Mary & Lovey
How an anxious horse healed my anxious heart.
Throughout my childhood, I always loved horses. From the time I was 8 years old, when I took my first horse camp at Sunshine Farms and rode Cinnamon, a clunky, dun quarter horse mix, I was hooked. I would spend every weekend at the barn: riding, mucking out stalls, helping my trainer with the horses. When I wasn’t riding, I was thinking about horses. I read books on horses, I subscribed to magazines about horses, I watched, along with 50 other people in the entire world, show-jumping on television on Saturday afternoons and, of course, like any self-respecting horse-obsessed little girl, I collected as many Breyer horses as I could and proudly displayed them in my bedroom. I even started the first Horse Club in Baton Rouge whose members consisted of me and my best friend, Claudia. Our meetings were held in the oppressively hot and sweaty attic above my parents garage. Shockingly, our membership never increased and we were forced to close our doors. I don’t think either of us minded too much since the threat of heat exhaustion was ever-present during our meetings.
When I turned 11, a tsunami of anxiety and terror crashed onto the beaches of my innocence. It wasn’t entirely unforeseen. Our family went through series of significant losses and my parents found themselves emotionally numb and ill-equipped to handle the volume and intensity of my emotions which were unrelenting. This was also the onset of what has been a life-long struggle with anxiety and panic.
During those years, my riding suffered. Incapacitated by fear, I was terrified of falling, being run away with or losing control. My anxiety was crippling. In every aspect of my life, tidal waves of panic and fear suffocated me. I saw doctors, social workers, psychiatrists and was eventually hospitalized during the fall of 7th grade for my unmanageable anxiety. This experience transformed me. It hardened me to my emotions and to being vulnerable and l learned that keeping myself safe meant keeping myself contained and walled-off from the intense emotions that had brought me to this dark place.
Eventually I got out of the hospital and I immediately got back to riding. It was the only place I felt normal. No one was going to make fun of me or treat me like a crazy person at the barn. Middle school is always tough but it’s much worse when you happen to spend a few weeks in a psychiatric institution. And I think, intuitively, I knew that riding was the one thing that would heal me.
The Christmas following my hospitalization my parents gave me my first horse. Her name was Lovey and she was a beautiful bay Arabian. She was young, around 6 years old, and was definitely NOT a “school master.” Lovey was a spirited, sometimes wild, nimble, smart, delicate horse that had a big personality. In a way, she was like me and was very much my mirror.
It took some time, many tears, a few bruises and a lot of grit but as the months wore on, Lovey and I got to know each other and started to trust each other. And I began to love this horse. Lovey was my confidant and my constant; I told her everything that I was too afraid to tell anyone else. She gently demanded that I show up for her and she proved herself over and over again by being there for me. In a way, Lovey was my very first true love. She taught me about patience, presence, humility, confidence, strength, determination and trust. Our partnership truly evolved into this beautiful union of souls and brought me out of a very dark time.
I can honestly say that the most important things I’ve learned about being human, I learned from a horse. There is something absolutely undeniable about the connection that riders have with their horses. The bonds that are forged are non verbal but require more communication and presence than most human relationships.
I left the sport when I went off to college. It took me 22 years to return to it, but getting back in the saddle felt like coming home and I know I have so much more to learn from these incredible animals. Lovey taught me so much, and revealed the power of the human-horse connection to me. She literally saved my life at a time when I was completely lost and I will forever be grateful that our paths crossed when they did. I now look forward to what my next Lovey will reveal to me.