Sonder & Elizabeth: Part I
July 14, 2011 § 1 Comment
Sonder and Elizabeth came to Fiore Farms one year ago; they are an unmistakable pair: both blonde, shortset, well-muscled, and free-spirited. Sonder is a Haflinger, a hardy Tyrolean mountain breed prized for its calmness, elegance, and endurance. Elizabeth is a Renaissance woman, gifted at drumming, tai chi, art, and writing. Together they’ve cracked open old fears and discovered diamond-hard strengths inside.
I recently interviewed Elizabeth in the main barn at Fiore Farms as a rainstorm gathered force outside, bringing a rainbow at the end of our talk. She spoke so eloquently and thoughtfully that there is no point in reframing her words. The introduction below is mine, but what follows is the first of two posts in Elizabeth’s voice.
Elizabeth grew up horse-crazy in Westwood, New Jersey, in a family of nine children. She started riding at nine and progressed to show-level dressage and jumping; when she was fourteen, a stallion she was riding balked at a jump and fell backward on her. The accident marked the end of serious riding for her. Forty-four years and two children later, she started taking lessons again and fell in love with a dappled golden Haflinger who’d been ridden roughly and was now up for sale.
Within fifteen minutes of meeting Sonder I knew I was going to buy her. I felt like she needed somebody—she had a vacant, lost look in her eye. The day after I bought her, everybody started telling me, “She’s pushy.” I didn’t care; I loved her, and I sensed that a lot of her behavior was fear-based. She certainly started showing her colors after I bought her. I’ve ridden a lot of tough horses in my life, and I’ve never never ridden one with the power and will that Sonder has. She and I are like Whippet cars, those small, souped-up, indestructible automobiles that were popular in the 1920s and ’30s.
Incrementally I succeeded in having Sonder come to trust me. We would play games in the barn on Sundays when no one else was around. One day she saw me from the other side of the pasture—she let out a big neigh and came galloping to me, with her head up and her mane flying. It was really cool. That’s when I knew she trusted me.
I felt stupid riding her, though, because I knew she had so much potential and I could never reach it: I couldn’t get her to canter; I couldn’t control the speed of her trot. People were trying to teach me as best they could, but somewhere in my life I’d picked up a lot of fear and insecurity and lack of faith in myself. And when you lack confidence in yourself, your horse knows.
I knew I had to go elsewhere for Sonder’s sake because I was not the rider she needed me to be. My friend Benjamin, who got me back into riding, said, “You know, if you’d just go over to Fiore Farms, I know James and Kate Cooler could straighten this horse out.”
And so we came here on August 1st of last year and started taking lessons with Kate. We started with the stick and string, and like everybody I was like, “Aagghhh!” But I saw how gracefully and easily Kate would walk with Sonder and how she softened when she saw Kate.
Sonder was a handful—she was full of piss and vinegar, but Kate was more than her match. When Kate told me, “She has so many issues,” I tried not to cry. It’s hard not to cry even now as I talk about it. That’s when I faced my own fear: I could see the fear in Sonder’s eyes, and so many things came back to me that I’d never allowed myself to feel.