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Mov­ing on from a “horse of a life­time” is dif­fi­cult, but I learned that the process of start­ing over has its own spe­cial re­wards.

EQUUS - - Equus - By Cathy Erick­son

Love the one you’re with

Jesse was a leg­end. He was a hal­ter cham­pion, a win­ner in dres­sage, a bombproof fox­hunter and an un­de­feated trail chal­lenge cham­pion. More im­por­tant, he was the sweet­est soul. He loved peo­ple, he loved to train, he loved to travel, he loved me. I bought him as a year­ling, and I held his head in my arms as he died at 32.

Jack­son, on the other hand, has had to fol­low in Jesse’s foot­steps. I wanted my next horse to be a bit smaller with sim­i­lar col­or­ing, so when this cute, 4-year-old, 14.3 hand red dun popped up in my Face­book feed, I thought I’d go take a look.

It was not love at first sight. But I thought the lit­tle geld­ing had po­ten­tial. Plus he wasn’t too ex­pen­sive, so if he didn’t work out I wouldn’t get hurt fi­nan­cially. I brought Jack­son home when Jesse was 30. The process of bond­ing with Jack­son was slow at first. It prob­a­bly didn’t help that I was just get­ting to know Jack­son while still dot­ing on Jesse. My older horse’s ev­ery need was met im­me­di­ately and he got the “spe­cial” hay and all the at­ten­tion he wanted and then some.

Mean­while, I started rid­ing my new horse, but af­ter more than two decades on Jesse, the ad­just­ment was harder than I ex­pected. I had to de­velop a new sense of bal­ance and re­write my mus­cle mem­ory. The first time I took Jack­son down a dicey hill I thought I was go­ing to fall right over his head. Jesse had a beau­ti­ful, long body and knew how to sit back go­ing down a steep slope. My new horse was much more com­pact and wanted to charge down hills. This took a toll on my body and con­fi­dence. It felt wrong.

Jack­son was a chop­pier ride, too. I missed my old, re­li­able champ, and I’m guess­ing my feel­ings showed. While Jesse came run­ning at the sound of my voice, Jack­son seemed un­in­ter­ested ---he even walked away. I missed be­ing adored by my horse.

Fi­nally, I re­al­ized some­thing that I had for­got­ten af­ter 30 years: Even Jesse wasn’t “my Jesse” at first. When he was a year­ling I had spent hours prac­tic­ing for hal­ter classes, brush­ing him and fuss­ing over him. Our per­fect part­ner­ship de­vel­oped only with years of work, lots of time at shows and many shared ex­pe­ri­ences.

A bond with Jack­son would re­quire a sim­i­lar com­mit­ment. I needed to start over. In­stead of just grab­bing Jack­son out of the pas­ture to ride, I started spend­ing more time with him, lead­ing, brush­ing, hand graz­ing, bathing and just gen­er­ally hang­ing out. Jack­son hadn’t been doted on as a baby, and he had never re­ally had his own per­son, so I had to show him the ben­e­fits. Lit­tle by lit­tle we made progress. In time, Jack­son didn’t al­ways walk away when I ap­peared at the pas­ture gate, and he

started to re­lax dur­ing ground­work. He was de­cid­ing to trust me and, as a re­sult, be­com­ing more en­gaged and pre­dictable.

Jack­son and I have been to­gether for four years now, and our part­ner­ship isn’t per­fect, but we con­tinue to make progress. He makes me work harder than Jesse did, but at least it’s work I en­joy. Jack­son may not be Jesse, but he sure is a fun lit­tle cow pony in his own right. And how lucky am I to have that?

I’ve come to re­al­ize that it’s not about find­ing “the horse of a life­time.” It’s re­ally about tak­ing the time to make a life with the horse you have. And maybe you’ll find that an­other spe­cial horse was right there all along.

TRAN­SI­TION: Af­ter 30 years with her “per­fect” horse, Jesse (top), Cathy Erick­son is build­ing a part­ner­ship with her new geld­ing, Jack­son.

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