Like most women who suffer from a life-long obsession with horses (and yes, I meant to write suffer. My husband could most likely pioneer an argument that our ever-expanding horse bills should be written off as a mental illness. Horse husbands everywhere would applaud him), it was a condition I was born with. While other young girls were quite content to play with barbies and their plastic kitchen sets, I was pigtails deep in some serious paddock politics with my Breyer horses.
My riding as a young girl was mostly a yearly summer trail ride with my father, which are some of my most cherished memories. One of the greatest gifts my father gave me was the love of horses. I will never forget the one summer a young thoroughbred named Moe spoked, and took off with my dad during what was supposed to be a boring, afternoon trail ride. My dad hung on to his mane for dear life and looked scared to death – I still laugh to myself thinking about it. But eventually, my story took the same turn as so many – the Breyer horses got packed away, my summers became full of friends, and the flame in me that connected with horses slowly burned out.
It wasn’t until I had graduated college and was spending time was my relatives at the Ohio state fair that I had an encounter which made me remember my childhood love. I had recently graduated college and was dealing with some personal issues I couldn’t shake – disappointment around some of my life issues, having a degree but absolutely no direction in life (hello, toany recent college grads. Yes, this is normal), and just a general apathy towards my future. While trying to walk off the regrettable amount of funnel cake I had consumed, I came across a barn and just felt an urge in my heart to stop and look around. I locked eyes with a beautiful, black quarter horse who had his curious head poking out the stall door, obviously enjoying the fair goers passing by. While I had no business doing this, I was so drawn to this beautiful creature it was all I could do to walk over to him and pet his sweet face. It just took was that one second – the warmth in his eye, the smell of hay, the way he softly nuzzled my hand – and I was a little girl again, who wanted nothing more than to have a life that involved these majestic, completely intoxicating creatures.
After my trip to the fair and my encounter with Ohio’s very own “Black Beauty”, I found the courage to start taking riding lessons. And yes, it took courage, because we all know the horse world can be cruel and judgmental, especially to those who got their start a little later in life. I rode with a natural horseman for a few months but, in all honestly, switched to English because I like their outfits better. Yes, it wasn’t some internal debate about technique, what’s right for the horse, etc. I just really loved the way dressage riders looked, and obviously felt like my future horse needed a sparkly browband.
After a few years of riding and leasing barn horses, I (for some reason) decided I was ready to buy my own horse. Horse people everywhere, feel free to laugh here.
I remember the first time I sawChanning, one summer night out at a barn in rural Georgia. It’s one of those life defining moments I’ll always look back on, even though I certainly didn’t think so at the time. He was a wildly green, 4yo plain bay thoroughbred, who couldn’t pick up the right lead if his life depended on it. Being a typical adult amateur without a clue of what was important, I had daydreamed my first horse would be a flashy chestnut mare, a regal black warmblood, or basically a real life Spirit, the Stallion of the Cimarron (thanks for setting me up for another unrealistic life fantasy, Disney) Needless to say, I was less than impressed with the quiet gelding right in front of me. I pulled my trainer to the side of the barn, and plainly told her “I’ll lease this horse, but I would never buy him” (words I would soon be eating). Luckily, I had barely enough budget for a failed, plain as day racehorse, and that’s exactly what I needed.
Two weeks after that fateful day, I found myself running to the bank to pull out cash to buy Channing. I don’t know exactly when or how it happened, but I had very quickly, and very deeply, fallen in love with this shy, nervous little horse. When I first looked at him, all I saw were his shortcomings. Too skinny. Too green. Too much work. But when he looked at me, he didn’t see anything wrong with me. He saw me, he really saw who I was – an over emotional, inexperienced rider whowould yank on his mouth, accidentally counter canter him for months, attempt my own personal jump puissance when he was 5yo because I had watched too many YouTube videos of Beezie Madden (the list goes on. you get the point) – and he decided to love me anyway.
I’m not sure if I believe everything happens for a reason, or in fate, but I do believe God brought Channing into my life at a very specific time, for a very specific reason. A few months after I purchased Channing, on a hot summer day while I was driving out to the barn, my father unexpectedly died of a heart attack.
There are no words I can use to accurately describe the despair and heartache that followed for both me and my family. I’m sitting here, trying to explain the sickness I feel inside when I think about it and I can’t. Sometimes I don’t think about it for a few days, then all at once it hits me that he’s gone, and the panic sets in like it’s happening for the first time. The weeks that followed his death are like a dark fog I wish I could forget. I remember thinking I would never feel whole again, would never laugh, would never forgive God. So many nevers.
I will forever be grateful to my needy, young thoroughbred for forcing me back to reality, and to stop me from snowballing down an unhealthy rabbit hole of self-destruction to cope with my pain. With or without a devastating event, I had bought a 4yo ex-racehorse, he was in a self-care barn, and I had a responsibility to him. I couldn’t lie in bed all day with my grief. I had to wake up, I had to clean his stall, I had to feed him. I had to keep moving.
For the months that followed, being with Channing was, without a doubt, the only joy in my life. The hours I spent with him were
the only moments I didn’t feel drowning in pain and anger. As soon as I looked into his big, innocent brown eyes, swung my leg into the saddle, or simply sat and watched him graze, I felt the first tiny glimpse of hope enter my heart. Channing reminded me then, and still reminds me to this day, that there are still beautiful, pure things in this world if we open our hearts to them. Somehow, deep inside of me, I knew If I was able to find joy with him, I would eventually find joy in other things again.
And I did. My life has changed so much in the years since I first bought Channing. I no longer hide in his stall and cry into his mane when I don’t want to face my life. I love my life. I married my best friend, we have a beautiful baby girl and a lovely house right down the road from Channing. I no longer have to wake up at 5am to pick his stall, or have the freedom to right him 6 days a week. I’m lucky if I get to see him twice a week now, but when I do, you better believe I have a silly grin plastered across my face and am thankful for every second of it.
When Mary first showed me the pattern she was thinking of for the “Channing” print, we laughed because it showed horses in various, excited states – bucking, rearing, cantering and well, at that point in his training, Channing was a bit famous for his colorful antics (what OTTB isn’t, right?). When I think about it now though, I realize Channing is really there for ME in every state of my life. Single, married, mother, broken, whole, joyful, – he has stayed with me, and been there for me, every step of the way.
Here’s to the horses that inexplicably and mysteriously touch our hearts, walk alongside us while we heal, force us to be present, and once again bring out the wonder we all felt in our hearts as little girls, innocently playing and daydreaming with our Breyer horses. To me, you are all that and more, my sweet Channing.