TRUE TALE

The an­ti­dote to the neg­a­tive emo­tions that once took up too much of my life is a res­cued mare named Cheyenne.

EQUUS - - Equus - By Stephanie Rogers

Proof pos­i­tive: The an­ti­dote to the neg­a­tive emo­tions that once took up too much of my life is a res­cued mare named Cheyenne.

For most of my life, I’ve been a fairly dis­turbed per­son, strug­gling with de­pres­sion and sub­stance abuse. Neg­a­tiv­ity over­whelmed ev­ery thought and ac­tion. I’ve been in ther­apy and on med­i­ca­tion. Noth­ing helped. But I’d al­ways loved horses and dreamed of a life with them, even as I in­hab­ited a 400-square-foot apart­ment in New York City. Some­day.

Then, 10 years ago, my mother died sud­denly. And, I re­al­ized, the num­ber of “some­days” I had re­main­ing were fi­nite. I quit city life to pur­sue my dream. Only it wasn’t a dream at first. My first two horses al­most killed me.

But soon I met a mare named Cheyenne. She was a res­cue, so I don’t know her age or breed­ing, but she made me feel wor­thy. Work­ing with her, I could feel my self-es­teem be­gin­ning to heal. Even­tu­ally, I de­cided to start par­tic­i­pat­ing in lo­cal horse shows. I had never shown be­fore, and I was pretty sure Chey hadn’t, either. With the help and guid­ance of the barn owner, a de­voted and very suc­cess­ful com­peti­tor her­self, we en­tered our first horse show in Septem­ber 2014. We came home from that show re­serve cham­pi­ons.

Through the next year, I con­tin­ued to pur­sue heal­ing. In 2015, I par­tic­i­pated in an on­line ex­pe­ri­ence that in­cluded a guided med­i­ta­tion on the SOULMATES: “I don’t know her age or breed­ing,” says Stephanie Rogers of Cheyenne, “but she made me feel wor­thy.” power of liv­ing a life through grat­i­tude. How it lifts your con­scious­ness to a higher place and drains neg­a­tiv­ity---lone­li­ness, de­pres­sion, self-pity---from your life. It was quite re­mark­able. I never re­al­ized the power I had to change the way I ex­pe­ri­ence the world. But it was Chey who re­ally drove that les­son home.

That July, we en­tered an­other horse show. The day was pre­dicted to be a hot one, and it sure was. Even at 5 in the morn­ing, as I drove my truck and trailer through the steamy wet­lands of the lower Hudson Val­ley, it was al­ready near 80.

Was I do­ing the right thing? You can cer­tainly en­joy horses with­out com­pet­ing. But lately, Chey and I had been achiev­ing lev­els of re­fine­ment, bal­ance and car­riage that made me proud, even as sev­eral more-ex­pe­ri­enced horsepeo­ple warned me that my mare was a very com­mon an­i­mal and if I wanted to re­ally go places I needed a “good” horse. I felt she was plenty good enough, and I wanted to prove it.

So on the one hand, I was re­ally ea­ger to go to this show.

But, then again…. Chey has a stout, mus­cu­lar build, well suited to with­stand the cold but not heat. And we are both, shall we say, “sea­soned.” I am in my 60s, and I think she was about 20. We’re both quite fit, but we both also find it chal­leng­ing as the tem­per­a­ture-hu­mid­ity in­dex rises. So I wasn’t sure if tak­ing her to this show was in her best in­ter­est.

The day didn’t start well. A group of us had de­cided to leave the barn by 5:30 so we could park in a shady spot at the venue. The horses were loaded, and we were ready to roll … un­til the barn owner jumped back out of her truck, shout­ing, “My bat­tery’s dead! My bat­tery’s dead!”

None of us could give her a jump. Our trail­ers were hitched and loaded, and we didn’t have room to ma­neu­ver. She called for the hired man to bring an­other truck. Time was pass­ing. Fi­nally, the other truck ar­rived, we pushed hers off the trailer and re­hitched it to the new truck, and we were off. We made it to the show­grounds just five min­utes be­fore the first class. We had missed our chance to be in the shade. We pulled up, un­loaded the horses, ran to the booth to pay our fees, raced back. The horses were al­ready sweaty, and so were we.

