2020 has been full of surprises for a lot of people. And we are no exception. Living through a pandemic is an intense experience. Like nearly everyone not on the front lines, I find myself bouncing between horror and gratitude, fear and boredom, frustration and uncertainty. I have felt impotence over my inability to influence the course of this disaster even while appreciating the clarity with which I can suddenly see my own life and priorities.
Bottom line: We are lucky. Although we’ve seen big shifts, we are okay. Brian isn’t going to his office for now, but his job still exists. My business has experienced some upheaval, but it’s still alive. We don’t have family in the area, so we’re not struggling as much with social distancing measures as some people. Our lives don’t actually feel all that different, day to day.
But we’ve had one huge change, and it’s to do with the horses.
Change is difficult to contemplate
The older I get, the more I realize that resisting change becomes a reflex. Familiar feels safe. Up until last Thursday, we’d had our horses at the same boarding facility for well over a decade. There were plenty of good reasons we stayed that long.
But even when you don’t set out to make big changes, small changes happen all the time. A series of shifts had taken place at the facility and in our lives that were already making us start to wonder if it was time to try something new. Then this pandemic took several circumstances that had been a problem for a while and amplified them. A couple weeks ago, we found ourselves facing a moment where something that should be simple—arranging routine farrier care—had turned into a logistical nightmare. It began long before COVID-19 hit, but the pandemic added an extra layer of complexity. We thought we’d worked it out only to find ourselves suddenly back at square one with the added hurdles of having extremely limited access to our horses and no ability to get care from a provider we knew and trusted.
Steen’s been fighting the worst case of thrush he’s ever had since last fall. Fitz’s feet are in that final transition from colt feet to horse feet. A horse belonging to a friend struggles with sore heels and was down a shoe. Another friend’s horse has suffered rough handling at the hands of farriers in the past. We had four horses who needed attention and a list of options. But no one was calling us back. Meanwhile, I couldn’t even go out and pick Steen’s feet. I felt very helpless and frustrated.
Even in the midst of the moment, I felt kind of awful for feeling what I was feeling. People in Italy, New York, and all over the world are truly living a nightmare right now. And I’m worried about my horse? It seemed entitled and selfish and just incredibly privileged.
And yet, a pandemic doesn’t change our basic responsibilities. As long as I can take good care of my horses, they will remain a priority for me.
In the midst of this upheaval, our friend (and owner of the horse with the missing shoe) asked me a question. This friend and her husband happen to live in a restored farmhouse on a couple acres of land. I responded to that question with some ideas. And suddenly, change was in the works.
A few days later, we were getting a crash course in helping load, haul, and stack 121 small bales of hay. Less than a week after that, we all worked together to acquire and put up a fence. After many long conversations about a thousand small but important details, we managed to assemble the bare minimum to provide for four horses on this lovely little piece of land.
And then, we brought Steen, Fitz, Arlo, and Rosa to their new home:
Change is hard for horses too
Of the four horses we moved, three were already thin. Steen was one of those. He’s an emotional guy and can be hard to keep weight on when he’s stressed. He’s also been the lead horse of his herd for a long while. He takes his responsibilities seriously. I knew the move would be hardest on him. But I didn’t anticipate quite how hard.
The first afternoon, he wouldn’t stop calling. The whole next day, he would mostly pace unless I took him out of the corral to graze. By Saturday, he’d dropped so much weight I was starting to feel alarmed. He was losing reserves he didn’t have to spare and his whole body was tense and sucked up with stress and anxiety.
We did some light rides and those seemed to help. Steen has always been a horse that responds well to support when I can give him the right kind. He seemed to find it comforting to get out of the corral and explore his new surroundings. He was solid under saddle, happy to go, not spooky, totally with me. Still, the fact I had to put his cinch up two entire holes before I got on was not very soothing.
Each day, though, at least I could go see him, give him his supplements, pick his feet, and spend as long as I wanted letting him graze.
And finally, slowly, his emotional landscape started to shift. On Sunday, he was at least not any skinnier. And that same day I started to see glimmers of his real personality showing through the stress.
On Monday, we were able to arrange the farrier care the horses were behind on. The four of us rode together afterwards. I was able to let Steen’s cinch back out one hole. Yesterday, I got a lot of photo updates that showed he has finally fully dedicated himself to eating instead of pacing.
The other three horses took the move with a good deal more aplomb. Which means I think it’s all going to be okay.
Change is exciting on the other side
I feel incredible gratitude for our previous chapter with our horses. We were able to do so much and learn so much in a situation that was perfect for our needs for a really long time. I am still a little sad that part of our lives is over. I’m still a little worried about all that needs to be done at the new place before winter hits.
But mostly, what I’ve been feeling the last few days is relief. The big change is behind us. And now, we can look ahead. I am reminded of how it felt when I got my first horse. My parents bought her for me after I took a few years of riding lessons and did chores at two different barns to learn the ropes. She arrived on our property before we had any idea what we were in for. I was in 7th grade. We had a 12′ x 12′ stall made of temporary corral panels, a couple bales of hay, a bucket for water, and no prior experience owning or caring for horses.
We were most certainly ill-prepared in that moment. Very, very ill-prepared. And yet, it worked out fine. I helped build my horse a corral. I learned from my mistakes. And I had several fabulous years with my first mare that paved the way into a lifetime of this
We’re a lot less naive this time. But in many ways, it’s the same feeling. We’ve got a makeshift fence, some good hay, and so much still to figure out. Only this time I have a few people to share the load.
And happily, I’m discovering a new beginning is a good source of hope in times like these.