Monday, January 29, 2018

Head, Heart, Soul

When I brought three horses into my life, I worried how I would manage to keep them all in some level of work to maintain a high level of fitness. I figured it may take some time and a bit of juggling, but I'd find a rhythm. And, eventually, I did.

But another worry still plagued the corners of my mind - would I be able to maintain a healthy partnership/relationship with each horse? How would my mind categorize them? Would a distinct "favorite" rise above the others? Would I end up spending more time with one vs. the others? Would three prove too much for me in terms of maintaining fitness and an individual relationship?

When I had just two horses, it was easy because of the dichotomy that existed between Q and Griffin. It was easy to think of them and work with them wholly and independently of one another.

I knew adding a third horse to the mix would be more complicated. And for awhile, it was. My mind struggled to categorize and find balance between not only each horse's workload, but the manner in which they fulfilled a certain riding need/niche for me. But as time went on, I found that my relationship with each horse settled very nicely into rather clichΓ© categories...


Since Q entered my life in 2012, she has been - and continues to be - my biggest challenge. While she is a great work partner, she is also a very sensitive soul who fusses over the tiniest things.

Gallop through a river? Okay, sure, says Q.

Q doesn't give things freely or easily. She makes me work for everything. But that work isn't physical, oh no, it's something much more difficult. She makes me THINK.

Dolly Sods vistas

Q challenges me mentally. For years, I've categorized her as a "mental challenge" in my mind. She's a headcase and has drug me along with her for a wild mental trip more times than I care to count. I know that the issues Q has aren't so much her own as mine. She has baggage, certainly, but the trouble we continually run into comes from my inability to help her work through her baggage due to my own troubles.

L-O-L our very first LD. Carrying way too many things and wearing so many colors.

She challenges me and pushes me to the end of my limits, flushing raw emotions from me despite my every attempt to keep them in. I hate it, and I love it, and I recognize that it makes me a better person every time.

The day after I brought her home.

This little mare has caused me more grief and anxiety than any horse I've ever ridden or worked with. She has made me dig deeper as a horseperson -  and as a human - than any animal or human has ever done. Because of her, I've learned to read nonverbal communications of both horses and humans at an acute level. Because of her, I've learned to check my baggage at the proverbial door when I enter new situations. Because of her, I've learned - and am learning - to quell my emotions, especially my frustration, to a very zen level. Because of her, I'm much more self-aware and emotionally intelligent than I ever could have been without her.

Jump demo for elementary school kids on the playground I grew up playing on
and fantasizing about running and jumping my own horse. Talk about childhood dream come true.

For as many lows as I have experienced because of my troubles with this horse, I have experienced an equal number of highs. She's opened doors for me that I'd only ever dreamed of. The biggest accomplishment we've had together is the Old Dominion 100 - and it was no "gimme"! Reflecting on the final mile of that ride still makes me tear up. That horse made me work right along with her (mentally) for that ride, but she gave me her all.

And of course, the OD 100, the biggest and most amazing accomplishment I've tackled to date.

While I've threatened her with a new zip code numerous times (and promised myself I'd follow through if things didn't look up before the end of this year), I've never followed through. Despite every challenge she's presented me, Q fulfills my head unlike any other horse. And for that, I will be forever grateful.


"Heart horse" is a term that is commonly heard among horse people. Many have, or have had, a heart horse. Some are still waiting. And others still are lucky to have had more than one heart horse in their lifetime.

Younger versions of all of us in 2011, including a very dark & fluffy Kenai

I've known for over a decade, that Stan was my heart horse. The hours upon days upon weeks upon years I spent with that horse during my teens bonded us more than anything else could have. My rides with Stan rarely included spoken words. We simply flowed with one another. He was intimately attuned to my every thought, wish, and desire.

3 (2)
We'll ignore that I didn't wear a helmet for several years and
instead focus on those extremely loose reins and his happy ears...
The level of trust I had in this horse was insane.

My riding aids back then were largely what felt right more than what "should be". I didn't have enough riding instruction to know how to "properly" ask for a transition, a half halt, etc. I just did whatever felt right in the moment and Stan responded in like.

Never had a jumping lesson in my life, but I watched a lot of TV and read a lot of magazines lol

I imagine it's like how many Native Americans learn to ride. It's not so much about the minutia of riding as the overall mindset and relationship that develops between rider and horse. The connection is unlike anything else.

