Happy, Healthy, & Horsey: Chaos & Healing

Amidst the chaos, Esther finds validation.

My desk currently looks like this:

TinyMite, my ExA, is, of course, right in the middle of the chaos. All photos by Esther L. Roberts.

And all that mess does not include the stacks on the sofa next to my desk, or the stacks in the floor. Some of this chaos is lawyerin’ work to be done. Some of it is correspondence that is overdue. There are books to be read and reviewed, articles and books to be written, article and book ideas scribbled on scraps of paper (because both TinyMite and I allowed us to run out of sticky notes, somehow…), a freestyle that needs editing for a really great gaited dressage team, a few hundred emails to deal with… aaaaaand it’s Easter week so outside the view of this photo, there’s a piano with music sitting on it — music that I have yet to learn. Oh, and unexpectedly, family from out of town is dropping in for a couple of days, and I have chaplain duty for 24 hours straight starting Friday at 6:00 a.m. #MyCrazyLife

My natural tendency is to fall apart when surrounded by chaos. But, like Monty Python, “I’m getting better.”

These days, the pace of my life is so insanely fast, I have no choice but to handle whatever issue is time critical at that moment, and deal with organization and clean up later. I don’t “do” stadium jumping, but I can empathize with the teams in a final round these days, with their tight turns and angular approaches to seemingly impossibly high hurdles.

So what does any of this have to do with horses?

Our local therapeutic riding academy, S.T.A.R. has been around for nearly thirty years. They do incredible work with differently-abled people, including U.S. veterans. S.T.A.R. has a wait list, because they need more horses. And some of their wonderful long-term animals are starting to age out of service.

Recently, some of S.T.A.R.’s staff and I had a conversation about three horses who live on my farm who might be suitable mounts for rehabilitative and therapeutic riding. Two of those horses, Caleb and Bonnie, are long-term residents of the 501(c)(3) animal sanctuary that resides here on my farm. The third horse, however, was Kaliwohi.

Perhaps it comes as a shock that I would even consider allowing Kiwi to be long-term leased to S.T.A.R. But before anyone condemns me for being capricious about my bond with my mustang, think on this: Kaliwohi is relatively short at 14.2 hands tall, which makes him ideal for therapeutic sidewalkers to be able to reach the riding client. Despite his short stature, however, Kiwi is also stoutly built and extremely strong. He could carry a 250-lb man safely for the duration of a riding session, and when I think of the veterans who are waiting to reap the benefits of therapeutic riding, I felt I at least had to make the offer to S.T.A.R.

Soooo… earlier this week, in the midst of court dates and chaos and chaplaining, S.T.A.R.’s equestrian manager and evaluation team came to the farm to evaluate all three horses.

S.T.A.R. volunteer evaluation rider Brittany; S.T.A.R. Equine Manager, Jennifer Burkhardt, and S.T.A.R. volunteer sidewalker Nikki evaluating Kaliwohi.

I was delighted with a lot of things about this session. First of all, all three horses behaved beautifully, even when squeaky toys and rustling pom-poms were tossed all around them.

Kaliwohi inspecting the bucketful of toys and stimuli.  His one question: “Can I eat anything in this bukkit?”

Second, raw honesty: Kaliwohi had not been ridden since December. (See above photo of my desk; and, yes, I did tell the S.T.A.R. team this before anyone mounted up). Between the incredibly rainy winter we had here in Tennessee, and the cold hard choices I have to make sometimes regarding time management (to ride? or to work so I can buy horse feed?…), my riding has just not been a priority through the winter.

I’m also honest enough with myself and with y’all to share that I still have some trepidation about stepping back into the saddle.  And yet…

After the S.T.A.R. equine evaluation team had left the farm, I got a lovely text from Jennifer, S.T.A.R.’s equine manager. In sum, she was incredibly complimentary about the fact that the evaluation team came to my farm to try three horses and all three were exactly as I had described regarding age, size, experience, etc. She noted their excellent manners and kind, willing work ethic. Three horses. Three gems. (Note: my retired dressage diva, Lady Grace, was not up for evaluation; I could never part with her, even on a lease to a great organization for a great cause.)

When I got that text, I realized something amazing.

My mustang, despite being unridden for four solid months, was an absolute saint for a team of complete strangers to handle him, groom him, ride him, and introduce him to completely unknown stimuli. Ditto for the seven-year-old Tennessee Walking Horse (Caleb) and the older hackney pony (Bonnie).

And this means one incredible, undeniable fact:

I am a successful horsewoman.

This has been one of my lifelong goals and this week I received the gift of validation.


I’ve had some great coaches with these animals, such as J.J. Tate and Mike Branch, and I am deeply grateful for their tutelage.

But the day-to-day (or, in some cases, not so day-to-day) handling and training of these horses sits on my shoulders.

One of my very favorite quotes regarding horses and horsemanship is this one:

If you are fond of a horse and wish to do him a real favour – train him well. Teach him good manners, good habits, both in the stable and under the saddle. You need never worry about the future of such a horse if any reason you may have to part with him. You assure him of friends wherever he goes. Perhaps the greatest kindness you can do any horse is to educate him well. – Tom Roberts

Despite my size, my weight issues, my time constraints, and my constant self-inflicted mental assault with feelings of “less than” and “not good enough,” the truth is, these horses are well-trained, sane, sound, kind, willing animals.

I have no idea if S.T.A.R. will want to put any of these horses into their riding program. Fortunately, there are numerous really fine horses in this region that could be suitable, so S.T.A.R. has the luxury of being selective, and that’s a great thing. Their riders deserve the best possible therapeutic mounts.

For me, the grand prize is this: I watched my beautiful mustang working so quietly and willingly for complete strangers, and, for the first time in a very long time, I found myself wishing it was me in the saddle.

Kaliwohi. His name means “perfect.”


Go Riding

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