Happy, Healthy, & Horsey: Transitions

“What makes you dizzingly happy?”

That question, posed to me recently, stopped me in my tracks.  I consider myself to be, overall, a fairly happy person. A bit on the high-strung side, (hence my stress eating issues), but, overall, fairly happy. #alphamares

Lots of things make me happy.

Snow makes me happy enough to giggle like a little girl, but only because we have so little of it in beautiful East Tennessee it’s a fun treat instead of a months-long ordeal. Giggly happy. But not “dizzingly” happy.

My little cabin in the woods, in a recent snowstorm. Photo by Esther Roberts.

Happy horses with plenty of hay, all snug in the barn during the winter, makes me happy. And grateful. But – raw honesty – even this does not make me”dizzingly” happy.

Yearling Gil nomming his hay while the snow falls. Photo by Esther Roberts.

Feeling good about my self-image, my appearance, my fitness, and my overall health – all this makes me happy. And I imagine, at my goal size, all these things will make me very happy. Perhaps even “dizzingly” so, but I won’t know ’til I get there. At my present weight and level of fitness, well – raw honesty – not so much.

As I pondered this “dizzingly happy” question, for, seriously, days, it occurred to me that the following things make me extremely happy, ecstatic-ly happy, dizzingly happy.

  1.  An animal in need getting rescued.
  2.  Feeling understood.
  3.  Creating something beautiful (be it a written piece, music, jewelry, just anything creative).
  4.  Helping someone in need (extra-dizzingly happy if I can do so anonymously).
  5.  Bonding with an animal.

Kaliwohi in his stall on a snowy day. Photo by Esther Roberts.

Speaking of bonding, I have worked diligently for almost five years to build a bond with my beloved mustang, Kaliwohi. He is my big, goofy, lapdog on the ground – a total lovebug, treat hound, and all around gentle pocket pony.

Early on in his training, he plowed over me in the crossties. Later on, he bolted off on (and broke) the lunge line. Countless times, he’s shied or spooked under saddle; most times, I’ve ridden it out, but, as anyone who’s kept up with this column knows, last spring, Kiwi bolted one too many times and I’m still recovering from my “unplanned dismount,” at full-speed-gallop, no less, into a six-foot steel stock panel.

I healed up well enough just before Christmas to climb aboard Kaliwohi and we enjoyed a lovely ride. Upon dismounting, however, my leg and hip indicated that things were not at all completely healed, and back to rehab I went.

I could write paragraphs on all the advice I’ve received (most of it unsolicited; some of it unkind), various gadgets and gimmicks to try, and all sorts of nonsense regarding how to “show him who’s boss.”

But, in the end, Yvonne Barteau’s wisdom in her book, Ride The Right Horse (emphasis mine) makes the most sense to me. I am not a competitive rider. I have never been a bold or fearless rider. My “day job” as an attorney provides all the competition and stress I care to handle, thankyouverymuch. I ride for one reason and one reason only: relaxation and fun. (okay, okay, that’s technically two reasons, but go with me here, k?)

So here’s the thing: while riding gives me joy, riding correctly is also a ton of work, because you’re focused on a bazillion things – like seat bones and dozens of muscles working in various directions and correct breathing and soft eyes and quiet hands and contact and bend and stretching and focus and listening and ask/receive/give and on and on and on.


Just being around horses makes me, you guessed it, dizzingly happy. 

That is why I do not think twice about getting up in the pre-dawn darkness when the polar vortex is upon us and chiseling away at frozen horse-apple-piles to get the barn clean each and every morning before my workday officially begins. Feeding and grooming and hearing the horses munch contentedly on their hay, enjoying those sights and smells and sounds – all these things make me happy beyond words.

Kaliwohi is a mustang I adopted from the BLM. Had I not done so, would he still be languishing out west in an overcrowded “holding pen”? I have no idea. But this I do know, beyond all doubt: my mustang is happy, and healthy, and 100% content to gambol around my farm with his horsey pals. He is a good boy, despite being very much – to coin a Barteau-esque phrase – a fear-full wild animal.

Kaliwohi always, always, always wants the security of his herd and he will move heaven and earth to get to them when he feels frightened. I always, always, always want the security of knowing my horse is relatively bomb-proof; this rider wants a happy-go-lucky plodding packer who will saunter along the trail while we both relax and enjoy the birds and wildflowers in the mountains. That sort of riding makes me “dizzyingly happy.” Otherwise, I am far happier interacting with horses on the ground than feeling like I’m sitting on a ticking timebomb under saddle.

So I’m giving myself permission to transition to not riding Kiwi until I choose to do so. Maybe that will be later this year. Maybe he’ll get to loaf, safe and sound, with my retired mare, Lady Grace, for the rest of his days. I don’t know. But I am releasing myself from all my self-imposed pressure and expectations that have haunted me since the crash. I am allowing myself to transition to the point of peace. Kaliwohi is a great horse and I will keep him and love him forever. Raw honesty: he is not the right horse for this rider, at least not at the present time.

What made me come to this realization? Sadly, another transition. A young couple I know are walking through the hardest transition of all: the husband was transitioned to hospice care this week. His young wife and two small children will soon transition to a moment of loss so overwhelmingly profound I cannot even put it into words.

When I learned of his transition to hospice, I spent many hours lost in thought, wandering around my farm in the snow, wondering how in heaven’s name I could have wasted so many precious moments over the past several months fretting over “to ride or not to ride,” “am I good enough,” “am I thin enough,” “am I a coward,” “have I lost my nerve,” and a thousand other worries that evaporate into the nothingness of trivia when viewed through the lens of a genuine crisis.

The positivity clothing company Life Is Good‘s tag line is, “do what you love, love what you do.” If I were to modify that tag line, it would go something like this: “Do what you love, love what you do, every second of every minute of every hour of every day of your magnificent, wonderful journey of life!”

Given how precious each and every day of life truly is, I think it would behoove all of us to ask ourselves this question:

“What makes you dizzingly happy?”

Go do that.


Go Riding!

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