Horseless and Homeless: When Horses Define You

Two years ago, and in the span of one week, I found myself horseless and homeless (I know, First World problems, right?). One was not so big a deal. The other upended my world.

The “homeless” is not as extreme as it sounds – our family home of 10 years simply sold minutes after hitting the market (and before we had a new home), but it was all a positive change and part of a larger plan. The “horseless,” though, was much different. I had to make the difficult decision to put down my competitive show hunter. It was not planned and it left me feeling more lost and more out of place than not having a return address.

Please understand I have chosen carefully how to characterize Mucho: “competitive show hunter.” The expected “horse” would not do him justice and “friend” would just not be accurate. Make no mistake, I loved Mucho, but he was my teammate – a fierce competitor in and out of the ring. He was not a pet. Our relationship was risk and reward; persistence and drive. It was not trail rides and treats, sunshine or glitter. We were at our best when we were tested the most – and we respected each other the most in the show ring, where our shared desire to win always brought us together.

My relationship with Mucho tested me as much as a person as it did a rider… every damn day. He was demanding. He was frustrating. He required a level of focus and persistence never before to me known. And I loved it. I was consumed by it – obsessed even. In so many ways, the challenge and reward of riding the unrideable defined me. Working with him was familiar. It was what I knew.

It has been said that horses mirror their riders. So, a challenging horse invites some serious introspection. Mucho was no different. Riding for me has never been a hobby, but with Mucho, every minute of every ride had (and had to have) a goal. Planning and hard work to achieve hundreds of seemingly small milestones on the tough road to whatever ultimate goal we set. There were days when trotting around the ring once without falling off was a goal; there were days where jogging second at indoors left us unsatisfied and wanting for more. We set our goals, worked harder than we thought possible to meet them, and adjusted accordingly. Reward the victories but don’t be distracted by them. Set the next goal and move on. Keep working; keep pushing.

You don’t realize how much this cycle defines you until it stops spinning or, in my case, is no longer at all. Priorities shift because life no longer revolves around a horse, your goals, and his program. For someone goal-oriented and reliant on structure, breaking the cycle can leave you feeling as though you’re fumbling around in the dark looking for something you can’t define. The expression “fish out of water” comes to mind, or even, “homeless.” It was not having a horse on which to focus my energy, that made me feel like I didn’t have a home. Because at the end of the day, riding is a part of who we are. Horses define us. Horse are home.

Christiane Schuman Campbell

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