When I pulled up at Hobbs Hollow today for my riding lesson, Lee was walking a new, chestnut horse back and forth through a huge mud puddle. Each time the horse stepped near it, she’d shy away. So Lee jostled her head, gave her staccato pokes in the side with an elbow.
“That helps readjust the nervous system,” Lee said. “Nobody knows why it works, but it does. It’s like when you bend Chandi and he starts licking his lips. Things settle.”
And she was right. The little mare splashed through the puddle without protest. But then there was a patch of white concrete on the ground that she backed away from. And a rusty metal barrel she snorted at. The world (or at least this small corner of the parking lot) seemed fraught with danger. But Lee let her eyeball each menacing object, sniff at the ground, flick her tail, make peace at her own time.
“All this should have been dealt with years ago,” Lee said. “Someone (note: not the horse) wasn’t up to snuff.”
I pointed at the mare’s side, at the six-inch circle of scar tissue.
Lee shrugged, “An accident of some sort. Maybe a fight with another mare. They can be vicious.” Lee can propose the horse’s general history, but like all of us, can only intuit the particular abuses and injuries.
“See,” Lee said, leading the horse back to the barn, “someone didn’t take the time to work with her anxieties. She’s seven, too old to spook at all this ordinary stuff. It’d be one thing if she was from the city and there was a snake on the ground. But this horse has grown up pastured. And her owners are horse people. They should have worked her through all her jitters by now. Someone was lazy. Or inconsistent. Either way, it wasn’t good for the horse.” She paused as the horse swung its head back and forth, taking in the fence in front of her, the clanging of some loose rope on the flagpole, the whinnies of one of her barnmates. Lee sighed, “You let her see what’s around; let her realize it’s nothing dangerous; don’t rush her. But really, she’s too old for this nonsense.”
Whenever Lee speaks, I listen—not just for the horse lesson, but for applicable life lesson. You see, Lee trains, or retrains horses that have been abused or neglected or poorly schooled. For instance: there’s Wing, rescued a few months ago from a nearby farm where she had spent the long, cold winter without a blanket or sheet. When she arrived at Hobbs Hollow, her coat was mangy and her eye infected; she was thirty pounds underweight and depressed. Now? She’s zippy, energetically canters across the field, and is, once again, rideable. Sound.
All of Lee’s horses are in a kind of rehab, learning to move through anxieties, to step over fears, to correct bad behaviors that might get them, or a rider, hurt. And because I am in my own self-designed rehab, I take her lessons to heart. Not that I am some horse bucking at the bit or refusing a jump or shying at a ground post. But aren’t I, in a way? I have, after all, been officially diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and I’m terrified of change, paradoxically afraid of giving up IT since IT has been a constant, if debilitating, companion for decades, and don’t my bad behaviors—the not eating, the purging, the cutting—damage my body, don’t they collaterally damage my husband and kids? (Wasn’t it my daughter who just the other day patted her tiny waist and said, “I need to walk off my fat belly.” Didn’t I once use my son’s diaper change as pretext to purge in restaurant bathrooms? Don’t my kids ask me what happened to my arms, and don’t I have to make up lies?)
IT chimes in here, taking the opportunity to add ITs no-cents: “Aren’t you getting old for all this nonsense? You’re only living on borrowed time anyway. Might as well haul yourself off to the glue factory.”
At this, Lee would grab my halter, give my head a firm shake, poke me in the ribs. Time to readjust the mental system. Remember to remember: Choose life.
But it’s true, too. I am too old for this nonsense. Too old to have my husband interrogate me over the day’s meals—eaten, skipped, purged. Too old to have to ask for a pair of scissors since they’ve all been hidden from me. Too old to have my medication secreted away some place in the basement because fear dictates I might try to overdose again. Too old for ITs shit.
Wing is sound, can now take flight over fields and fences. I want to be sound, too. Sound in mind and body. Sound = Free from injury (of the self-inflicted kind) and disease (the plague that is IT). Free from error, fallacy, and misapprehension (ITs lies and my belief in them). Having true premises (trusting the clear, logical, healthy perspective of my team over ITs warped, damaged, destructive perspective). Showing good judgment (finally being able to trust in myself, that I will take care of myself, that I will love myself). Sense over nonsense.