First appeared in Saddle Up Magazine (December 2015)
My former teacher of Equine Sports Therapy, Dave Collins, once said to our class, “if you ever want to know about me, go out and look at my horse.” He was alluding to the “mirror” our horses form and reflect back to us.
The mirror that shows us truths about ourselves that we might not even be aware of. I don’t believe in accidents, and horse in our life is no exception. I believe to my very core, that horses choose us. Not the other way around. The reason they are in our lives may not be the reason we intended when we got them, but the horses we cross paths with for any amount of time have a reason for being there.
My (current) mirror’s name is Twinkie. She’s an 11-year old Appendix mare I got as a 3-year-old. My 17 year old self was ecstatic when my mom took me to a farm just outside of Red Deer, AB to look at what might potentially be the horse I’d been waiting to find. I’d outgrown my old pony and needed a new horse t begin training for eventing (the sport that had a vice grip on my determined heart and soul). I remembered liking her at first sight, but what shifted the “like” to “love” was when I asked her for a trot. She had the most amazing trot I’d ever ridden. If my memory serves me, the pen I was testing her out in was rough and misshapen, but her trot made me feel like I was on a cloud and, suddenly, I wanted that horse.
Long story short, we did buy “Twinks” as she was fondly known as. I graduated high school and moved away with out her, so Twinkie spent a few years in my parents’ pasture. She was unsound on and off, and we never really bonded. Years later, I was working and living at a close friend’s farm and it occurred to me that I wanted to bring Twinkie out to BC to be with me. I ignored my parents’ warnings that if something went wrong and might not be able to afford her, etc., and I had her hauled through the mountains to find her new home. I had just graduated from the Equine Therapy program and was thrilled to be certified and now I had my horse again.
Twinkie and I began what became a few big learning years together that summer. We learned to be trail guides (she didn’t really like to lead, but we worked on that!) and explored miles of mountain trails together. We went through rough patches where she would be un-sound for no apparently reason. She got frighteningly skinny a couple of times in the winters. I moved us both into town to a new barn eventually where we started a more intense riding program. She worked hard for me, but I started noticing that it never felt like we got anywhere. She felt stuck, like progress couldn’t continue. One days I had a lesson and my instructor (and friend) told me she looked lame. I explained that she didn’t feel lame, just tight (like she always felt). My instructor got on her and confirmed what I’d felt, Twinkie didn’t feel like she was hurting, but I could see from the ground that she definitely looked off. Once again, long story short, I had her checked by a vet and she had an injury which prognosis was that it wasn’t fully recoverable.
The heartbreak I felt was unlike anything I’ve felt. Not only were my dreams of eventing with her suddenly gone, feelings of immense guilt-like, how was it possible I hadn’t known-overcame me. I have years of experience and schooling. I should have seen it, how could I have pushed her so hard while she gave and gave, as much as I asked, without so much of a complaint.
The reason I’m telling this story is because as I’ve reflected over the years of having Twinkie, it’s been shocking how much that mare showed me “myself”—from her injury being her left hind mating my own recurring left ankle injury, to her work ethic reflecting mine. The way she struggled through the winters was also parallel to my own situations. Winter always seemed to bring on stress and a lowness that any other season didn’t. But the point is that so much of that mare’s existence was a direct reflection of me and how I was living and treating myself. I was just blind, at the time, to see it.
The relationship I have with Twinkie wasn’t the partnership I’d imagined when I first got her, at all. But once I started listening to what she was showing me it became invaluable and perhaps even stronger than I thought possible. I feel so monumentally blessed to have that mare in my life. She showed me, selflessly, myself.