I have been riding from the age of 8, getting my first horse at 14. The teenage years are more Ferris wheel than the traditional analogy of roller coaster – you are on top of the world, or you are down in the dumps. That horse took me around many winning trips in the local hunter ring, but more importantly, he took me through many trips ‘round that emotional Ferris wheel. A boy broke my heart? I was crying in his mane. A boy liked me? We were cantering around while he listened to endless stories of how amazing this fellow was. My first horse passed the baton as Therapist in Chief to the next who facilitated me moving up in riding and the leveling out of emotions.
After a bit of a gap in riding and horse ownership, I bought a young paint gelding who was nothing like any of the large thoroughbreds that had become my mainstay. He was crazy, he was small, but there was something about him that spoke to me. He was meant to be my special horse and my special horse he became in spades. That gelding is now 25 and remains the best therapist of all. He got me through rough moments that come with raising children and life itself.
Most importantly, he became a mental escape from the verbal, emotional and occasionally physical abuse I was suffering at the hands of my husband. Walking into the barn after being told how worthless I was, how ugly, how stupid, and much, much worse, was like entering Narnia. The smell of the hay and the low nicker from my pony boy as if to say “Come, cry here because I have big shoulders and even bigger love for you” allowed me to keep it together and be a good mother to my children while hiding my personal hell from the world.
After 20 years and a particularly heinous act on behalf of my husband, I gathered my strength as well as my youngest child and left. Abuse does not discriminate, it is happening in homes of all socio-economic backgrounds. Additionally, there is no way to explain in one blog post the multitude of reasons why those who are abused agree to things that wouldn't make sense to those who are not, or don't just simply leave. One large reason is that it can be much more dangerous to leave than it is to stay, a truth I have been living. The last year has been harder than all the times I was hit, all the times I was demeaned, all the times I was cheated on and told it was my fault. My husband promised if I left he would ruin me. He assured me I would lose everything, to include my horses. He has made good on most of that promise, but he didn’t get my horses.
After systematically taking everything we owned, I moved my horses to a friend’s facility that my husband would not be able to get to. I never hid them in a legal sense, unlike what my husband did with assets, but I sure as heck made it so he couldn’t take possession of them. You see, he loved me having to go to court to beg for things back and spending tens of thousands of dollars in the process. He remained in power that way, and when I stopped begging, he kept upping the ante on the things he took to elicit a reaction from me. I wasn’t about to let my horses become a part of this sick game he was playing.
In addition to protecting their safety, if there ever was a time I needed my counselor on four hooves, it was then. He has had more tears in his mane that can be counted. He has given me that low nicker on days that I am not sure I would have made it to the end had I not heard that soothing sound. As I walk into his stall, I see he is just now starting to show his age and my heart falls into my stomach. How am I going to get through what I realize now will be years of recovery without this spotted, hairy therapist?
Writing this post was more painful than I imagined, and tears are flowing. I am headed out to the barn and taking my Picasso for a walk on the trails. We are going to talk about how far I’ve come in one year, how proud I am for the choices I’ve made even during the time I have had all the threats of being ruined come so close to fruition, during a time when my children have been abandoned and are themselves heartbroken.
As my divorce is close to being finalized, next year will be one of even more positive growth, of strength building for my children, of looking forward and closing the door on the past. In fact, my 7-year-old has started riding and she too is realizing the power of love that comes from a spotted pony. She told him he was a secret unicorn, to which he nickered back. I am confident he is taking on healing her heart just as he heals mine.