In a previous life, I owned a bay thoroughbred gelding. His name was Dandy. Originally from the racetrack, he had been purchased and retrained for a 14 year old girl. She quickly outgrew his limited potential as a jumper, so was put up for sale, at about the same time my friend and I had decided to buy a horse. After a year of weekly lessons, we yearned for a personal steed of our own to nurture and care for. Keeping a horse is not cheap in northeastern New Jersey, so we pooled our money and went off to find someone who would sell us a horse.
We bought Dandy for $100, including the saddle. There’s a sucker born every moment.
All you horse people out there, have a laugh on us….
The scars on his legs told a story of a rough time at the track in this horse’s earlier years, but once we got him, he was coddled, groomed, fed, petted and fussed over. We bought him a winter blanket that had tough canvas on one side, and FLEECE on the other. Nothing too good for Dandy. We brought him apples every day, combed the knots from his long tail, washed the spring mud off him, bought him shoes every month, more than we were able to do for ourselves. We were finally horse owners, no longer limited to one hour a week lessons. We could go up to the barn any time we wanted, saddle up and ride away into the sunset.
There was one problem. Dandy was barn sour. Which means that he was great while you were riding in the ring, responsive and yielding and soft. He would even pop over a few rails now and then on his own, just for fun. But take him through the gate and onto the trail into the woods, and we had a wild, snorting stallion exploding under our legs. All he wanted to do was run back to the barn, RIGHT NOW. We tried everything. We led him from the ground, whispering encouragement into his twitching ears, we ponied him beside other trail-happy horses, which seemed to work okay as long as you didn’t mind sitting on a high voltage electrical current with a brain. He was terrified. The other barn people tried to help. More experienced riders pushed him out day after day, but he always came back drenched and foaming with fear. Poor Dandy. He had spent so many years in the artificial enclosures of barns and race tracks, rings and corrals that he could not face the freedom that was his birthright. He was an equine agoraphobic.
We finally gave up the airs above the ground and just played with him in the ring. On the days we did not ride him, he hung out with his horsey pals. After two years, my friend and I made the decision to give him to a family who needed a companion for their pony. All he had to do was hang out in a large paddock with his new pal and munch hay. A part of my heart went with him.
All this to say, I have discovered that, like Dandy, I am a little barn sour.
I was looking forward to packing for my upcoming trip to Belize, but now that the process has begun, I am seized by a strange anxiety, like my feet can’t touch the ground. It feels like a thousand bees are stinging my spirit. I know what it is. I have become accustomed to my daily life on my own trail back and forth to work and to weekends. I talk about traveling, and in fact, love to travel. Let’s just say, there are “limited opportunities” so it does not happen very often. My normal, every day is familiar, predictable, safe. I know where things are. I know how to drive from point A to point B. The thousand tasks of a single day are done mindlessly, comfortingly.
But next Saturday, the chain will slide off the gate. I will be facing open country.