On Monday, riding Merc, we eased into trot. Walk had felt ok, but in trot, immediately somethings wrong.
His stride is slightly off. He feels contracted, uneven. I stop, call out to Liz who’s watching from the fence.
He’s lame, I tell her, my voice becoming a cloud trail. I dismount, stroke my pony down his smoothly muscled neck.
My intuition drops a message into my mental inbox.
A stone bruise. I know this to be the case. On the weekend, we had ridden down our gravel road on the way to the inlet. Our weather has been fickle to say the least. A combination of not quite summer and not quite winter.
A lot of rain and a lot of hot, making bodies hard to regulate and adding softening to normally rock hard and barefoot feet.
The stretch of road is short, but in this case, long enough.
My heart sank an extra octave more than normal.
Not only because I don’t like to see my beloved horse not 100%.
Not only because there’s a special something something that a horsewoman feels when one of their faves is out of action.
But also, because this weekend we were due to set off on an adventure. A station clinic where we were going to muster cows and ride for hours in the hills.
Months long anticipation in the making.
My vision within this dream were with my particular patchy pony at my side.
It was his mane that I felt threaded through my fingers as we made our way up the steep hills.
His ears that framed the photos.
His back on which I felt the most confident and the safest.
Him that I planned to whisper my stories, my reservations, my gratitude, and my love.
I missed the adventure we were due but now might not never have.
I understand, feel better, do better that I have done in the past. In the past, the upset has functioned like a toxic mist, pervading my whole day. It would colour my conversations, my responses, my reactions.
I would feel myself justified in allowing it to pervade my energetic undercurrent, a wild card pass for a wide berth to be taken and wanting to be left alone.
Now I can take these situations with more perspective, a more zoomed out kind of lens. And perhaps, on a day when I’m feeling particularly masterful, I may even allow my mind to entertain the opportunity that could be present within the shadows of the disappointment (as nauseating as that is to say).
I have been sad, down, and flat. Of that you can be sure. But I am also grateful for what I think is an injury that is relatively minor, despite its awful timing. An injury that is ultimately recoverable. And my patchy pony being happy in my paddock is where my primary focus lays.
The thing was, at this point, I still had a place on the team, an opening for the taking. I’m committed to going regardless. My Liz is taking her lovely pony on the proviso of my presence. Not going is not an option.
Which leaves then, my big red mare, my lovely Nadia. The powerhouse jet engine who in her previous life has never been outside the arena, much less seen a cow.
On our rides at home, she is unstoppable, untirable. She leaves my husband’s horse, Elvis, who himself is no slouch, in her wake. On our downward jaunts at home, she’s so active I get a stitch.
I knew that if my paint pony was not up to the task (and that’s still a floating question) it would be my red mare who would be loaded up and travelled north with.
My mind floated back to our previous clinic experiences together. Our start point was not easeful. Her anxiety was such that we spent a few months in the roundpen before it felt ok to ride her in the arena.
Her concern about the bit was so great that I flung it to the side for close to a year and began our riding work in a halter.
Our first clinic was not for the faint hearted. A series of unideal situations that was the best option available. Having someone come to help me at home, due to where I live, was a luxury I didn’t have to indulge.
But here’s the thing; Nadia is not that horse anymore. For the most part, she’s not the anxious, concerned warmblood. That thread is present, and probably always will be, but it’s not her dominant state.
We’ve had many years and times together since. I promised her that there was no pressure she needed to feel other than to be a happy horse. That to have a horse such as herself, with her gymnastic power, her grace and her generosity was an honour that I would always hold dear to my heart and to that end, was enough.
All this flying through my head as I stood with her in the arena.
Let’s practice with her on the trailer, I said to Liz.
We led her up the paddock where the trailer was already in place for loading practice. At first, she was reluctant but in a short while walked right on.
We played for half an hour; on and off, on and off. And I realized something in that moment, that I’d broken one of my own of my cardinal rules:
I hadn’t let my horse be new.
To let your horse be new- to let yourself be new- means allowing both of you to be who you are right now, not the versions of you or them you’ve known before.
The horse I had right now was willing. We had a partnership. She might not have had the experience of the situation we were entering into, but there was only one way to get it.
I trusted that she could handle it. I trusted that we both could. And if there was challenge in between, we’d work it out.
The vision I had in my head of the horse I would be taking with me was not the reality of the horse I had in front of me. That was the one I was prescribing her, which was not a reflection of the truth.
So, this week, we will pack, and on the weekend, we shall travel for the many hours northwards.
Of the mane that I have threaded, it will be red or black and white, and I’ll be grateful just the same.
It might be her ears or his, and still be a photo I will treasure.
On his back or hers, I will do my best to keep them safe.
And whatever ears are free to carry me, to them I will whisper my stories, my reservations, my gratitude, and my love.
The adventures might not be the one we first have planned but they’re adventures all the same. Perhaps it’s the deviations from what’s expected that makes them so.