I grew up horse crazy. Then, at 14, I became boy crazy and gave up my pony in favor of boys with shag haircuts who listened to Pink Floyd (it was the ’70s). In hindsight, I made a foolish trade-off. As Kierkegaard says, “Life must be lived forward, but can only be understood backwards.”
For several decades, I lived my life in near idle, longing for something I couldn’t put my finger on. I was doing all the expected things; I went to college, got married, fixed up an old New England house with my husband, had a son, worked as a writer and editor. But I got to the point where I couldn’t move forward at all. Unhappiness paralyzed me.
How I got unstuck is a dramatic story involving going crazy, literally; I’ll save that tale for another day. The point is that after a startling series of implosions, I started to become myself again: the strong-minded girl who loved horses and believed adventure lay around every corner.
And so, at 40, facing midlife square in the jaw, I dared myself to climb on a horse after a hiatus of more than 25 years. The experience did not go well. Any muscle memory from my early riding years had collapsed into senility. The horse ambled around the ring while I wobbled and teetered and my riding instructor searched for something encouraging to say. I imagined falling off; even though I was wearing a helmet, I pictured my head splitting open like a watermelon. I felt fragile, tearful, and overwhelmed by all I had lost in a quarter century. The adventurous horsewoman in my head was only a phantasm.
I almost gave up, but I sensed I would lose a lot more than a future with horses if I did. I’d be losing the self I was just beginning to construct—not the fearless girl who rode her pony bareback around fields at a gallop, but someone brave in a different way: a woman who was finding her own way, daring to be a beginner again, making peace with discomfort, and letting go of illusions.
Changing your life, I came to realize, is a lot like getting on a horse for the first time. There’s fear—of the unknown, of getting hurt, of trusting your life to something bigger than you. And then, when you’re brave enough to let go of the pommel, comes the realization: you can find balance if you have faith in yourself, your horse, the present moment, and the point you’re riding toward.
I won’t even tell you how many lessons it took before I regained a fraction of the riding knowledge I used to have. I hit the dirt more than once. I looked like a fool to anyone who might have been watching. I got mad at myself for being a slow learner. I envied anyone who could ride better, which was pretty much everyone. I cried privately. A lot.
But, in hindsight, none of that really matters because I got to where I needed to be. Now, although I don’t have a horse of my own, I lead a life rich in horses. I’m living my life forward with joy and passion—I guess it’s just horse craziness come back around in fuller form.