Gah, look how dreamily fit he was circa August 2007

Stan and I had, and have, a great relationship. We're both independent of one another, yet totally in tune with each other. He isn't as "up" as Q or Griffin, but he's still "with" me on our rides. The unadulterated joy I felt while riding him at RBTR 2017 is a testament to that! Q's gifted me with many amazing endurance rides during our years together, but the happiness I felt while riding Stan last year was on another level from the enjoyment I've garnered from my rides with Q.

July 2017

Stan is my heart. He has helped pull me out of more "funks" than I can count. Of special note, he's helped me regain faith in my abilities as a rider this past year as I struggled with baggage from Q's spooking habit. He's retaught me that it is fun to go fast and that I can put all of my faith in my equine partner to not drop or toss me when the going gets tough.

August 2017 @ RBTR

No matter how many horses come into my life, Stan will always hold a place near and dear to my heart.


Heart horse is a "thing", certainly. But what about a horse that goes beyond your heart? One that you not only connect with so well that the majority of your rides are incredible, but that also makes some deeper part of you feel home?

20170711 sunset
This scene is an accurate representation of the magical happiness this horse gives me

That's what Griffin is for me. Every time I see him in the field, a part of me just clicks into place and the world seems right. It's hard to explain beyond saying I just feel home when I'm with him.

2015 pole work

His temperament is unlike any other horse I've spent time with. I'm sure a lot of that stems from the fact that I've raised him from the ground up and literally taught him everything he knows. Regardless of that, he has an absolutely insatiable need to please. He wants to be with me no matter what. It doesn't matter if I worked the snot out of him the day prior, he's always the first to come to me in the field and, more often than not, he will walk halterless to the barn from the field with me and Stan or Q.

20170908 Griffin Goldenrod-7
Wildflower frolicking

Griffin is [almost] always on board with what I want to do. Endurance, jumping, dressage, games, bareback, trail riding, driving. You name it, he's up for it and will give me his best effort. He's got his preferences, certainly, but despite those he gives me his all with each thing we try.

He looked so sharp in that burgundy harness

Of the disciplines we have dabbled in so far, Griffin comes most alive for jumping. Since he was a little tyke he's gravitated toward jumps. I've taken my dear sweet time honing our skills within jumping and otherwise, but jumping is still the thing that makes his ears go up more than anything else!

At our last HT

Griffin has taken me places I never thought I'd go (dressage lessons, cross country schooling, dressage schooling shows, and unrecognized HTs) and has superseded all of my dreams as a rider outside of endurance. I didn't set the bar too high to begin with, but that's because I never dreamed I'd have an option to set the bar higher! But now I do, and now I am setting my sights on slightly more lofty goals.

Ditches ain't a problem

We may take awhile to reach those goals, but every step of the journey will be enjoyable. Every step of my 6 years so far with this horse has been incredible.

That expression is still the same, everything else is vastly improved. Oh Grif, you were so hideous.

I never dreamed that the ugly "free project" yearling would take me to these places, or that I would evolve and grow so much as a person and equestrian because of him, but here we are. Griffin has exceeded everyone's imaginations.

20170711 sunset-4
I love him

I'm so grateful for this gelding and all we've accomplished together. He is truly a gift and I'm so excited for all of the adventures to come.

: : : : :

How about you? Have you had/do you have different horses that fulfill different niches for you? Did it take you awhile to realize they filled those positions, or maybe you knew right away the kind of relationship you could expect? Maybe you haven't thought about this at all before, but your mind is turning now - how would you classify your relationship with your current equine partner?


  1. What a beautiful post ❤️ you're so very blessed to have these amazing horses that each complement and challenge you in very special ways! And then to be able to articulate it so well -- wow!

  2. aww <3 so many special horses, and i love how each of them have filled their very own special, unique niche. they're lucky to have such a dedicated and thoughtful person like you!

    having only bought my first horse just over a year ago, i much of the last two decades getting to build new and important partnerships with a huge variety of horses. from the sainted schoolies i loved, to the greenies i helped put miles on, to the problem children that only the bold teenagers wanted to deal with, to my first lease horse... there have been so many special horses in there. so many memories.

    1. So many special horses! I think it's really cool that you've been able to experience so many different horses before Charlie entered your life. I'm sure the lessons the others lent you have benefited your journey with Charlie ❤️

  3. I've had a couple who have been truly special to me, my current Bridget pony being one...and even so after 3 years I think our partnership and her meaning to me are still pretty fluid concepts. Your post is beautiful, what a lovely herd of horses :)

    1. I understand having a fluid-concept-meaning after so many years! It was at least 3 years, but more like 4 or 5 before I really started understanding/appreciating Q better. Mares!

