I leaned against the rail in the morning sun, watching Willow gobble the handful of pellets and supplements that comprised her breakfast. Her chestnut coat glistened, and I never would have recognized her as the starved and shaggy mare I’d rescued 2 years before.
The knot in my stomach tightened. I still couldn’t do more than walk and trot with her, and a long line of voices from my past insisted that I was a failure as a horse person. I was a fraud. A shadow of guilt and shame followed me to the barn, each time I came out. I had all these plans for her, and didn’t have the ability to make any of them happen. I should be cantering with her, doing lead changes, going on trail rides, or at least riding her regularly. I wasn’t. Since Halley’s injury, I found every excuse to avoid riding Willow, and the truth of it was, she hated me riding her, and I just couldn’t figure out a way around that.
Breakfast finished, I opened the gate, let the other horses out of their stalls, and gathered up the feed bowls. Willow and Halley each came over for scratches, and I sat on the edge of the hay manger, listening to them munch their hay, while I poked at this sore spot inside me. Halley had loved our time riding together, and it was pure joy to share that with her. I’d never ride her again though. Her deformed hind leg was barely strong enough to carry her, and it was a miracle that she was still with us.
I played with the idea of sending Willow to someone I knew, to help her get over the hump of her past abuse, but that felt wrong. Like I was missing the point. I just felt guilty every time I thought of what I hadn’t accomplished with her.
The barn was the place I went to find peace, as back in the old farmhouse, my marriage was coming apart. I was squirming around, looking for somewhere in my life that didn’t feel terrifying or gut wrenching, and it wasn’t working.
My mind went back to the question that I had just begun to articulate, “Is it okay for me to be?”
So far, the answer was a resounding, “NO”.
I had to be who my husband needed me to be, and not need more from life, or ask for too much, or let myself grow.
I had to be a good Christian, go to church, don’t cuss, don’t listen to my old music, be nice.
I had to be a good mom. That one felt better… my heart was there, but it was hard to be the mom I wanted to be when I was living small and shut down.
What if… what if it was okay for me to BE?
The thought scared me more than almost anything else. My throat tightened, and it was hard to breathe. Because if that was okay, it meant that the rest of my life was not.
I pushed that thought down. I could only take a peek at a time.
Willow stopped eating her hay and pushed her chest into my legs, asking for more scratches. As my fingers found her itchy spots, and she reached out her neck and jaw, savoring the touch, I had another thought.
What if it was okay for her to be?
Tears burned my eyes. I couldn’t say yes to me yet, but maybe I could say yes to her.
What would that look like?
What would that mean?
The knot in my stomach unclenched a fraction, and I took a tentative breath. What if… she wasn’t wrong? What if… she was telling me the truth about where she was, and what she needed from me? What if… I could let go of my need to prove something through her, and instead, build a relationship with her; no agendas, no performance?
I wrapped my arms around her thick neck, and breathed in her scent. She pulled back and looked at me askance, so I went back to scratching the itchy spot in the grove under her neck.
Maybe, I wasn’t the one with something to teach her. Maybe she was the one here to teach me. And maybe, just maybe, we both could heal along the way.