Russinka wrote in, a long time reader who had a story to share. She was unsure of her writing -- which I thought was quite strong -- I am so glad she didn't decide not to send it.
How many of us have had horses drag us up from the dark? Sometimes I think about how many troubled souls have kept their footing because of a good horse. Why are so many of us trapped in our minds attracted to horses?
Of course then I think, how sad is it more of us can't find horses and the benefit of soft, sweet, hay scented breath whuffing our cheek on a cold winter day.
|Ruby - 28 years|
I hope to hell that my parents never discover just how much they owe my horses.
Mostly because it’ll mean yet another councillor type person poking around in my head for the next six months, putting band aids on my mental wounds before the sessions get shorter and further apart. In twelve they’ll have stopped altogether, in eighteen months the band aids will have fallen off leaving the unhealed marks behind and I’ll be in another dark place with no one I trust to lead me out it.
Multiple councillors have taught me that I can’t trust them. Partly because I seem open and honest enough that they never dig any deeper than the surface and partly because in the beginning I don’t trust them enough offer much more than the surface scratchings.
Though to be fair I don’t think that the first three honestly thought that a girl my age (eight, ten and twelve respectively) would actually consider killing herself. Especially one who, aside from being bullied at school, grew up in a loving family environment with lots of support from her parents (who were shielded from most of what went on).
I was that awkward horsey girl who had no friends and desperately wanted to fit in but lacked the social skills to do it. Horses were the only thing that kept me going in that time, a once a week lesson with the daughter of one of my father’s friends was my only bright spot.
I couldn’t stop the other children from hating me or the dark clouds which often came over me but I could make Pancho like me with a few carrots and scratch behind the ear. On his back I could chase the clouds away, even going at his slowest riding-school-horse walk. It was the closest thing I’d had to total serenity even when he was being a naughty pony.
The lessons stopped about a year after they had started. Pancho was getting old and his owners had decided that it was time to retire him. The girl who was teaching me had a very green anglo-arab and a very old retired mare. There was nothing for me to ride and because my parents could barely spare the ten dollars a week they paid for my lessons as it was a professional riding school was out.
I retreated into books after that, mostly horsey and a bit of fantasy. The library was my safe haven. Somewhere to escape the cruel playground and somewhere to (sort of) connect the horses I’d lost. The bullying got worse and a little before my ninth birthday I started to think that I’d be better off dead.
Anything to make it stop. At that age I didn’t know much about death; only that the family pets whose bodies I’d seen looked peaceful and calm, in a kind of permanent sleep. I craved that. I plotted ways of going about it and I wrote goodbye notes which were hidden in my desk draw, the only place my Mother would never go into when she cleaned my room.
And then one day my father made me promise that I hope he will never know saved my life because I have no doubt that I would have gone through with it. He promised me a horse; a horse of my very own before my fifteenth birthday. It gave me something to work towards; all I had to do was hold on until then because my father never broke his promises. If he said I’d have a horse then I’d have a horse.
I began to see the bullies in a whole new light, I was still terrified of them and the violence they subjected me to but they were standing between me and my horse.
It became a power play between them and I, even if they didn’t know it. I convinced myself that I could handle anything they threw at me. It sort of worked, their words stopped meaning so much and weren’t as painful as they had once been but their punches, kicks and scratches combined with the new exclusion policy they’d adopted hurt more than ever.
The storm clouds were also gathering and they weren’t so easy to chase away. Many nights I’d sob myself to sleep without even knowing why. Sometimes my mother would hear me crying and come to sooth me to sleep. She’d ask what the problem was and I, not knowing what to tell her, would mention some small incident that had happened at school that day.
I survived primary school and started secondary school with the storm clouds and horses making occasional visits into my life. Fortnightly lessons at a local riding school started then stopped by my own choice after one of the instructors broke her ankle in an accident that could have been avoided if she hadn’t been riding a breaker while leading a trail ride with a bunch of novice kids on ponies. I stole rides on friend’s horses.
My fifteenth birthday was at a time when I was pretty close to being happy, there were no clouds and the boys who gave me hell the year before were too busy staring at my new boobs to be harassing me. My fellow year nine girls were too busy chasing year ten boys to care that the boys were slightly interested.
It was probably just as well that I was happy as no horse arrived. I was disappointed but not as broken as I could have been. I guess I thought I’d beaten both the bullies and the clouds.
An old shuffling stockhorse mare wandered into my life a few months later. Ruby turned out to be a registered thoroughbred that also had Australian stock horse papers and was four years older than advertised. Like many slightly skinny horses, once the good feed was poured into her and her feet were trimmed, she became a fire cracker under saddle and wasn’t really suitable for a novice.
I stopped riding her. A few nasty falls put paid to my gung-ho attitude with horses and by that point in time I wasn’t mentally capable of riding anyway.
During the storms of my younger years the idea of owning a horse had made me get up in the morning and walk out into them. I was normally mentally soaked to the bone, had been zapped by lightning and struggled to make myself walk into them. The storms after I got Ruby were different. It was like having a rain coat, I couldn’t stop the storms or make it rain less but I didn’t get as wet and it was easier to walk in them. I had a proper reason to drag myself into the outside world and get up in the morning.
The fifteen minutes I spent feeding her in the morning would give me enough strength to get to school. What happened after I got there didn’t matter. It only mattered that I’d made it there.
The half an hour in the evening was enough to recharge me after school. In spite of what my Mother might say about her being a useless old freeloader (Rubes just turned twenty eight and is very happy as a paddock ornament) she gave me sanity and a dry place to stand when I couldn’t even trust my own mind. When the time comes I’ll return the favour by making sure she goes with the dignity she deserves.
Ruby isn’t the only horse who kept me functioning during the bad weather that infected my brain. Missy, Red, Harley, Folly and Tame (whose only good quality was that he led me to end up with Jimmy) all had their fair share of tears in their manes and a desire to survive whispered in their ears.
I’ve currently got Jimmy, a 16yo Standardbred gelding. For the most part he doesn’t like being cuddled, fussed over and is perfectly happy if hay is thrown at him twice a day with a small hard feed. He does however seem to know when I’m struggling with it all and then he’ll become a second shadow, barely letting me out of his sight.
I’m currently battling my way through a diploma course which I hate, surrounded by a bunch of bitchy girls who hate me and the darkness is once again lapping at my heels. I’ve got my little bay horse to help me keep it away this time and I think for the time being I’m going to be ok. Ruby might have given me shelter from the storms but Jimmy gives me a reason to fight my way through them.
Come the summer the course will be over, I’ll hopefully be ready to ride again and there is a forty kilometre training ride with our names on it in the New Year. It won’t be all sunshine and rainbows but there’ll be enough to balance out the storms. I’ll be happy with that.