Today - November 12, 2021 - marks a new beginning for Esther the equestrian. I'm writing this post for every human who's ever felt, "I'm not good enough."
Over the years, I've had the privilege of owning several horses. My first horse, Sam, was like an oversized labrador retriever - laid back and completely harmless. Riding Sam was like learning to drive in your grandpa's reliable old farm truck. Nothing fancy, but safe and secure. Sam passed in 2001 at the ripe age of 28 and he took a large piece of my heart with him.
My second horse, Grace, was more like driving a formula one race car. Quick. Light. Responsive. And you'd better know what you're doing or you'd be in the dirt - not because she was mean or dangerous, but simply because she was that athletic. Grace is now enjoying a well-earned retirement, and, despite being 20+ years old herself now, she is lively and remains full of spirit. Just watching her cavort around the farm inspires me.
Next came a procession of other horses - at least 20 of them. Rescue horses I'd pull from the slaughter auctions, rehab, and rehome. Young, old, sick, sad, wild, broken down. Some notables of that group include a beautiful walking horse who'd been too abused as a young animal to ever settle into a reliable riding partner. Also a finely-bred (and not cheap) weanling I raised and had professionally trained, only to later give the horse away to a friend and fellow horsewoman because the animal and I simply did not "click."
All this while, my head said, "you should do better - ride better, get slimmer, BE better, ride as well as [fill in the name of any one of several wonderful horsewomen I know and respect and admire], etc., etc." I took years of lessons, got better, had falls, learned, tried harder, beat myself up, tried harder, had falls, learned. Went through life changes - jobs, marriage, divorce, loss, "all the things."
I finally adopted a BLM mustang to fulfill a bucket list dream of mine. The young wild horse was beautiful and extremely sweet on the ground. I taught him all I knew as to ground manners and he was obedient and reliable in-hand. Under saddle, however, he proved much less reliable. He was pushy, and incredibly strong, and with every step you could feel him always ready to 'blow.'
One day, he did indeed blow, and bolted, and the result was serious injuries to me and the absolute shattering of my riding confidence. I got back on and finished that riding session. I climbed off and spent months healing.
I rode that mustang several times afterward, but it was evident he would never settle into a reliable riding partner. These days, the mustang is working beautifully as a non-ridden therapy animal for grief and trauma survivors.
For two years after that riding wreck, the specter of "not good enough" haunted me. "Maybe I should just quit riding." Perhaps it was time to "give up and grow old."
I know folks who've lived to almost 100 and lived very full, active lives. I also know folks who've been taken from this world at a tender age and never had the chance to "grow old."
For me, it finally came down to spending enough quiet time talking to God and learning about my own spirit to figure out I want to live - fully - every single day I can. I also realized, in my heart of hearts, I do not WANT to be like those riders I so admire. They ride young horses, and hot horses, and they work to heal damaged horses. They are incredibly necessary to the horse world, and I support each and every one of those riders who have the desire and drive and skills and courage to ride those horses.
But for me personally, I want a quiet, calm, reliable horse. THAT is what made my first horse, Sam, so fulfilling for me. He never scared me and he never hurt me. Labrador Retriever, indeed.
So, last year, with the help of some of those horsewomen I so admire, I searched and found a lovely, quiet, gentle, well-trained mare and she became my own rehab partner. Stella taught me to enjoy riding again. Stella helped me overcome my fear. She was never quite sound in her back, even when I bought her, but that's okay. Stella is undergoing appropriate treatments to try and help her back issues, and I ride her when she feels good, and do not ride her when she's back sore. Her gift to me has been HUGE. Thanks to Stella, riding and working with horses again feels FUN.
One month ago, a friend posted several young horses for sale by a renowned local horseman. I was not in the market to buy a baby. But, as animal lovers will often say, one of the animals seemed "special" and so I made arrangements to go meet the filly.
She is beautiful. She is a well-bred American Quarter Horse. She is supremely quiet and calm and willing and sweet. Just like a labrador puppy.
Over the past years, working with myriad different horses from all different backgrounds, I finally came to realize I personally cannot save them all. I cannot change them all. I cannot fix them all. No matter how much I might want to do so. What I CAN do is give a wonderful lifetime home to the horses that are RIGHT for ME.
I bought the yearling filly on the spot, and named her Sarah Bar Starlight.
Today, Sarah and some wonderful, supportive friends and I are venturing to Sarah's first horse show ever, and my first show in a very long time. I will be showing Sarah in a couple of "in-hand" ranch horse classes, since she is much too young to ride.
Whether we win a ribbon today is irrelevant. Looking back on the past ten years of my life as a horsewoman, today is already a "win" - and a BIG win, at that. I am not afraid. I am not condemning myself, or beating myself up for not being thin enough, not good enough, not taking a hot/fancy horse, or anything more than who I am.
I am alive, today, and so very thankful for the gift of Life itself, for health, for friends, for family, and for having the privilege of working with some of the most wonderful animals God created.
Count your blessings.
Each and every day.