Embracing the Journey over the Destination

Embracing the Journey over the Destination

When I bought Azul in the fall of 2021, I did so with the intention that she would be the horse that would make all of my dreams come true. She was young, beautiful, well bred (and the "right" breed - Oldenburg), talented, and sweet. When I brought her home, I immediately went about moving forward to achieve all of the goals I carefully mapped out prior to her purchase. I've always been someone who strives to achieve, and riding was no different. I had a strict plan, and managed her daily routine as closely as I possibly could. If she came in with so much as a teeny bump, I cold hosed and inspected and wrung my hands. If a ride went poorly, so did the rest of my day. There was very little, if any, separation between my life and my riding. 

Ultimately, despite all of my planning and monitoring and oversight, her career ended a year after I purchased her with a heartbreaking suspensory diagnosis that despite careful and vigorous rehab didn’t heal enough for her to be riding sound. All of my goals and dreams abruptly ended. We found her a soft landing back with her breeder, and she’s now living her best life in a huge Florida field.

The culmination of the experience left me broken, and it took me a full year of watching horses on the sidelines before I decided to take a dip back into horse ownership. Part of my hesitation was centered around the fact that calling a horse my own, while rewarding, also felt exhausting. I remembered the constant worry about injury or a set back in my training routines. I hated pinning the quality of my life on the quality of my riding, and deciding whether a day was “good” or “bad” based on whether my ride was “good” or “bad.” The year without owning a horse allowed me to get back into running, reading, and other passions that I hadn’t had time for while Azul took up all the free space in my mind and life. 

On the other hand, I truly missed having a horse to call my own and have my own special bond with. As riders, we all know there are few things more rewarding than calling our horse’s names and having them run across a field to greet us, or whinny as they hear us entering the barn. There is just something magical about being a horse’s person. 

With that reasoning in mind, I purchased a lovely off the track Thoroughbred named Testa, not because I have goals for my riding, but because I want a fun relationship with a horse. I am keeping him in a training program that specifically caters to these wonderful athletes transitioning into second careers, and my role is to be there for him and support him and brush him and just generally spend time with him. My only goal is for him to be a happy, well adjusted horse, and my aspirations in what we do together are open ended. 

I have to admit, this laid back approach to horse ownership is pretty fantastic. I didn’t even get on Testa until a full month after I brought him up from Florida, allowing him ample time to adjust and for my trainer, Kate Samuels, to assess his level of fitness and bravery before I climbed aboard. Even when it was my first time to ride him, it was on a hack down a hilly gravel road - not a flat session in a well groomed ring. When he comes in from turnout with a bump or scrape from roughhousing with his buddy Hank, my heart rate remains steady instead of spiking. I’m not in a rush to “get” anywhere with him, and I’m not closely planning every single day of the week around any sort of training routine. 

So far while Testa has been up in Virginia, he’s been trail ridden, he’s learned to ground tie, he’s getting clicker trained, he’s splashed around in a river, he’s navigated steep and rooty terrain, he’s gotten used to young dogs daring all around him, and he’s said hello to cows, all in a laid back environment that prioritizes play and exploration over force and submission. As for me, I haven’t had this good of a time with my horse since I was a little girl bombing around Virginia hunt country with my small pony. 

Most importantly, I’m now able to enjoy life with a horse in it, instead of my life being about my horse. The difference between the two is subtle - it’s not as if I don’t deeply care about Testa, it’s more that my daily happiness is no longer tied to how my visit to the barn pans out. To further the point, I don’t drive to the barn with any sort of expectation of how the visit is going to go. I just stay in the moment, see what happens, and try to meet it from a place of positivity. I don’t have any arbitrary goal or place I need to get to with him. Heck, I could do nothing but walk him down a road and play in a river with him and be completely content.

This time, I’ve finally learned how to just sit back and enjoy being with my horse. We are still on a journey together, I just don't have any set destination for us in mind other than our happiness.