Don’t make any big decisions for at least a year. That’s what I kept hearing from friends and family in the months following the loss of both my beloved lab and the husband I adored. And, to be truthful, I agreed with them, that is until Emma came along. While my husband was sick I began taking riding lessons at a local stable, revisiting a passion I once had as a young girl, and losing myself in a totally different world from the sad, sweet one I now inhabited at home. Once a week I drove east, over the reservoir, and saddled up one of the saintly school horses for an hour of dust, sweat, and manure piles that transported me from caretaker to little person atop a huge bundle of powerful muscle. Each week before my lesson I would feel the familiar anxiety and reluctance of leaving my comfort zone but as soon as I was up on that horse I was a different person. In a few months, thanks to my young maniacal riding instructor, I was doing the two-point and breathlessly jumping over obstacles in the dusty arena. And each week, after cooling down the horse and settling it back in its stall I would drive home through the open fields and cry my heart out, sobbing and beating my fists against the steering wheel, for all the beauty that had been in my life and was now exiting. Once home my now very thin husband would ask about all the horses, calling them by name, and after I told him excitedly about my day at the barn he would remark on how happy I seemed on those afternoons, how much younger and relaxed I looked.
I was drawn to Emma the first time I saw her. A big, dark, bay mare with a social, loving personality and a huge rear, she belonged and was loved by one of the boarders at the barn. Every week I would bring her offerings of organic mini carrots from Whole Foods and scratch her ears while her hot breath blow dried my hand. Don’t get me wrong, I adored all of the horses, but Emma was different; I felt like she knew something that I needed to know.
My dog died about a year into the riding lessons and in several more months my husband was also gone; I continued to go to the barn and being with the horses continued to lighten my heavy heart. After my lesson one week I heard the girls in the barn talking about Emma being for sale, that her owner was graduating from college and was moving to Houston and could not take Emma with her. My heart jumped as I heard myself exclaim loudly, “Emma is for sale?” and in an instant all eyes turned toward me and the connection was made, what a great pair we would make! I had no intention of buying a horse but as the days wore on and the wrong people came to size up Emma, the thought of her being taken away from this barn and all that she knows began weighing on my heart. I remembered the pain I felt when I had to sell my own horse after graduating from high school and I could see that same angst on the face of Emma’s young owner who on her Facebook page is posing lovingly with Emma by her side. So I caved. I went to see a man about a horse as they say and now that horse is mine.
I had to pinch myself on a regular basis the first few days after taking Emma into my care. It was the first big lifestyle change I had made since losing my partner and it felt like I had stepped off a familiar shore, away from the family I had once known, and into the unknown on my own. Was I moving too fast? Would I find myself stranded in a new world before I was ready to leave the old? These are the questions I brought to one of my first lessons on Emma.
The first time I rode her, Sam, her owner told me as i was mounting that Emma would take care of me, just to relax and enjoy her huge rhythmic stride. And huge it was, as I quickly learned what having a XL rear can actually do for a horse. By the third session with her I realized that Emma has places to go and people to see; as she trots she continually picks up the pace until I feel a bit like I did after losing my loved ones…sailing into the unknown, a bit out of control, leaving behind all that I had known before. And this is when I learned about the half halt, which is both a driving and restraining aid, sometimes thought of as an “almost halt”, asking the horse to prepare to halt in balance before pushing it onward to continue at the same speed, essentially to rebalance the horse. Whoa! (no pun intended)
And so as I am learning to ride Emma I am also learning to use the half-halt in my own life’s journey. Whenever I feel like I am moving too fast, leaving too much of my old life behind too soon, I call my attention back to my center, sit up straight and down in my seat, take a deep breath, and rebalance. It’s a simple rhythm of restrain and yield, restrain and yield, as all the wise horse people have taught me.
Today I googled the name Emma; it means complete or whole.