A recent post on the Trafalgar Square Books Blog by Denny Emerson hit me right in the feels: Is Your Horse the Love of Your Life, but Completely Wrong for You?
To which I can only answer: yes. Without question, yes.
Almost ten years ago, when I moved down from Vermont to take a new job in Boston, I went through a rough patch with Tristan. He didn’t adjust well to the two new barns I had him at. He colicked badly at the first barn, and then at the second things just were not clicking. He was never not sound, but he was just NQR. Combine that with a bad atmosphere in the barn, and I sent him back to Vermont to live at a friend’s farm for about nine months.
first dressage show
Before he went out to a field, I put him in training for a week with the trainer I’d previously had in Vermont. What was going wrong? I wanted to know. She worked with him for a week and told me a couple of things: he was completely burned out, he was profoundly unhappy, and he was the wrong horse for me and I needed to sell him and get the horse I “deserved.”
I got off the phone and cried until I threw up. I couldn’t process what she was telling me. She’d known me for four years, and had helped me start Tristan. How had I screwed everything up so badly in less than a year? I only knew that I loved him with all of my heart, I had made incredible sacrifices and worked insanely hard to keep him and keep him happy, and I was being told that it was all wrong.
so young, so skinny
Obviously, I kept him. I couldn’t bear to lose him. There may have been some truth to what my trainer was saying: he would never be – and has never been – an easy ride. We’ve worked hard but we still fight a lot. My life and my riding skills would be dramatically different today if I’d found an ammy-friendly horse with some eventing mileage and a higher work drive, instead of a very green-broke mustang who still viewed humans and work with deep suspicion.
My relationship with that trainer was never the same, because I couldn’t believe what she was telling me – and more importantly, how she was telling it to me. I thought long and hard about everything, and I decided that I loved Tristan. I loved him more than I loved eventing, or competing, or winning. It’s totally okay to choose differently; lots of people do just what Denny advocates in his article, make difficult decisions in pursuit of their own goals. But it wasn’t a choice I could make.
So I kept him. I worked hard to meet him more than halfway. I made my first priority and my first goal in all situations to make him happy and healthy. I learned to ease off goal-setting and hard-driving, because I would just hit a wall, every time. I had to take things as they came. I’m not naturally that person by any stretch of the imagination, but Tristan has forced me into that.
In return, he’s done more than that trainer ever imagined. He won at Beginner Novice. He is still cranky and not thrilled about dressage but sometimes a light comes on and he applies all that stubborn energy to figuring out the problem, and when he releases he is downright fancy. He’s the horse that everyone in the barn loves, the horse that I don’t have any hesitation giving toddler pony rides on, the horse that whickers for me when he sees me coming down the aisle. My heart still leaps when I see his face sticking out his stall, every single time.
celebrating three months together, 2006
So: yes, he was and probably still is completely the wrong horse for me, and I love him more than anything, and I have no regrets.