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.