  4. I think Nilla and my relationship is much like yours with Q. She's the most challenging equine I've ever owned and yet I keep on going with her. My heart horse is gone. I don't know what Levi is to me; I'm still trying to figure that out.

    1. Aw, Nilla. I love the relationship you two have! She's got such a huge personality and you handle it so well. I'm sure Levi will fall into his own niche with time!

  5. I love this so much! Lucy is my heart - we spent those teenage years together and she's almost a sibling to me at this point. I communicate with her much in the same way I talk to my best friend. I don't know what Coorina was... she was almost a guardian? She led me through so much fear and let me find the fun in horses again. It was almost like she was a wise spirit, something like Mother Nature.

    1. Ooohh I love the almost-sibling and guardian labels ❤️ The communication types with both sound so wonderful. How lucky you are!

      You've got me thinking back over horses from my childhood wondering if there is a guardian, wise-spirit type in there somewhere.

  6. Love the way you put this into words. πŸ’ž And, I loved the opportunity to ogle some absolutely stunning photos!

    1. Thanks =) It was so much fun to go through old photos for this post!

  7. I love this post more than I can say. The way that you summed up your horses really struck home with me.

  8. Love this!! I’ve only had Gem and sometimes I wish she was my heart horse but I know deep down she isn’t. I love her and she what’s given me more than I ever dreamt of, but after 8 years it is still a struggle with her somedays and we are rarely on the same page. I’d do it all over again with her though

    1. I can't wait for the day you find your heart horse. For all the trials, tribulations, and lessons Gem has taught you, you've definitely earned lots of brownie points toward finding your heart horse. ❤️ It's going to be so fun to hear about him or her one day.

  9. love that all three of your horses are so special in their own way. You are very lucky to have not just one but three horses that fit into your life JUST RIGHT! Kudos to you (and omg baby eyes, my eyes LOL, just kidding)! What a baby ha ha ha:) Looking forward to see what happens this year with you and your three amigos :)

    1. LMAO! He was pretty ugly - especially in his knappy winter coat! My BO STILL tells me on a monthly basis how much she was convinced he'd never be pretty. "He was just so...UGLY....hideous, really!" Thanks, Dee, appreciate it lmao

    2. he is adorable now so ugly duckling= swan (it is the other way that is bad when you have a gorgeous baby that grows up to be ummm not so nice? I have seen that!!) LOL

  10. This was so beautiful. Thanks for reminding me to value each of my beasties in turn. Also, your photos are gorgeous.

  11. I love this!! I wrote a very similar post recently about my mares. They each do fulfill parts of you and guide you in ways that you never knew you needed to work on. :-)

    1. You're so right! They help me in ways I never knew I needed. Horses...they may be expensive and frustrating at times, but the lessons and gifts they've given me over the years are absolutely worth it.

    2. Agreed! Worth every penny. Honest to God, I am a much better person now that I have this critter in my life. Like, I can not put into words how the difference between me now and me one to five years ago.

  12. This made me tear up and got me thinking in new ways too. Soulhorse <3

    1. πŸ’•πŸ’• I mean, soul horse should totally be a thing!

  13. Loved this post! It was really great getting a glimpse of all your horses and your journey with them. On a lighter note- holy hell Griffin was ugly! I can't believe that's the same horse- he's so majestic now!!!

    <3 Kelly @ HunkyHanoverian

    1. I literally just about died laughing at this πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ He was definitely an unattractive thing!

  14. What a ways you have come! I saw that cart in the barn just the other day and wondered about it. It looks fun and super dangerous, lol!

    1. OMG I know. I need to finish repairing the shaft and replace the wheel (I have all the materials I'm just lazy AF). Might try to give it to Dan...I dunno!

  15. This post made me cry <3 Such a beautiful way to describe each horse and how they fit into your life. I love the "soul" horse definition. I've never thought of it that way before <3

  16. <3 This post gave me feels.

    Courage was definitely my Q--pushed me so hard, but profoundly changed me as a person in a really positive way. I don't have your capacity to keep multiple horses at the same time, but I love how you relate to them all differently.

    1. Courage is the absolute definition of a mental/head horse! I love seeing the lessons he taught you come out in your work with Zoe though. It was neat to hear about them as they happened, but the way they're manifesting into a bigger picture now is really cool to read about ❤