Riding Into the Sunset

Like most people, I have a lot of identities–mother, sister, neighbor, lawyer, author, flower gardener, appreciator of fine chocolate… and one of those identities is “horse girl.” I am inclined to quibble over any use of the word “girl” to refer to a female over the age of eighteen (Yes, Grace, we know…), but in the case of a horse girl, age has nothing to do with it.

Horse girls all know what it is to go out to the barn for morning feed-and-chores in muck boots and a bathrobe (and the muck boots will be newer than the bathrobe). We’ve made those late night calls to the emergency vet service, and get why an acquaintance who owns a backhoe can come in handy on a very sad day. We turn up sore in places few other people do, and we’re in the broke-but-happy quadrant much of the time. We pursue the only Olympic sport where men and women compete directly against each other, and we know why the term “therapy horse” is redundant.

My horse girl identity goes back to at least the age of three, when if it was a “pick out a present for your birthday” situation, I’d go for the horse picture, the stuffed horse, the plastic horse, the horse coloring book. Fortunately, my daughter was born with the horse girl gene, so equines have been a way to stay connected with her, and to keep at least one communication channel open even in the worst of times (and there have been some truly awful times).

My dear old Santa pony has reached retirement. His spirit is willing, but the demons of aging have started their infernal mischief, and keeping him in work would be neither productive nor kind. He has a great retirement home waiting for him, and a piece of my heart will go with him–a great big piece.

He was my gift to myself, a gift I clung to when menopausal anxiety was threatening to define me, when the pandemic was isolating me, and when the passing years tempted me to become one with the writing chair (or the rocking chair). The rhythm of my weeks was built around the two days I went to the barn, and most of my errands were wedged into those travels. But for Santa, I might have descended into staying home for weeks on end, living out the back of the Fedex truck. That would have been  bad for me, for a zillion and a half reasons, but soooo easy.

I owe this horse–and all the horses–more than words can say.

I don’t know if I will keep riding. You don’t have to ride to be a horse girl any more than you have to be sitting at the keyboard to be a pianist, or elbows deep in bread dough to be a baker. It will take a very special horse to replace Santa, but then, all horses are special to a horse girl.

Have animals pulled you through any knotholes? I’m still adding to my Miss Determined ARC list!

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13 comments on “Riding Into the Sunset

  1. I have felt this way about every single animal I have ever had. The saddest thing about loving animals is having to say goodbye.

  2. Yes! The corgis have pulled me through lots of difficult times.
    Training And competing with Celeste gave me confidence when my work environment was overwhelming. I desperately needed a new job and I was able to transition to a new job because I was confident. Greg and Rose were my lifelines during Covid. I walked them every day and they were my work friends as I navigated work from home. Greg is calm and I feel calm when I pat him— he’s a stress reliever!

    I hope you buy or lease another horse. You enjoy your horse time and it makes you happy.

  3. I hope you can keep your barn hours. You aren’t going to meet the next horse at the grocery store. Let us know if you do, mind. The barn seems to provide the sort of “at a distance” socializing that some of us look for and a useful place if nothing else seems to be working. I also enjoy the horses in your books. I would miss them.

    Most animals and I have a wary relationship. I am allergic to dander, but even more so to pollen and dust. I take my antihistamines and attempt to mitigate the rest. I like having a warm body in the house though, even if it’s an expense, a responsibility and an allergen. A house pet brings me out of my head to care for them and that’s a very good thing indeed.

  4. I can’t think of a specific knothole, but all my animals have been an essential part of my mental health! Even during the very, very hard times when they aren’t doing well, that extra care seemed to bring them closer.
    My pets have always been happy to see me. And that feels good (especially when things get lonely.) And they’re so quick to forgive! When you have to give ’em a pill or a shot, they may struggle and be grumpy during the medication. But, afterward, they shake it off and are ready for more love. 🙂

  5. Your horse girl thoughts reminded me of the blog (among other things)written by Anna Blake, the friend of a dear dear friend. She is passionate about horses, about women, about independence. You might like her… https://annablake.com/

  6. Oh, Grace, I’m so sorry to hear you’re retiring your horse. God bless you for your devotion. 17 years ago I had to euthanize a cat I’d had for 13 years. That same day I adopted a 5 week old kitten. She wasn’t skittish or stand offish in any way. As I lay in bed sobbing over the loss of my furry friend, this little one crawled onto my shoulder and rested her face against my wet cheek and purred. She snuggled away my grief and embedded herself deep in my heart. This past November, I said goodbye to her. It was unexpected, and happened all too suddenly. Those of us who have experienced the love of a four legged friend know how difficult it is as they age and we miss those things that were part of our daily routine, but we adjust and care for them as we always did.

