Elise Gaston Chand

Elise Gaston Chand

The Sisterhood

From August's ramblings (2018)

I belong to a unique sisterhood.

We may be fighting gray hair these days, but we know who we are and we recognize one of our own: horse-crazy girls from a very young age, often from families with no interest in horses. Simply mention Mr. Ed, Fury, Trigger, or Walter Farley, and we’re off, reminiscing with great joy about the wild flights of fancy we shared because of each. As young girls, we owned every Breyer horse our parents would allow and we talked, dreamed, doodled, and read about horses endlessly.

If we were blessed, we took lessons or we had a friend with a horse or our non-equestrian parents gave us a horse of our own. As we grew up and entered adulthood, life – in one form or another (career, marriage, finances, children, etc.) – pushed our dream of horses into the background. But, to a woman, none of us ever lost our love of horses. Always they were there, in our hopes for “some day.” Some day, when my career is more secure. Some day, when the kids are older. Some day, when I have a little extra money. Some day…

I write these nostalgic thoughts from the perspective of my 50s – an exercise that seems to catch up with us former horse-girls about this age. I won’t attempt to speak for the entire sisterhood, though – for my part, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s driven by my recognition that the riding I’ve known (eventing, which morphed into serious “flat” competition) no longer holds the same appeal.

When I first realized this, it felt like I had lost something – as if the horse-person I’ve always been was somehow… less. Diminished. But as I considered this and put it into the context of my current life – which I’m really enjoying, thank you! – the sense of loss morphed into a feeling of acceptance and even profound gratitude.

The years riding hell-bent on every cross-country course I could get to, jumping anything that remained stationary long enough, then later, burning highway miles around the US to compete with a trailer-full of my beloved Andalusians, doing physicist-level math to squeeze every nanosecond out of every hour, every penny out of every dollar… all of that was great fun and a grand passion. I wouldn’t have missed any of it. But I no longer feel compelled to jump higher, faster, farther. To find that next big show and train train train.

Maybe it’s being in my 50s, with a recognition that – as the sole provider for my college-bound daughter and me – I simply cannot get injured or risk worse. Maybe it’s a “been there, jumped that” mentality. Heck, maybe it’s just too dang much work!

Whatever the reason, it’s okay. In fact, it’s better than okay – it’s pretty dang awesome. See, letting go of what riding used to mean for me also allows me to re-invent what it means to me now. It lets me stop looking back at yesterday and think instead about how I’d like to enjoy horses today.

Which usually involves meandering down a beautiful trail on a quiet, trustworthy horse, and in the company of my sisters. You know who you are!

mental snapshots

From July's ramblings (2018)

There are snapshots of time that are so perfect, they stand in stark relief against the day-to-day. So clear and distinct in memory that we can close our eyes and we’re right back in that one incredible moment.

I remember so clearly that first night, 19 years ago, when my two horses moved into their stalls on our new farm. It was a dark night and seemed darker still because we had only just moved to the country – far from Dallas’ ever-present street lights.

Novelisto and Oro were in their stalls, occupying only two of the 12 we had room for (this was the earliest days, when I was squeezing every nickel to build our Andalusian herd, one horse per year, weanlings only because I couldn’t afford the adults).

I was 34 years old when my dream of owning my own farm was realized. As I stood in the aisle, listening to the boys eating hay, feeling as if I was absorbing their stillness and contentment into my skin…  tears were rolling down my cheeks. The absolute perfection of that moment was almost too much.

Flash-back… Like legions of other horse-people, I read all the books, had all the Breyer horses, watched all the movies and TV shows, doodled non-stop, and had to have driven my non-horsey family and friends bonkers with my constant horse-horse-horse. Pony Club in my teens was followed by college (without my horse, dangit), then starting a career in Washington DC (still without my now-retired horse), then moving to Dallas (shortly after losing my elderly horse). I worked for a bit, changed careers, got married…

Without a horse.

Having absorbed how much horses meant to me – the Herring hunt prints, horse statues, and equestrian-inspired fashion were huge clues – my then-husband suggested I find a horse and get back to riding. I’m pretty sure the heavens opened up and the angels sang a glorious choir!

 

Weekends became consumed with visiting farms and trying horses, but I didn’t find “the one” until discovering an Andalusian operation in Aubrey, Texas. I fell in love with a pregnant mare and the stud she was bred to, and, against all logic and good sense, committed to buy their foal. When a colt was born, I named him Novelisto (Spanish for “novelist”) and then set about figuring out what to do with the stallion he would become – I couldn’t comprehend gelding such a phenomenal horse and boarding a stallion can be a nightmare.

