Answer to My Dreams

By Katrina Clay

Natural Horse Magazine Writing Contest, 3rd Prize - Winner of the rope halter and 12-foot horsemanship lead from Natural Horse Supply

Having always wanted horses in my life, I was blessed with a coupon book of riding lessons for a couple childhood birthdays. These lessons fueled the desire for horses, without satisfying it. As a late bloomer, I was still ‘cantering’ around the school playground as an 8th grader. When I returned to live in New York—my childhood home—as an adult, it was time to give up feeling sorry for myself and take this passion into my own hands. So I called the local hunter/jumper barn and began to lesson once a week.

Somewhere, my personality had learned that if you are not naturally gifted at an activity, you are not being called to pursue that endeavor. Due to my self-proclaimed lack of riding talent, this belief caused me to want to quit many times during the first couple of years. A confident person in other areas of life, the barn brought out my greatest fears of being unworthy, of not being enough, of being inadequate. Yet my heart stated that it wanted to be there more than any other place, I liked the sight and smell of horses, bedding, and leather. At home I would browse catalogs, books and magazines on any horsy subject. So, in spite of the doubt, I decided to fully commit myself to riding. Shortly after doing so, a woman called to ask if I would ride her horse when she went away. It was perfect confirmation that once committed, things unforeseen happen to allow you to fulfill the desire. I was elated.

Over time, the number of people asking me to ride their horses increased, till I was riding more days than not. It was after a number of months of this when the trainers asked if I’d ride Bastiaan, a 21-year-old Dutch Warmblood, ex-showjumper, as he came back from an injury. I was already madly in love with this horse—the king of the barn—and said yes immediately.

At the beginning of our riding relationship, I told Bastiaan that I needed him to teach me to become a better, more effective rider. As though I believed it myself, I said that this desire was a gift from the Gods and to disregard their request would be to dishonor them. His eyes filled with purpose and his head lifted higher. I sensed that he was pleased, but not as I would have suspected by the request for his expertise, instead by my fully recognizing a plan that he was aware of being set in motion.

We worked together for over a year. Because he wasn’t sound to jump, I gave up jumping in order to lesson him on the flat. He is an extremely talented guy, but one who will only work if asked the way he likes—decisive and clear yet without force. When we started cantering, he would gun around the ring and I could barely stay in the saddle, as we both learned to pull and physically support each other.

In my work as a graphic designer, I know that having too specific an aspiration often gets in the way of what wants to come out naturally of my work. Yet, I could see and feel that in the ring I was still trying too hard to ride by following the rules—to do it right rather than naturally. Then one day it dawned that I had aspirations of being a brilliant or perfect rider, which were eclipsing my awareness of succeeding at becoming a better rider.

After recognizing this, I could see all that B had taught me over the year, regardless of the fact that I was not yet a perfect rider. We had learned to work together, rather than pull against each other. I learned what it felt like to have my horse come up underneath me, to be subtle in my adjustments and how to sit deeply in my saddle. Although these skills remain elusive at times, I have had the kinesthetic experience to know when it is right. But the most important thing that Bastiaan taught me is that I do belong at the barn.

Not long after thanking Bastiaan for giving me the confidence to know this sense of belonging, he came up lame again. Just suddenly after a canter. No one saw him trip, I never felt a mistaken step. He just transitioned from a sound canter to a lame trot. Then worse, in his stall he started having anxiety attacks of sorts. Weaving—more like jumping—from one side of the stall to the other. Often calling to someone we couldn’t see or figure out who it could be. My heart hurt as this took place.

With no other explanation, the vet has concluded it to be Sundowners Syndrome—a disease that affects elders, causing them to feel confusion at certain times of the evening.  Bastiaan had taught me to overcome my inexplicable fear of not belonging at the barn. Now it is my turn to care for his inexplicable emotions.

When you have an attachment to an animal and their personal welfare, it is often hard to decipher what an animal needs. But I had to try something—anything, so I searched online for ideas. Finally, I found a shatterproof mirror that when hung in a stall, helps bored or lonesome horses by giving them a sense of there being another horse with them. So, with great hopes, I purchased one for Bastiaan. Once it hung in his stall, he confidently sauntered up to the ‘new guy,’ took one brief look and licked him. Happily for everyone, the two have been sleeping contentedly together ever since. fin