Originally posted on Academie Duello’s blog in October 2011
It’s almost never good news when the phone rings before your alarm clock; and that was true for me last Tuesday when I found out my father had died. After the shock, the many phone calls, and one last visit to say goodbye, I took what was left of the morning and headed to the barn.
There is nothing like the smell of a horse’s breath, the plushy warmth of her newly growing winter coat, the swing of her back beneath me and the rhythmic clop of her feet on the hard ground to take me out of myself: away from worries, obligations, anger and grief. No matter how tough my day, no matter the piles of work on my desk or tangles of troubles elsewhere in my life, I always return from a ride centred, calmer, and better able to cope with whatever life tosses my way.
There are scientific theories as to why this is: electrostatic charges created by petting a furry animal make us feel better; the rhythm of a horse’s gait releases oxytocin by echoing the feeling of being rocked in the womb. All I know is that when I was a kid and a dog or cat died, I hopped onto my Shetland pony’s bare back and let his short strides carry me away from my tears. When I was full of intolerable teen angst my beautiful black Thoroughbred and I would fly full out down the back fields until the only tears left were the ones caused by the wind in my face.
Horses are a lot of work, a huge responsibility, and a high-priced hobby. This last week I’ve been reminded that what they give us in return is invaluable.