We found a farm and set about fixing years of abuse.  The ground was like concrete, there was no grass to speak of, the wood fences were in splinters, and the stalls were three feet deep in years of accumulated waste.  Several months of extraordinarily hard labor passed before I was able to even consider bringing a horse onto the property. But, finally finally finally, the long-awaited day arrived and in moved a yearling ‘Listo and four-year-old APHA Oro, a gelding buddy I bought to keep him company and for me to ride until ‘Listo was old enough.

We’d purchased good-quality coastal hay and neatly stacked it, just so. We’d stripped and scrubbed and painted, swept and power-washed and swept some more. We’d bedded the stalls, hung up water buckets, repaired feeders. After aerating and sprigging every acre of pasture, the once-barren ground was now covered with tender leaves of fresh grass. The four-rail wooden fences gleamed in the darkness with fresh white paint. And, looking out from the barn, I could see the fence-post light my dad had installed so I could walk back to the house at night. The back porch light was also on and my husband and my dad were visible in glimpses, passing back and forth in front of the kitchen window as they got dinner ready, giving me this precious time alone with my horses, that first night in the barn.

And when I close my eyes now, almost 20 years later, I’m still standing in that barn aisle, listening to the boys eat hay, my cheeks damp with happy, happy tears.

 
 Billy Murphy Photography

Billy Murphy Photography

get back on... or not?

From July's ramblings (2018)

I’m sitting in my home office, doing what I usually do this time of day before shutting down the computer, shifting fully into Mom-mode, and getting dinner going: before I call it a night, I’m making sure that I’ve responded to the folks who so kindly commented on or liked something I posted on Because of Horses’ Facebook and Group pages.

That’s when I saw a friend’s post and got into a mental debate that set my fingers twitching to pound the keyboard. I’m not sure I’ve come to any conclusions, but maybe you will after you’ve read what got me thinking.

Having gotten on her horse for the first time in months, my friend Sallie discovered that her lovely Andalusian, Esco, had morphed into a rodeo bronc during his pretty dire stall-rest convalescence. To her immense credit, Sallie stayed in the saddle during his wild gyrations – and few breeds are as athletically flexible and vertically capable as the Iberians (think Airs Above Ground on speed). Sallie wrestled Esco under control long enough to safely dismount, understandably anxious that he might have re-injured himself (he didn’t).

And then came the part that set my brain cranking: Sallie said she stood there, gauging the wicked gleam in Esco’s dark eye and debating with herself – cowboy up and get back on? Or, discretion being the better part of valor, maybe pick another day to ride when Esco wasn’t feeling so…feisty? Especially since he’s still recuperating?

Anyone who’s ridden has been in Sallie’s boots and will really feel a kinship with her. We’ve all made what can be a tough decision – “tough” because there can be a ton of judgment (even if it only comes from our own minds) if we opt not to get back on. That same negativity and inward criticism becomes exponentially worse if we do get back on and something awful happens – we get hurt, the horse gets hurt, someone else gets hurt.I’ve made both decisions – get back on and don’t get back on – and (happily) haven’t had cause to regret any of them… though it was a close one the time I plowed through the recently mowed stubble of a Virginia hayfield – with my face – after being ejected from the saddle at full gallop,

then did the mile-long Walk of Shame back to the barn to collect my so-not-sorry [rhymes with "ducking"] horse, climbed back in the saddle bleeding and shaking, to ride for all of 10 minutes, only to prove to my horse (and myself) that I could do it.

But I digress.

What I haven’t yet shared is that Sallie’s decision to get back on Esco represents stratospheric levels of personal courage and a devotion to her horse that words cannot adequately express. See, in a freak accident that no one could have predicted, Esco fell on Sallie several years ago and almost killed her; the resulting Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) was an absolute life-changer for Sallie and her family – a journey she’s written about in her inspirational book, Escogido XXV: the Chosen.

But in Sallie’s recounting today of her riding Esco and his enthusiastic feistiness – which had to have worried her about re-injury, even as it had to reassure her that he’s feeling great after his convalescence – her only concern was for his well-being.

Returning to my internal debate, though.

The decision to re-mount and “ride out the buck” – an even harder decision if you’ve just been thrown and are shaken and hurting – is a difficult and very personal one.

So when and how does a rider make that call: either get back on and work through whatever happens or not re-mount, but choose, instead, to follow another course (which can include ground work, lunging, etc.)?

It’s not a one-size-fits-all answer, but it’s an issue that every rider – at some point in his or her life – will have to address and be okay with their own, very personal decision.

And then – when the time is right – get back on and ride.