Thursday, September 10, 2015


This summer SFD has been crazy-busy.  This, of course, is a good thing.  Maddy and my ride lists have been full, SFD’s Forward Movers prepared a record number of kids for Lendon’s Youth Festival (we took a dozen, up from our normal 2 or 3), I’m preparing to re-test my l judge’s training, and this season, in addition to helping students, I have three horses I am personally campaigning.  All of this is quite good, enjoyable, rewarding work, but it does make for a busy summer. Which means “schedule the work, and then work the schedule.” Theoretically, all things will go smoothly.

But this is life, so ‘smoothly’ rarely happens.  Messy is more the norm.

As summer continued, additional messy stresses started piling on. I did what I do when in high-stress mode--I firmed up the walls of the schedule, made sure to include pockets of “refuel Ange” time, and kept to it, but now the walls were wall-papered with to-do lists. Somewhere around this time, I suffered a minor injury, which took my escape-from-the-world jogs and bike rides off of the agenda, making life inside of my walls a bit more brittle. 

Then, the week before I was to head to Saugerties with the kids, I lost a close friend. The fact that he was a horse should surprise no one.

I met Pikasso back when I was a working student in GA. He was only 7 then, and a complete southern gentleman. His owner and I became friends, and later, after I had moved to PA, Pikasso sold into my barn. I did not own him, but as a stable manager and trainer, once a horse is in my care, it’s a remarkably short trip from there to my heart.

When a horse passes, few people consider the horse’s stable manager’s need to mourn. But the caregiver spends more time with the horse than anyone, even his owner. I know the horse in a completely different, but no less rich, way than the owner.  When I lose a horse, I feel the loss very, very sharply. The hard part is while I am processing all of those emotions, I have to be support for the owner, often without any support of my own. Crumbling, ranting about the lack of fairness of it all, or just crying about how much I’ll miss him just isn’t an option. Owners can do that, but stable managers don’t get that privilege, because in the eyes of everyone else, he wasn’t my horse.  Which really doesn’t make sense--it’s like saying the only ones who can mourn a human’s passing are their blood relatives. This, of course, is horse pucky. Having known, trained, taught with, cared for, and worried about Pikasso for 17 years, I felt his loss sharply.

Or I should have, but not this time. The rigid walls I’d built to keep my schedule going wouldn’t allow time for mourning. By now the brittle environment inside my  walls had completely sapped my sense of humor, so I started keeping my distance from everyone for fear I say something inappropriate.

I went to Dressage 4 Kids, and all went really, really well.  I competed Capi and Secret the following weekend, and they were awesome.  On the surface, all was wonderful.

But the problem was the walls. They just didn’t want to come down.  Living inside walls isn’t fun. It feels distant from everything and everyone, emotions feel muted, opinions dip towards apathy. In short, it’s not a happy place.

Months ago, Doug and I had discussed going away for a few days in Aug. As usual, 150 reasons came up why we should skip our getaway, but the getaway was on our schedule, and I was working my schedule, so we went.

We purposely did not plan anything. We booked a hotel near the beach. We slept in until the scandalous time of 7, then looked at a map and decided where to wander. 

And without a schedule to hold the walls up, they began to relax. I began to relax. I caught myself smiling and laughing with my husband.

Our final morning, I went to watch the tide roll in one more time.  I stood, and as the waves crashed around me, I felt the tears finally begin to flow.  There, watching the sun come up, I said goodbye to my friend.

Then, in a messy, delightfully disorganized manner of life, a pod of dolphins began to leap and play. The balance of that free, wonderful play against the sadness of my loss reminded me that although the bitter cost of losing a horse is very high, the joy of loving them and sharing life with them is worth it.