  7. Grace, so sad to hear Santa has to retire ; may he live long and enjoy the retirement life as a content and loved horse

  8. Animals have totally pulled me through the downs of my entire life, starting with a parakeet when I was 5. Along with the birds I have had bunnies, gerbils, hamsters, guinea pits, sugar gliders, fish, snails and cats. I once caught a chipmunk when I was around 10 but it was so scared I felt bad and let it go. Now I just try to keep my small yard inviting to wilds and protect them when they move in. I am particularly fond of the geckos so there are quite a lot of them.

    I feel all the critters, etc. have been or are emotional support animals at some level. That said I will tell you of my most recent dog acquisition. I lost my soul mate dog Monty under traumatic circumstances. I was a wreck for quite some time and felt like I was never going to recover. I started looking on rescue web sites and along with loosing a lot of time when I should have been doing my paperwork, I saw a dog, a handsome fellow, and went to meet him. Not only did he turn out to be a willing hug recipient, but once he met me he kept visual track of me during the whole visit. The foster mom said, “he came in within days of a young puppy who was sick and adopted the role of mentor. Would you like to meet her?” She was wild and nuts and yup, I adopted her too. Having to get out of bed and care for them was excellent therapy, but the wild, nuts thing was pretty stressful. One day I felt so overwhelmed I sat down and started to cry. The next thing I knew I had two dogs on top of me trying to lick my face. I ended up laughing, that was 5 years ago.
    Truth! Sue, Gustav, and NellieBelle

  9. It sounds as if your Santa will have a happy, peaceful retirement.

    Your questions about animals pulling us through – after our house fire, we are now in a house (5 days now), and have brought home in the last couple of days our surviving pets. The place already feels better. Layla, our dog, is enjoying the back yard. I have company – Little Bear and Owl are sharing the table with the laptop. They were boarded for a month until we could get in a house (our dog and five cats).

  10. Dear Grace,
    It is so sad to come to the end of an era. Santa will always have a place in your heart. Your relationship with Santa has given you great Authenticity in your writing because you really know and love horses.
    I have been thinking about your regency novels because I just went through 48 hours without power during this last Northeaster in NH. Even though my house was built in 1789, it is really hard to run a house during a freezing, howling storm without power. I burned about 60 logs out of the 100 logs I had brought inside in preparation for the storm.
    Candles do not make it very light. Since you cannot see much, you have to be very tidy. I had also made a big casserole to heat up on top of the wood burning stove. It is frightening to be all alone in a situation where you could freeze. I got out my Mother’s mink coat to put on the bed.
    It made me realise how hard our Great grandmothers worked to manage a house. It is even hard to wash your hands in ice cold water! I love your stories, but actually living and keeping house in 1820 was difficult!

  11. No one event in my life comes to mind as a “knothole” that our fur babies have pulled me through, though they have always been a huge comfort. When we moved to this house 6 years ago, we arrived with 3 cats and a black lab. Over the intervening years, we have, unfortunately, had to say goodbye to all but one of the cats, a feisty, opinionated, but loving calico. But it’s hard to be stressed when a cat comes and sits on your lap, “making biscuits” on your leg, or sitting on your head (literally!), chewing on your hair! I didn’t grow up with animals (my mom always said she didn’t “trust animals or machines!”) so when my husband came to our marriage equipped with a sickly black cat, it was a bit of a shock to my system. Over time I came to love him and was sad when we had to “retire” him to my mother-in-law’s house when our son arrived in our tiny 2 room apartment. But I knew he was going to an excellent retirement home, as she doted on him. I am sorry your time with Santa has come to an end, but am confident he will enjoy his retirement. Us old folks sometimes need to be reminded that we can’t do what we did when we were young, but I’m sure he appreciates you making that decision for him. Stay safe. Stay well everyone!

  12. Not me, but for my hubby yes. One of our cats pulled him through several knotholes. Unfortunately, we did not have any pets during the pandemic, and I know his heart felt that loss sorely. I, personally, am really enjoying being pet free right now at this point in my life.

    I’m sorry to hear about Santa, Grace!!

  13. This one hurts. I was estranged from my two children for ten years after a divorce. I call it my Challenger Deep period. My cat still wanted pets and food. Thankfully.