Tuesday, November 12, 2013

In a Relationship...with my horse

After much holding out, I recently joined Facebook, and I was surprised by how awkward it was for me to fill out a profile (well, not really, because I tend to feel awkward about a lot of things, but nevertheless). The site seemed to glorify and dramatize such basic human achievements such as being born (OMG who does that?!) and getting a job, referring to them as Life Events in your Timeline (the Capitol Letters make it all very Important Sounding). Which is all a bit much. But Relationship Status is by far the most awkward part of it. I came a smidgen away from just leaving it blank, but I decided that since I actually have a relationship now (a rather big change for formally perma-single me), so too would I have a Relationship Status. So I filled it in, and, yep, just like that it became yet another Life Event for me.

But recently, while I was contemplating the total awkwardness of Relationship Statuses, considering my own romantic history versus other people's, and questioning what it really takes to commit to someone over the long term (yup, things get real deep up in here), I came to the realization that I have been in a long-term relationship. With my horse. Sofie and I are approaching five years together.

And it's been a turbulent five years, not exactly smooth sailing. When we got together, there was baggage, considerable baggage that we both struggled under and dumped on each other continually. There has been chronic pain, injury, health crises and a whole shitload of anxiety. I've seen her through hoof rehab, hock fusion, ringbone and the unforgettable Christmas Eve colic. She's changed me from a girl who needed help bringing her own horse in from the field to someone who takes care of 50 horses in the dark, the snow and the cold, single-handedly. She took a girl who was crippled by lingering fear from a years-old fall from a lesson horse and gave her the confidence to walk into a field of horses and hold her own. To stand her ground and firmly discipline a boundary-testing stallion. To ride a runaway and come away laughing.

After this long together, we both know where we stand. She watches me when I walk out to her field; she knows I'm her person. I look out for her, keeping the bitchy mare in the next field from bothering her when she wants a drink from the waterer. She looks out for me, watching her surroundings carefully when we're out on the trail, or remembering I'm there when she spooks and I'm crouched underneath her, wrapping a leg wound. She stops from the mere tension of a strip of vetwrap. She's that in tune.

And like any long-term relationship, there are good moments and bad, long stretches of comfort and enjoyment deviated by the occasional annoyance. There are times when, much as you love the other person (horses are people, too), you just feel like yelling "I hate you" at them (or just straight up murdering them). We certainly have had those days, particularly last spring, when I was stressed out and unhappy, dealing with the dispersal of my goats after a long winter of struggles with disease in my previously healthy herd. We clashed, we struggled. We got caught up in each others' anxiety.

We are alike, Sofie and I, to a shocking degree. We both work hard, we don't quit easily. We dig in. And when we get nervous, when we get tense, we don't stop and think. We plow forward, full speed ahead, going faster and faster in all the worse ways, making a mess of everything, trying way too hard. She tries so much, even through the pain. That's where we're similar, too.

The riding gets better with time, certainly. Sofie is more connected, more consistent than she has ever been. For my part, I'm sitting taller, more engaged, working with her. Dressage has become steady and fun, and easy language of seat, leg and rein aids, bodies moving together in balance. Occasionally she'll get too quick, too strong, and she'll need a firm correction. But for the most part, she's a dream to ride, and I'm getting more of those lovely, weightless moments when she's moving lightly, almost catlike, highly controllable but energetic and free.

We've been through so much, and there is so much more to come. I'm looking forward to our future together, and I'm pretty sure Sofie would say the same. Because the best thing that has come from our time together, the thing I am most proud of, is her trust. After more than four years, I feel as though she's taken a deep breath, and let go of a lot of her anxiety, for good.

It will never be completely gone. There will always be her past to contend with, and some of it simply stems from her basic nature - tough, smart, overachieving and overthinking. But it doesn't flare up like it used to, leaving her incapable of thinking, a prey animal on the run. It's controllable. It doesn't take over her mind. I can push her now when I couldn't before, working on new skills, eliminating annoying little habits, or working her through the inevitable stiffness. She can work through the discomfort now, mental or physical, and give a little more. She's more willing than ever before. She just seems content, even happy, to go to work for me.

I think she's realized, finally, that whatever my flaws and shortcomings, I care about her, and we are in this together. She's realized that I won't treat her like an ATV, that I won't take her on a five-hour ride when her hocks hurt and her feet hurt and everything hurts. She knows I will take care of her, because I've proven it over time. And she finally believes it.

And without having this horse in my life, I don't know where I'd be. I know I wouldn't be driving a car. I wouldn't have my job, I wouldn't have ambitions and hopes for the future. I'm pretty sure I would still just be aimless.

I love you, Sofa. Finding you was the biggest Life Event of my life.

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