Quickly I changed into my show clothes, put on Chey’s sil­ver laden hal­ter, and off we went to prac­tice a few min­utes be­fore our first class, in Show­man­ship. I was flus­tered and dis­tracted. Chey was lag­ging and inat­ten­tive. She didn’t set up well, and she wasn’t re­ally in­ter­ested. It was like she was not all there. This was not at all like her. I tried again, but noth­ing.

Then, I heard the call to line up for the class. And as I stood there next to Chey at the en­try gate, sweat rolling down my face un­til it soaked the waist­band of my jeans, I had a tran­scen­dent ex­pe­ri­ence. A tide of grat­i­tude welled up in me, so pow­er­ful it stretched my throat and brought tears to my eyes. I’d been through so much, but I was so grate­ful that my life had brought me to this mo­ment---to have this horse, to be stand­ing here with her, to do the things we do to­gether, to go where she takes me, both men­tally and phys­i­cally. I was trans­ported.

And sud­denly, through the grat­i­tude, I felt Chey with me. She was there. As we walked into the ring to­gether, I looked at her from the cor­ner of my eye, and I saw she was look­ing at me out of the cor­ner of hers. I took a deep breath, gave the first cue and off we went: Right feet first, per­fect rhythm, per­fect sync, trot, trot. She kept her head ex­actly here, we made our turns around the cones and we hit the walk, boom. We halted---one, two---an arm’s length from the judge. I turned my feet to 45 de­grees to­ward Chey,

Sev­eral more-ex­pe­ri­enced horsepeo­ple warned me that my mare was a very com­mon an­i­mal and if I wanted to re­ally go places I needed a “good” horse. I felt she was plenty good enough, and I wanted to prove it.

smiled at her and she set up with all four feet on a plumb-per­fect rec­tan­gle.

The judge was wear­ing sun­glasses but I saw a de­lighted smile on her face. You are not sup­posed to talk un­less the judge ad­dresses you, so I just smiled back.

“What kind of horse is she?” she asked. I get this ques­tion all the time.

“I don’t know. She’s a res­cue. I don’t know her breed­ing or her age.”

“She is beau­ti­ful.” The judge per­formed her in­spec­tion and dis­missed us, and Chey and I made a 90 de­gree turn and marched in lock­step, left, right, left, right, to our place on the rail. And, for the rest of that swel­ter­ing day, this won­der­ful horse gave me ev­ery­thing she had. Up to and in­clud­ing a blis­ter­ing gal­lop in the fi­nal class, Road Hack.

Lin­ing up af­ter that last class, the judge stopped by each horse-an­drider team to say a few words. Chey was breath­ing hard and drip­ping with sweat. The judge started say­ing lovely things to me, and I was try­ing to lis­ten to her, but the loud­speaker be­gan an­nounc­ing the place­ments: “Show­man­ship, First Place, Stephanie Rogers and Cheyenne. Western Plea­sure, First Place, Stephanie Rogers and Cheyenne.” And so on.

But the real prize I took home that day was the les­son Chey taught me: When I was prac­tic­ing with her be­fore the show, I was com­ing from a place of ego, fo­cus­ing only on what I wanted. Ego is iso­lat­ing, and ex­clud­ing, and Chey would not en­gage with me while I was in “me, me, me” mode. Who would?

But when we took our po­si­tions at the gate, I was suf­fused with grat­i­tude, and ego dropped away. My heart ex­panded to of­fer room for Chey, and she joined with me and gave me her all. I felt like I be­came more than hu­man, and it was won­der­ful.

Over the past 10 years, my life has been a jour­ney from neg­a­tiv­ity to bet­ter things, and this day will stand as a real mile­stone. I hope that in the fu­ture I will learn to spend less time con­sumed by the petty de­sires and frus­tra­tions of ego. I see that the key is grat­i­tude.

With grat­i­tude also comes ac­cep­tance, which is not res­ig­na­tion, but a recog­ni­tion of what is. From now on, I’ll know the an­ti­dote for the neg­a­tive emo­tions that once took up so much of my life. It wasn’t just Chey who made me whole; it was the joy I felt for hav­ing her in my life. From now on, I will try to be grate­ful for ev­ery op­por­tu­nity, ev­ery ex­pe­ri­ence and ev­ery chal­lenge---es­pe­cially the chal­lenges, be­cause as I learned from this ex­pe­ri­ence, you don’t grow when you get what you want. You grow when you don’t.

I hope I’ll re­mem­ber all of this. But if I for­get, I have a won­der­ful teacher who al­ready knows the way, and she can take me there again. She’s out there, right now, eat­ing grass.

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