Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Back in the Saddle

I love Christmas, but I hate winter.

Let me say that again.

I HATE winter.

I was made to be warm. Cold air does not agree with me. All the darkness makes me tired. Being at work before the sun is fully up and not getting home until it's almost down makes me cranky. And really, it's these short, dark days that kill me because they certainly cramp my riding style.

Ever since I stopped competing, I'm a passionate pleasure-rider. Long, quiet trail rides do a body good. But trails are impossible in winter, even when the ground isn't snowy or too hard, when you can't get to your horses until 4:45 earliest. Last year, I was SO THANKFUL when my parents added lights to our little outdoor arena. Finally, riding can happen any time of day, in spite of work or stupid traffic.

So now nearly every Monday-Wednesday you can find me bundled up almost as tightly as Ralphie in "A Christmas Story" lightly perched atop a trotting bay thoroughbred under hazy white spotlights. Thus was the situation last night, though slightly less bundled as temperatures were a record nearly 70 degrees, even after the sun went down. A light mist kissed our faces and all was still and silent, save for the brisk steps of hooves and pants of breath, a whinny or two from a neighboring barn, and the occasional car driving way too fast down a dark country road.

I treasure these moments. The solitude with a warm, furry friend. The peace as everything else melts away and all that matters is equine connection and my own thoughts when we're just walking or trotting out. The sweetest thoughts, prayers, memories and hymns always come to mind in these times.

Last night, I couldn't seem to stop thinking about fact that my mare, my first horse and first true equine love, will be 22 in January. In thoroughbred years, this is old. We lost the first family horse when he was 24. I couldn't believe almost 10 have past years since we saw this beautiful mare at that little barn near the mountains. She is still so sound, such an easy keeper, never lame or colicy..but she's thinning out in her neck and sometimes she's stiff coming up in the morning.

I thought about how I'd wished, ached, hoped, dreamed for this horse for so long. One of my earliest memories is of finding an eyelash on my cheek while riding in the car with my mom and sister. As with any "wish opportunity," I wished for a horse. Always a horse. I don't remember ever wishing for anything else.

What struck me last night was that my mare was born into this world in 1987, when I was three years old. My parents bought her when I was 14. She had already been a racehorse, a broodmare, and a show horse. Through all those years of wishing, God knew the deepest desire of my little, shallow heart. My first wish for a horse would have come right around the time my mare was born. Though it would take 11 more years to all come together, God had already answered the prayer of a little baby girl.

Somehow this hit me so hard last night, and tears streamed down my face in the misty spotlights. My mare trotted on, oblivous and sometimes naughty. I pulled her up and rubbed her neck, feeling her soft winter down and breathing her warm, earthy scent. (Horses always smell like summer hay, even in wintery drizzle.) I thought about how God knows my heart so intimately, so fully, so deeply, knows and realizes for me my hopes and dreams.

When I turned 12, I read a book by Cleaveland Armory called "Ranch of Dreams." This book chronicles the development of an animal rescue ranch. I knew immeditately that my life dream was have my own horse rescue center, and I've dreamed of nothing else since. Just like God conceived a foal for me before I even knew I wanted one, he formed the foundations of earth for my farm before time even began. He is good, and He promises to fulfill the deepest longings of those who long for something in His own name.

"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord..." Jeremiah 29:11

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