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Hard Horseshoes to Fill
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Hard Horseshoes to Fill

“Our brains do three things with data: distort, delete, generalize.” - Natasha Althoff, Grand Prix Dressage Rider

Well, I did it. At one point I wondered how it would be possible, but I have survived a whole year without my good old horse, dearly departed Sportie. 

I try to be a tough, hardened cowgirl but I’m not. As greedy as our horses are for treats and grain, my soul is just as greedy for them to fill my heart to overflowing by being there for me. Just as Sportie gave me a shoulder to cry on and a huge ear to listen to my cares, my newest work-to-ride lease, Tara, has bravely stood in for him this past year.

On the anniversary of Sportie’s passing, I showed up at the stables with a heavy heart, missing him a little more than usual. As I walked to the pasture I thought of how almost every time I work with Tara, something would happen that made me think, “I never had that problem with Sportie.” But I was slowly realizing how unfair I was being to Tara. 

Horses sense everything. I had no reason to doubt she knew she was being held to a higher standard; possibly an imaginable one that never really existed anywhere but in my heart, where I carefully maintained a shrine to Sportie and our time together. As I walked, I determined it was time the spotlight finally shifted from him, where it had been for four years of my life, to Tara, my here and now partner.

I reached Tara in the field and scolded myself that due to my preoccupation, there were no treats in my pockets. She sniffed and looked at me sadly. I never greet her without a treat in hand, but with a sigh, she decided to walk beside me anyway without me having to wiggle and pull on the lead rope. I was shocked. She resolutely strolled past Morgan the Beagle crashing around in the brush and stood abruptly still for a moment so I could kill a giant horsefly chewing on her butt. Just the weekend prior, she had freaked out over both Morgan and horseflies. 

It was as if we had turned a corner to arrive at a new level of comfortability and trust with each other, like a happily married couple. It felt... right, like Sportie was watching over us with his approval. Once saddled, Tara walked, trotted, cantered perfectly for me without incident. When we were done, instead of pacing around the holding paddock, impatient to reunite with her horsie friends, she was content to graze in the paddock by herself with one eye on me while I did chores around her. 

The night Sportie passed, his owner gave me his halter. At the time I thought, “Why? What am I going to do with it? I never want to ride again.” I have been wrong before and I was wrong then. Tara now wears Sportie’s halter proudly and has earned every right to.

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