse invades our personal space in a flat class. You have to stay in that moment and focus on what’s in front of you. You can’t be thinking about the final jump in a course when you are just about to go over the first jump. Just make sure you do them in the right order otherwise things will get awkward fast.
Everyone assumes that a new year is a time to start over. I’ve read countless posts, articles, etc. about how this year will be better and what different people would do to change themselves to make it better. But how can you change something that hasn’t even started yet?
It’s been one hell of a year to say the least, but rather than looking at all the bad stuff that’s happened, I like to dwell on the good. I could go month by month to give a play-by-play of everything that happened, but even I don’t want to read that and I was the one who experienced it. I’ll instead give you the cliff notes version.
The common thread that connects all my experiences from last year is the people who I shared them with. They range from cheering a group of cyclists as they biked down the east coast towards Key West to dancing like a crazy person with a group of kids at camp. They’re the people who cheer me on when I’m in the show ring with Joe and help us along the way. Joe and I may not always have it together, but when we come out of the show ring, they always find the positives and explain what we can do better next time. They make me laugh when I’m at the doctor’s or in clinic and make sure I have my pretzel snacks
When it comes to my treatment I could be all poor pitiful me and constantly say how shitty I feel, but no one wants to read about a whiny cancer patient. Hell, I don’t even want to write about that. Right now I’m trying to find the balance between being in clinic and having a semi-normal life. Mind you, I am ok with going to clinic - especially when I need to be there for my fluids or drugs. Plus, I love seeing all the nurses. They give me cookies and pretzels. What’s not to love?
A couple weeks ago I was driving out to see Joe, and I just wasn’t having it. I wasn’t myself and I was unsure about everything. I had just started my new chemo, and I wasn’t anticipating the harsh side effects. I was frustrated that I couldn’t ride and the fact that I was back to being in and out of clinic all the time. I just wanted to hang out with Joe in his stall and give him a big hug. We didn’t know yet if my treatment was working, and I was wondering if it is really worth the harsh side effects?
That’s when a new song came on my phone. I regularly listen to Internet radio on my phone. I am now that asshole who uses up the data on our cell phone plan. I had put on a playlist when “My Silver Lining” by the group First Aid Kit came on. In one part they sing, “There’s no starting over, no new beginnings, time races on/And you've just gotta keep on keeping on/Gotta keep on going, looking straight out on the road/Can't worry 'bout what's behind you or what's coming for you further up the road/I try not to hold on to what is gone, I try to do right what is wrong.” It was just what I needed to hear. When I got to the barn, I hung out with Joe in his stall. As he wrapped his head around my shoulder almost like I hug, I knew everything would be ok. Then I realized the little shit was trying to get to my pocket to see if I was hiding treats from him.
Life is about finding that silver lining in everything. It’s about finding the positive in the most negative situations. Mind you it isn’t always easy, but sometimes you have to buckle down and get the job done. It’s about focusing on the tasks in front of you rather than dwelling on the past. It’s about not looking into the future and worrying about the what-ifs. I could spend my time dreaming of what my life would be if I didn’t have cancer, but I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t have met all these amazing people or gotten my horse Joe. My granny used to always tell me “life isn’t always easy, but it is how we handle these tough situations that make us into the person we are meant to be”.
This isn’t something that happens overnight. It’s not like I woke up one day with flowers and rainbows shooting out of my ass. It’s taken me time to see the positive and a hell of a lot of patience. I can wait in clinic for hours and be ok with it, but if someone is in the passing lane and not even going the speed limit I’ll still turn into a masshole driver. If you aren’t going to pass get out of the damn passing lane! It’s a simple concept. You just have to go with the flow even if it makes you uncomfortable. There is a lot to look forward to in life and sometimes you have to get out of your own head to experience it.