Much to my sur­prise, bring­ing home a new horse has helped me forge a stronger and hap­pier re­la­tion­ship with my old one.

EQUUS - - Equus - By Su­san Ben­nett

My love tri­an­gle: Much to my sur­prise, bring­ing home a new horse has helped me forge a stronger and hap­pier re­la­tion­ship with my old one.

Ifeel like I am hav­ing an af­fair. Blame it on my re­cent re­tire­ment, or the ac­cep­tance of my own mor­tal­ity, but I was be­gin­ning to feel like some­thing was miss­ing in my life. What­ever the source of my dis­sat­is­fac­tion, I al­lowed my heart to rule my head: I fell in love with a sec­ond horse.

On the plus side, my ag­ing heart races when I see him ap­proach­ing, a white shock of hair fall­ing rak­ishly over his fore­head. I feel younger and more vi­tal, and my friends no­tice my in­creased en­ergy.

On the other hand, I feel guilty. I had to change my rou­tine, walking a dif­fer­ent route to do my chores to avoid be­ing seen by my old horse, Cleo. Each hour I spend with my new horse is tainted by feel­ings that I am slight­ing Cleo, and I spend too much en­ergy jus­ti­fy­ing my be­hav­ior. I have bored my friends ob­sess­ing over my sit­u­a­tion, try­ing to val­i­date my de­ci­sion.

My friends have taken dif­fer­ent ap­proaches. One rode her geld­ing, Cookie, for 26 years, and she never con­sid­ered get­ting a sec­ond horse un­til he died at age 32. Af­ter search­ing for three years, my friend de­cided that no one could fill Cookie’s shoes, and she has ad­justed to liv­ing with­out a horse for the first time since she was a young girl.

Then there are those who are never sat­is­fied. I have an­other friend who, in her search for her per­fect part­ner, adds to her herd every year or so. And she had to buy a new prop­erty equipped with an arena and train­ing pens to ac­com­mo­date her cur­rent herd of four HAPPY END­ING: Aube (top) is now Su­san Ben­nett’s rid­ing horse, while Cleo (above) has come to live in her back­yard. plished many goals over the past 10 years, I was be­com­ing frus­trated by her in­creas­ing stub­born­ness when I asked her to do some­thing she pre­ferred not to do. By the time I con­vinced her to co­op­er­ate, I was too tired to ap­pre­ci­ate her obe­di­ence. I was be­com­ing less op­ti­mistic about how much more progress we could make to­gether, and as the years passed, the ground be­gan look­ing aw­fully far down. I found my­self fan­ta­siz­ing about a horse who was com­pli­ant, ea­ger to please, easy to can­ter and not quite so tall.

Then I heard through the grapevine

My plan worked for sev­eral weeks. I learned new skills on Aube and ap­plied them when rid­ing Cleo, and she and I were both im­prov­ing.

about a horse---ac­tu­ally a large pony ---who needed a new home. Buddy, as he was called, was de­vel­op­ing a bad rep­u­ta­tion. He was con­fined to a small pen or a dark stall, and he had taken to sticking his head over the rail and snap­ping at passers-by. He had had a brief ca­reer as a chil­dren’s les­son horse un­til he dumped a cou­ple of his rid­ers, and he ac­tu­ally nipped the daugh­ter of the trainer. The huge Thor­ough­bred boarded next to him was giv­ing Buddy a com­plex by con­stantly rear­ing above him and threat­en­ing to eat his food. Buddy needed some work: His at­ti­tude had to be ad­justed and his con­fi­dence re­built. More­over, he was white---a groom­ing night­mare.

At the same time, he fit most of my ba­sic cri­te­ria: He was small (14 hands), a geld­ing, mid­dle-aged (15 years old), gen­er­ally un­flap­pable, with an easy-tosit can­ter and in my price range (free to the right home). So I took the plunge.

Af­ter a 30-day trial pe­riod, a ve­teri­nary checkup, new shoes, den­tal work and a new name---Au­bergine---“Aube” was trans­formed. He loves his new pad­dock, kindlier neigh­bors and pre­dictable rou­tine. He doesn’t kick, bite or dump his rider. He has lost flab and put on mus­cle, and he is grate­ful to have a sin­gle, al­beit heav­ier, adult rider rather than a se­ries of chil­dren pulling on his face, mane and tail. Now, Aube ea­gerly runs to the gate when he sees me.

How­ever, I felt guilty about Cleo. When I got Aube, I wasn’t ready to give up on her. I fig­ured that, since I was re­tir­ing from my job, I would have twice as much time to de­vote to horses, and I could main­tain my cur­rent rid­ing

sched­ule and then add the same time com­mit­ment to Aube. My plan worked for sev­eral weeks. I was learn­ing new skills on Aube and ap­ply­ing them when rid­ing Cleo, and she and I were both im­prov­ing. But a re­al­iza­tion hit me: Aube is more fun, and I found my­self look­ing for­ward to each ride. Mean­while, rid­ing Cleo was feel­ing like an obli­ga­tion, which ex­hausted rather than ex­hil­a­rated me.

Fi­nally, af­ter se­ri­ous soul-search­ing, I made the de­ci­sion to re­tire Cleo, and I moved her from the rid­ing sta­bles to my back­yard.

I felt as though I was aban­don­ing her. In­stead, I found, we were sim­ply forg­ing a new, more com­fort­able re­la­tion­ship. Since I spend most of my days work­ing in and around the house, Cleo plays a greater part in my daily life than she did when she lived at the sta­bles and I rode her three times a week. Each day now, she watches for me so she can neigh and beg for treats. She has be­come my alarm clock in the morn­ing, call­ing for break­fast when the sun rises. I take fre­quent breaks from my sched­ule to brush her coat, muck her pen and clean her feet. And she has taken on a new role: She is my sound­ing board and con­fi­dant. She pro­vides me com­fort, con­ti­nu­ity and com­pan­ion­ship.

I am get­ting over my feel­ings of guilt. I main­tain many friend­ships, each meet­ing some dif­fer­ent emo­tional or spir­i­tual need---I have my dog-walking friends, pro­fes­sional friends, par­ent­ing friends, rid­ing friends and “best friends” from years ago. And even with my chil­dren, lov­ing one fully does not di­min­ish the love I have for the other.

So it is with Cleo and Aube---I have room in my heart for both, time in my sched­ule for each, and the re­sources to pro­vide them with every­thing they need to live long, happy, healthy l ives. And I am de­lighted to ac­cept the unique gift that each pro­vides in re­turn: quiet ac­cep­tance and love from one, and pulse-quick­en­ing ex­cite­ment and joy from the other.

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