Heart Horses

I think anyone who has been around horses for any length of time has heard the term “heart horse.” That special horse with whom you share a special bond, an almost indescribable feeling you get when you’re around them.

I found the above video yesterday, courtesy of my Facebook feed, and I couldn’t help but tear up as I watched it. I love some of the descriptions they use…how they are “…the horse that brings out the best in you…not only teaches you to be a better rider, but a better person.”

I’d never quite heard it put into words that way, but I think that describes it really well. I can say I’ve learned something from every horse I’ve ridden, and there are very few times I’ve ever regretted climbing into the saddle…but those heart horses…they’re something special.

I got very, very lucky: my first horse is one of my heart horses. Not too many people are that fortunate right off the bat to end up with a lifetime heart horse that they keep for a couple decades and counting. Granted, I spent several years of riding lesson horses before I ever got Mimi, but some of those lesson horses did their best to try to dissuade a small, horse-crazy child from further pursuing her passion.

Fortunately, there were enough good ones — the priceless schoolmasters — that kept me in the saddle and kept me going. But until that first time I climbed onto Mimi’s back, I didn’t know a horse could make me feel that way. The naughty ones had terrified me, and the schoolmasters took care of me through the fear…but on Mimi? For the first time ever on the back of a horse, I felt fearless. Together, we could go anywhere, do anything…we could fly.

Of course, that feeling didn’t always exist…for the next couple of years, there was a steep learning curve of young rider + young pony, with more than one session that ended in tears (since I was too young to curse at the time). But I always clung to that feeling I had on our initial ride together, knowing what was possible.

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together, we can fly

Do we get more than one heart horse in life? I certainly like to think so, or hope so. I’ve gotten along well with pretty much all of the catch horses I’ve ridden, have clicked with a few of them, and yes, have even felt that same “together, we can fly” feeling with one.

So, what is it about a heart horse that makes them special? Everyone is probably going to have their own answer for that. It may not necessarily involve logic. In fact, if you sat down and made a pros and cons list of that horse’s characteristics, there’s probably a subheading somewhere on that list of “All The Reasons This Is A Bad Idea.” But there’s a reason they’re called “heart horses” and not “brain horses,” because while the brain is chewing over logic, the heart is daydreaming of the most recent Magical Moment with that horse.

It may not even take much. Half an arena length of a perfectly balanced, floating canter. A whiskery nuzzle against your cheek to sop up tear tracks. Whatever silly shenanigans they’ve most recently come up with (such as why my 26-yr-old pony has suddenly reverted back to her juvenile behavior of destroying her fly masks on a weekly basis?!?).

Or it’s something huge, like such a feeling of confidence and connection that you have to curb the impulse to jump on their bare back and head off to parts unknown. The forgiveness and trust they extend, even when you’ve done things that should have broken it. The lessons they are gracious enough to teach. Knowing when they absolutely need to take care of their rider.

Large or small, those moments all add up into a wonderful kaleidoscope of memories and feelings that envelope you, and you want to laugh, and smile, and cry all at the same time, because it’s a feeling that’s hard to compare to anything else.

One of my favorite tights companies, PerformaRide, recently released their 2019 limited edition range of tights and accessories, and this year’s theme is “Empower.” Four prints/designs, each with a different animal as a totem of an element of personal empowerment and the feelings we have in the saddle. Flamingo: Graceful; Tiger: Power; Wolf: Courage; Horse: Freedom. I really can’t think of a better way to distill down the essence of what I feel in the saddle than that.

For sure I’m more graceful dancing up the trail with my horse than when I’ve shuffled the same trail on my own two feet. Power? We all know the notion that we can physically control a 1000-pound flight animal is laughable…but the true power comes from being in a partnership with said 1000-pound flight animal, and them trusting me enough to let me guide them. “In riding a horse, we borrow freedom.” Nothing more needs said, other than to celebrate the feeling of cantering through the desert, with nothing but the sound of hoofbeats, snorting nostrils, and the wind whispering past your ears. And courage…it’s taken a lot of courage to get me in the saddle on many occasions. But in return, I’ve seen that courage come back to me, with that incredible, “take on the world and fly” feeling.

Are they perfect? Hahahaha…no. See above about the “teaching you to be a better rider.” And better horseperson. And how to think outside the box. How to question the norm. What to do when “what you’ve always done” doesn’t work. They also make me want to be better. To figure out the why behind a behavior or other challenge, and figure out what they might be trying to tell me. To better my skills, my knowledge, my communication. I’ve learned better emotional control, and impulse control. I’ve learned to let go, trust the horse more, and to not micromanage. To pick my battles. That those extraordinary horses in life may comes with a few extras quirks, shenanigans, and speed bumps in the road.

To those special, special horses who have left your hoofprints permanently embedded in my heart…thank you. For everything. The good moments, and the bad. The times I’ve wanted to scream or cry, and the times I’ve wanted to shout from the rooftops. The life lessons. The mane to cry in. The whiskery muzzle to smooch. The shenanigans, the laughter, the headaches, the heartaches. All of it has shaped my life, and contributed to the building blocks of who I am.

Your turn, readers…Let’s hear about your heart horse(s) and celebrate these special equines in our lives!

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