Not too long ago I wrote the following essay for a local writing contest, I thought I’d put it up here now after the contest has ended for you lovely readers to enjoy! The topic was “Life with horses or My life with my horse”. I took a bit of an abstract route (when do I not?).
“My life with horses has taken me on unbelievable adventures, gotten me over many obstacles (literally, and figuratively), and taught me many life lessons. Most of all, though, the life I’ve had with horses has taught me the meaning of home.
Home by classical definition is the place where you live. I prefer to define home by the popular expression: “home is where the heart is”. My heart lives in many places, but since the days when galloping across fields on my first horse- there is a permanent piece of my heart lodged within riding. The past couple years, and the ups and downs that have come with them, have solidified for me horses will always center me.
There was a short period of time where I thought I had lost that piece of my being. When I left home, in the physical sense, my family, friends, horse, and coaches, to move across the world to New Zealand to work for a prominent show jumping farm- I thought I would be stepping into a fantastic dream. My life was turned upside down, or so it felt, by what went from a dream to a nightmare fairly quickly. Horses, riding, the things that were once so familiar and grounding for me- were now the things that I was dreading facing in the early mornings. I was in the middle of learning a tough life lesson; sometimes you have to step away from something you love to discover who you really are.
For someone who had moved across the planet to spend as much time as possible in the saddle, running in the opposite direction remains to this day one of the hardest, but most necessary things I’ve ever done. I was shaken to my core by how much I had been beaten down by something I had always, and was supposed to love. Did the fact that I quit this job mean that I was a failure, that I didn’t really love my sport? At the same time, I knew in my heart that I needed to take that step. I needed to find out what it felt like to be away from that passion. Much later on I would realize that this was just another way my life with horses was leading me towards who I was meant to be, in a very indirect way.
The day I got in my cousin’s car and drove away from those horses, those people, and that experience- I felt all at once like the world had been lifted from my shoulders and like I had absolutely no idea who I was anymore. That’s scary enough for anyone, let alone a 19 year old ten thousand miles from everything familiar to her. I left one side of the horse world, and drove into another. My kiwi relatives were very involved with the rodeo circuit, and within a few day of arriving at their place I was at a rodeo, running barrels on a horse I met 10 minutes prior, surrounded by some of the happiest people I’ve ever met. From one end of the spectrum to the next; rich show jumping facility to maori cowboys. This was the last time I got on a horse for the next 4 months, however. As much as I felt some of my old ambition and drive returning, my heart was still in need of a break. Even though I didn’t physically get on a horse for a while, I remained on the rodeo circuit and was blessed with amazing family, new friends, and unforgettable memories. It was through some of these experiences that I was able to start showing compassion for the side of me that changed my original course.
In the time I had taken away from being in the saddle, even while surrounded by horses and horse people, I took the time to do some soul searching. I let myself laugh, I let myself explore, I gave myself permission to be interested in new things. I discovered that its okay to have more than one dream to follow, and more importantly, that it’s good to allow those goals to evolve. During this period I decided that I wanted to change my course of education when I moved back to Canada, which has turned into one of the best decisions I’ve made.
In my last couple months in the southern hemisphere, I was road tripping and seeing as much as I could. This took a hit to my funds, and even after shaving my head for $650, my travel fund was not satisfied. The opportunity came up to exercise steeple chase horses for a successful trainer in Napier, and I could not refuse. Here, watching the sun rise over the breath taking hills I was galloping horses over ever morning, was where I began to trust myself and understand a little more about myself. That dark place I had been in at the beginning of my travels was still fresh, but there were so many other exhilarating memories that had been formed. Riding those horses every morning renewed my ambition for the sport, and my goals within it. Working at high speeds where one misstep could be disastrous has a way of waking you up, physically and spiritually. That silent conversation that occurs, that completely unique language between horse and rider- I could still speak it. The difference now was that I had more capacity in my heart for both riding and the other goals I now knew were important to me as well. I had a greater understanding for who I could become, if I allowed myself to listen to what my heart needed, and allowed myself to take the road less travelled once in a while.
All these self-discoveries took time to sink in. When I arrived back in Canada, I was overwhelmed at first with the feeling of actually being home. While travelling I had always been “homesick” for the familiar things, like Thanksgiving dinner with my family, or having a lesson on my horse with my beloved coaches. The little things, like how the air smells during a prairie fall, or the first snow of the year. The things we take for granted. Upon arriving home to all those old familiars, I was soon “away-sick” for all those unfamiliar things you experience when travelling. It was then I started realizing how home is so much more than a physical dwelling. Our hearts take us on the most amazing adventures if we allow it, but sometimes even our hearts need a guide. For me my guide has always been through horses. Getting on my horse for the first time in 9 months, after riding many different horses, and not riding for the longest I’ve gone without- was when I really knew I was home. It’s become the gravity for my life. Being in the saddle enables me to both clear my head, and focus my ambition. Whether it be directly horse related, or career orientated- my horse-life seems to renew my drive when I run out of gas. Since returning from the up and downs that were New Zealand, I have found myself more dedicated to the things that are truly important to me. I’ve worked harder then ever at my studies, in my riding, and been happier then I can remember being.
Of course this brief story of my travels and life lessons gained through horses is just that, a brief story. I’ve been involved with horses for over half my life- and could write a novel on the lessons I’ve learned through those experiences. What I’ve shared in this piece, however, is part of what was a defining year for me in what is sure to be many more years learning and living with horses. I guess I could tie in two expressions to this story- firstly that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and home is where the heart is. I had to go away from my home, and from what I love to discover where my heart was, how much I could love and strive for, to realize that home is so much more than a physical space. “