Getting Back on the Horse

I have a new man in my life. A twenty-year-old of Arabian descent who goes by the name Shine. I smile when I think about him. Wish I could reach out right now and touch his neck. Feel his warm breath on my cheek and rub his velvet muzzle. Smell him. Just smell him. It’s hard to describe that smell. It’s earthy and ethereal. Dirt and freedom. Like babies and warm bread, when the actual scent and the emotion that swells up with it are so intertwined you can’t distinguish one from the other. He smells like a long, contented sigh.

Studies on the benefits of equine therapy are so numerous I was captivated for hours reading only a small sample of them. Humans and horses have been drawn to each other since we first crossed rocky paths at least six thousand years ago. They’ve stood by our sides. Did what we asked them to, even when it was a bloody march to their own death. They are loyal and sensitive and unique. When mistreated they act out. Over time, if they feel lonely and unloved, they become damaged. Just like us.

I’ve loved horses all my life. I was never lucky enough to own one, but I begged my parents relentlessly to take me anywhere to go galloping into the sunset. I did so without fear or vulnerability. Unfortunately, a riding accident at the age of eight left me with a broken face and a newfound nervousness it would take me decades to overcome. I still loved horses, but now it was from the other side of the fence.

This summer my daughters wanted to take riding lessons. Right down the road from our house is the amazing Love it or Leave It Ranch. Jen Kennedy, a born and raised Fernie girl, runs the ranch with her husband and young family. Her philosophy on horses and their treatment was inspiring. Kennedy practices Liberty Training. A bit-free method that uses positive energy and enforcement to guide the horse’s actions. It’s more of a partnership between horse and rider. Gentle and intuitive. Symbiotic and magical to watch. I knew nothing about this technique when I ducked into the beautiful arena on a smoky August day, ready to lean on the rail and watch as my girls walked small ponies around the soft dirt paddock. But there were no ponies in sight. Tethered to hooks were two giant, beautiful horses that my girls would quickly grow to love. Jen greeted us with a warm smile and within thirty minutes my girls were mounted and walking calmly around the arena. The horses responding to the slightest kiss and cluck. I’d never seen anything like it. I couldn’t stand by the rail and watch.

The funny thing about life – the universe, God – whatever you want to call it, is that you can generally look back on a path you’ve taken by ‘coincidence’ and say - oh yeah. That was my path. I didn’t know it at the time, but the path to the ranch, the path back to horses, was destined for me.

The next lesson, I got back on the horse, so to speak. On my boy, Shine. As I brushed his soft brown coat and detangled his mane, hesitantly to say the least, he pawed the ground and bumped me with his large head. Jen told me to stand my ground. I put on his saddle and walked him around the arena on a lead. I was nervous. Shine knew. I made the proper command and he stopped on a dime. I loved him for listening and told him so. Several lessons later I walked through the doors. It had been an exceptionally bad day. One of my worst. My eyes were swollen and my kids were unsure what to say to make me laugh. I felt lost. I walked up to Shine and buried my face in his neck. Inhaled that smell. He didn’t bump or paw. Instead, he stood perfectly still, head leaned on my back, and sighed. My calm in a nasty storm.

We are so blessed to have facilities like Love It or Leave It Ranch and Fernie Therapeutic Horse and Pony Club right out our doorstep. You can find them both on Facebook.