Tempi’s in a mood these days. Between the vet-mandated diet (she looked ready to drop twins) and the climbing temperature (Tempi’s all black, if you know anything at all about Georgia that should say enough), the poor pony’s quality of life has taken a nose dive. Tempi knows someone around here is to blame and she’s pretty sure it’s me. I’m fine with that. We had a similar conversation two years ago when she moved down from the mountains of Ohio to live with me. Until that point, Tempi had only seen people from a distance and was used to snow and ice. Then I moved her.
In June. Pony thought she had died and gone to hell.
Fast forward six months and I was climbing onto Tempi’s back, getting tossed into the air, and eventually onto the ground where Tempi would stand over me, bug-eyed, like, “You scared me. Don’t do that anymore.” After the third dirt facial, I realized I needed to rethink my strategy. This involved a lot of swearing, sweating, and a particularly patient cowboy named Drew Olsen. He was awesome and, eventually, so was Tempi, but the whole thing really stuck with me.
Most people think horses go along with what their riders want because they have no choice, because they have given into the superior being and accepted their lot in life. After working with Tempi and two other rogue horses, I can now say this is not the case. They give in, carrying us, performing for us, giving us their selves not because they have to, but because they want to. The worst horses sense your fears and take advantage. The best sense your dreams and carry you to them.
I hate saying stuff like that. It makes me look like I never outgrew My Little Ponies and encourages people to think horses are just like unicorns, dogs, or literary characters. It’s vaguely happy clappy.
No, it is happy clappy, but that doesn’t make it any less true. I don’t think people realize the gift they’re being given when they throw a leg over their horse. I really don’t. I’ve seen too many riders swap mounts like they’re tennis rackets. It’s heartbreaking, but I figured I was in the minority. Then L called. For the past few years, she’s been riding a lovely, older gelding, transforming from a timid rider frightened to go into a paddock with other horses into a successful dressage rider.
Part of this is because she’s determined and has a good instructor. Most of it has to do with Chance giving her the gift of confidence. When she was with him, she felt like she could do anything. He gave her back her riding dreams. Now, old age is catching up with him and she’s being pressured to give him up. Her friends think he’s inconvenient. She thinks he’s wonderful.
The whole thing reminded me of how most writers struggle to publication with naysayers on almost every side. Well-meaning friends beg you to give it up after the fifth (or fiftieth) rejection. In-laws ask “So how many books have you written and you still aren’t published?”
But you don’t give it up. You slog along and there are moments where you final in a contest or get a perfect canter transition that make the whole ordeal shine—even if it’s only briefly. The moment is perfect and private and completely yours. You won’t be able to explain the gift to anyone, but you know it has incredible value. Because sometimes it isn’t what we get from writing or riding, but what writing and riding give to us.
So what’s your best-loved gift no one else understands?