Following is an essay I entered into a contest at Real Simple Magazine. I didn't win, but I enjoyed writing it and thought you guys would enjoy reading it. See ya round the barn!
I never thought I’d spend every day with Elvis. No, not that Elvis . . .though there are similarities – the dreamy, dark eyes, the unruly mane, the hips that move in time to the music. But my Elvis is a Tennessee Walker Paint. Yes, that’s right – he’s a horse. And yes, his hips do move in time to music!
I first met Elvis eight years ago. A very good friend called me on cold December evening to tell me she had seen a couple of horses who appeared to be starving. She knew she had to do something and wanted my opinion. We discussed the options and decided to visit the location the next morning and talk with the folks who lived there. I didn’t sleep much that night but rather played out the possible scenarios in my mind. Perhaps the owner just couldn’t afford to take care of the horses and would be grateful that we offered to help. But then again, maybe the owner would be angry at us for interfering? Should we just call the authorities and let them handle it? Would they get there in time to save the horses? After all the speculation, I decided we had to act.
Not long after the sun came up, I drove to my friend’s house and we traveled together to where she had seen the horses. The scene that actually played out was worse than anything I had imagined. Two beautiful horses were standing in a lot that wasn’t big enough for one horse. Even though it had snowed a couple days before, the ground in that lot was not white. It was brown where the horses had pawed, desperately trying to find a blade of grass or some sustenance. There was no water in the lot. We got out of the car and I walked through the gate into the lot with the horses. Knowing that it is never a good idea to walk right up to a horse with whom you are not acquainted, I proceeded with caution. However, Elvis (as he was to become known) walked right to me and put his nose and head against my chest. I ran my hand over his nose and noticed that his halter was cutting into his face. I then noticed how his hip bones protruded. His neck was skinny . . . and horses just don’t have skinny necks. He had shoes on his feet, but they obviously had not been cared for in a very long time. His hooves had grown past his shoes, and he had about four inches of ice stuck to the bottom of each of his feet. He allowed me to pet him and check his feet. He stood very still. When I got back to his face, I looked into the saddest eyes I have ever seen, and in that moment, he won my heart. My friend and I became horse thieves that day. We walked those horses the three miles to my friend’s farm and into their new lives.
After months of nursing Elvis back to health, I finally got to ride him. I bought new tack (saddle, blanket, bridle, reins) and carefully climbed on his back. He was very nervous, as was I, but we enjoyed a leisurely walk around the meadow that day. I then moved Elvis from my friend’s farm to a stable closer my house. That same year, my husband and I opened a commercial horseback riding stable, and Elvis became one of our most reliable customer horses.
For many months, I had spent each evening with Elvis - grooming him, singing to him and feeding him. As I experienced professional success, my time with Elvis and the rest of my family became less and less. I was promoted and given more responsibility, and was well compensated for the work I did. When I landed a job with a large corporation, I was so very excited! I was living the dream – company cars, expense account, travel to exotic locations. It was wonderful. But then reality began to hit me. I found myself rushing home to make it to basketball games and concerts and birthday parties . . .and then rushing back to my professional life to attend meetings and conferences, supervise staff, and hold trainings. Earlier this year, I began to feel sick. I was tired all the time. I seemed to be allergic to everything in every climate I visited. It felt like I was never going to please anyone, least of all myself. Ever the type A personality, I didn’t share any of my feelings with my husband or anyone else. I just kept going. When I would think about quitting, fear would get a strangle hold on me. How would my daughter finish pharmacy school? How could my other children have the things they wanted and needed? What would happen if I didn’t provide the health insurance through my job? What would I do without the salary? Fear is a tremendous motivator, but I also believe that decisions based on fear are typically wrong. Therefore, on July 12, I put fear aside and resigned from my corporate job. July 13, I became Manager of Timberline Horseback Riding Stable and, more importantly, Elvis’s best friend.
I now spend my days caring for Elvis and the other 17 horses in our herd. I have repurposed my professional skills (marketing, operations, new business development, human resources) to make the most of our horseback riding stable, doubling our business from last year. I meet wonderful people and share Elvis’s story often. My former life was devoted to working with troubled and special needs adolescents and their families. That work was very important to me, and I am integrating that piece into our stable. I now share Elvis with several autistic children who respond positively to grooming him and enjoy riding him. Riding is very therapeutic for children and adults, and I find myself doing a lot of life coaching on horseback!
For many years, I have been telling other people how important it is to be “present”, but I have not practiced what I preached until recently. Every ride is a blessing. Each time I notice the amazing views and the miracle of nature around me, I say a little prayer of thanks. Spending time with my family that is not rushed or forced is a true gift. Not long ago, I was sharing the story of rescuing Elvis, and as I reflected on it, I realized that I may think that I saved Elvis’s life, but in reality, he has saved mine.