Sunday, September 8, 2013

He Knows.

You cannot fool a horse.

They are such instinctual creatures, more than any other animal I’ve ever known. They feed off the feelings of their herdmates. They can tell what you’re feeling even if you can’t. Even if you’re trying to cover it up. You can’t fake out a horse.

I’ve had Sydney for nine years now. He has always been there for me, through middle school, high school, all through college. We had problems in the beginning, when he knew I couldn’t stop him from misbehaving. But he turned into a horse who would do anything. He went months jumping on a broken splint bone just because I asked him to. And yes, we’ve had little troubles ever since because that injury was more than just physical, but we have always understood each other, with one exception.

We’ve been so distant from each other for the better part of a year now. I know it’s my fault. During the worst of my eating disorder, riding went from something I enjoyed to something I had to do. I was always short on time, always in a hurry to get done. And then it became uncomfortable to ride. And then I got too tired and worn out. I was weak. Half the time I just didn’t feel like it. I could spend an hour at the barn or an hour on my bike, which one burns more calories? That was all that mattered to me. Through the winter I stopped riding very much at all, due to the cold and discomfort and...

...the fact that my horse wasn’t cooperative AT ALL.

He dumped me more that winter than he ever did when we were first getting used to each other. He spooked at every little thing. He was tense the whole time; I would swear he was looking for reasons to be afraid. His gaits weren’t smooth, his head was high, he pulled on the reins. The whole time I was on his back, I was waiting for him to do something “bad,” and he was afraid of doing the littlest thing to set me off, and neither one of us really enjoyed any of the time we spent together.

I don’t blame him. Our relationship is built on trust, and I never gave him any reason to trust me. I’m sitting here crying thinking about how horribly I treated him. He was only scared and confused, and I was the one who was supposed to help him, but I did the opposite.

Even when I first decided to recover, and my heart wasn’t completely in it, and I started to love riding again and spend more time with him, he still wasn’t there completely. More relaxed, yes, but not quite ready to forgive. Not quite yet.

It’s different now. Maybe simply because it’s true what they say, and absence does make the heart grow fonder. Maybe he’s feeling insecure and out of place and lonely in a new place and I’m the only familiar living thing. Maybe he’s mellow in this heat and humidity when he’s just starting to grow a winter coat suited to Pennsylvania. But that’s not what I think.

He knows.

I am different now. I am actually committed to seeing recovery through, more so than ever before. I am more relaxed, more stable, and saner. I am becoming a person again. And he knows. If I ever wanted reassurance that I am doing the right thing, a reason to never go back, my horse is it.

He’s been in North Carolina for all of five days. He spooked once at a large metal machine the first day I rode him, and not once since then. The most he does is stare with intense interest at things that are out of the ordinary. Yesterday he walked the whole way across his pasture, past a big round bale of hay, when he saw me come to the fence.

And today I took him for a trail ride with three other horses. Sure, he pulled on the bit and we had a little conversation about who was in charge. But come on, it was like the fifth trail ride of his life, and I’d volunteered him to go last knowing full well that he hates it. (Also knowing full well that he’s as likely as not to kick the horse behind him, but that’s another story.) He saw chickens for the first time in his life--and not one or two, but a whole flock. He stared the whole time they were in sight, but he didn’t run. The fastest we went today was a couple steps of trotting to catch up to the horse in front of us. It was beautiful.

Everyone who meets him comments on how chill he is. I’ve had two people already say they need “a horse like that.” The change is amazing. My horse is amazing. There are no words to describe how humbling it is to be so completely forgiven by an animal who never, ever forgets.

I might be uncomfortable in my own skin and scared to death of what lies ahead, but one thing I do know: Sydney has given me in the space of nine years more than anyone could ever hope to receive in a lifetime. If only for him, I will keep going. It’s the least I can do. Only a small repayment of the huge debt I owe him.

He knows. More than anyone else, he knows.
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