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The right horse at the right time

EQUUS - - Contents - By Hope El­lis-Ashburn

It is late evening and I am sit­ting on an up­turned bucket in the barn. My mare is in cross ties, loom­ing pa­tiently over me as I clip her legs. I am not do­ing a re­spectable job. Hair, my own or my horse’s, re­mains one of life’s great mys­ter­ies to me. Even when I was clip­ping regularly, I could not pro­duce a de­cent job. Now I am tired. I have just com­pleted a fast-paced week in my job as a high school teacher, and I am pre­par­ing for my first horse show in five years. I still have to ride. I still have to clean tack. I am not ready and nei­ther is my mare, but horse show world, here we come.

Re­cently, I have started push­ing the edges of my com­fort zone in more than one area of my life. And I have gained a new friend, nearly 20 years younger than my­self, who has been en­cour­ag­ing me to get back into the show ring. I had com­peted in a va­ri­ety of English and Western classes since I was 12, and I don’t re­mem­ber why I left it; I al­ways en­joyed my ex­pe­ri­ences. Some­times, life just hap­pens. I no longer pos­sess a bot­tom­less well of energy.

This re­flec­tion leads me back to thoughts of my mare---she rep­re­sents one “com­fort zone” I will not stretch. I am hon­est enough with my­self to rec­og­nize that some­times we are given the per­fect horse for the sea­son in our lives. Sally is that horse for me. She would not be con­sid­ered a fancy mover, but she is con­sis­tent and for the most part mo­tors me safely around the arena or over a course of fences.

I ap­pre­ci­ate her same­ness re­gard­less of the amount of time that has passed be­tween rides. When she and I were both younger, she safely car­ried my daugh­ter around the arena in walk­trot poles classes; I do not be­lieve that she would ever have con­sid­ered do­ing oth­er­wise. Nowa­days, she would much pre­fer to go out on the trails but will pa­tiently con­sider my other re­quests. It is be­yond me now how I once thought I needed a sportier model. I am much hap­pier with a sedan, if you will, rather than a sports car.

This week­end, I am amazed by the fact that, although Sally hasn’t been on a trailer, been bathed or had any­thing ex­cept her bri­dle path clipped in five years, she will­ingly al­lows me to do all of these things. We have been to­gether nine years now. We know each other’s moods and habits, strengths and weak­nesses. We have formed a bond.

The show is a suc­cess, although my def­i­ni­tion of this word is vastly dif­fer­ent than it once was: I am sim­ply pleased that I didn’t fall off. The end of the day finds me ex­hausted but happy. Although Sally and I were both out of prac­tice and did not per­form our best, her be­hav­ior was ex­em­plary un­til the last class. She was tired, her pa­tience with me stretched to its lim­its. So she man­aged to work in a cou­ple of crow hops dur­ing can­ter de­parts in both di­rec­tions---a bit of naugh­ti­ness that pro­vided the en­ter­tain­ment of the day for the small, fam­ily-ori­ented show.

Even this was per­fect, serv­ing to re­mind me that, yes, I can still han­dle these small mishaps. Horses are won­der­ful teach­ers and com­pan­ions in our lives, and I am thank­ful to have Sally in mine, not only in this sea­son but for those to come.

WELL-MATCHED: The au­thor with her Half-Ara­bian mare, Aal­lu­sive An­gel, also known as “Sally.”

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