The ground slammed into my face; grit in my teeth, glasses flying. I wasn’t surprised at the impact. I’m the one who dove off the mare, just before she threw herself down, trying to dislodge me. The earth shook behind me as her body missed mine. Adrenaline still tastes like that sand; dry and scratchy in my throat, making it hard to breathe.
This was her second attempt to remove me. Minutes before, she had crashed through the post and rail fence, splintering it apart, in her attempt to knock me off. I was quicker with my leg, swinging it above the rail before she could break it. I hated being here, but the only thing I knew to do was to “win”.
After we both stumbled to our feet, the guy working on the ground with me beat the mare until someone pulled him away from her.
Suffice it to say, no one won that day.
These are memories I’m ashamed of. Hiding from them doesn’t make them go away, though. Nor does it lesson their impact on me, and thus on the horses in my life now.
This is not an excuse, but a sad fact… I was doing the best I could with what I had at the time. That the mare and I went on to enjoy each other and work well together, is a testament to her willingness to forgive, and my desperation to find some way to stay alive on her without picking a mare-sized fight.
We all know the saying, “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” When it came to understanding what made horses tick, I didn’t have many subtle tools, and if things got big I was told to take out the hammer. It didn’t fit my hand, and it scared and repulsed me, but I would do ANYTHING to be with horses, and if it meant wielding this tool, then so be it.
I remember standing in line for a movie in the months before the mare and I came to an understanding. As I looked at my fellow moviegoers, and judged them as soft, I felt a sick sort of pride in waking up every morning wondering if this was the day she would kill me. For months I faced down injury or worse each day, and stepped back into the fight with her, and somehow thought this bought me… what?
Can you say, “Something’s wrong here.”?
I was 23 years old, had survived 7 years of sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of a teacher and mentor, and was clawing my way back out of that hell, trying to find a life I could call my own. No small surprise that abuse made sense. It’s how my world had worked.
I just couldn’t be the looser anymore.
But I couldn’t shake the sense of wrongness. Under the pride, below the fear, was the longing to be part of a world that felt ‘right’. And this didn’t.
I had been there. I had been that mare. And there was no sweetness in winning this way. Something was hardening in me, and I didn’t like who I saw in the mirror; didn’t like what it said about the world I lived in, or my place in it.
The will to survive is a powerful force, and the fight within me saved my life. It just wasn’t able to carry me past itself.
It would take another kind of powerful force to help me reclaim who I am, and build a life that felt good to me. It would also take horses.