The mule and I do seem to have turned a corner. There was not one event that precipitated the change; she just slowly dropped her defenses until eventually she became *almost* like a normal horse that likes its owner.
All I’ve done with her this winter is short rides around the property- bitless and with a bareback pad. I gave up on taking her anywhere in the trailer or trying to do any kind of competition with her. Even though she would be a ribbon machine in something like an obstacle challenge or competitive trail, it’s clear that she doesn’t want to be bothered. She’s very happy with her herd and her life at the barn, and she carts me around very willingly and acts like a babysitter for Olaf. She is as close to perfect as any equine I’ve ever had, now that we’ve come to an agreement about what activities she wants to participate in.
The entire time I’ve owned horses I’ve wanted to compete on them, but I was never able to make it happen the way I wanted. I never had enough money or time, and trying to compete meant that I would be neglecting my kids to run off to a horse show. I got my first horse 3 months after I had my first baby, so I never had a period of time when it was just me and the horse, and I could devote my budget and leisure time to lessons and training. There was always at least one kid at home who didn’t want me to spend the entire weekend at a horse event.
It took me a long time to get over feeling like I was missing out on something, like everyone else was out winning ribbons and I was stuck at home. Fostering rescue horses was the first step to getting over that feeling. I was spending my money on them for sure, but they didn’t take me away from my kids. I spent time with them at the barn, and the kids met them and took part in rehabbing them, even if that just meant feeding them apples and loving them. It was something the whole family could feel good about, instead of me leaving everyone to chase ribbons.
Deleting my Facebook was the second step. Now I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything, because I have no idea what’s going on.
Miss Mule has been the final step in helping me get over the desire to compete. I don’t like seeing her nervous and stressed out, and that’s how she was every time I took her to a horse related event. I took her to an obstacle challenge, an endurance ride and a Christmas parade, and it was clear that while she mostly behaves herself, she would have rather stayed home. (Oddly, when I took her to visit an elementary school she was not stressed at all and was a gem the entire time.)
I joke that I’m never putting her in a trailer again, because as long as I don’t try and put her in the trailer, she is the most perfect and delightful equine in all the land. You might say that she needs practice trailer loading, but that’s not it. She knows that the trailer means we’re going somewhere and she doesn’t want to go anywhere. She likes it at home.
This is the first time in my horse owning years that I’ve been content to ride and play at my own barn with no competition goals in mind. I am finally happy to feed everyone, groom them, and ride around the property, and Miss Mule is happy to be fed, groomed and ridden.
She is what I needed in so many ways. For a while after my psycho mare, Heidi, I was actually quite terrified to ride. I still rode, because I refused to let my anxiety get the best of me, but it was not fun for a long time. It took me riding Miss Mule all winter long, bareback at all 3 gaits, to convince myself again that I am actually a decent rider. The rides I did this winter, just me and the mule through the woods, slowly gave me my confidence back. I can’t thank her enough for that.
Sometimes people think of horses as sports equipment. The horse is there to facilitate participation in an event, whether it’s barrel racing, endurance or dressage. The point is always to ride them. When the horse can’t be ridden anymore due to age or injury, people will ask what’s the point of keeping it. My horses have become so much more than sports equipment, and my relationship with them so much deeper than riding, that I would still have horses even if I could never ride again. They are the best zen masters- better than any preacher, any yoga guru, any self-help book- and Miss Mule has been the best of all. The changes I’ve had to make in my life to accommodate her and befriend her have been changes I couldn’t and wouldn’t have made otherwise. No book or blog post, no sermon, no podcast could have told me as powerfully as she did, without using any words at all, that it’s okay to slow down and enjoy my life, that there is no need to run around chasing validation when those closest to me, the ones in my barn and in my home, can tell me everything I need to know about myself.
We’ve been good for each other, the mule and I.