The turning point
Equus|Winter 2020
You don’t always get the horse you want, but sometimes you get the one you need.
Margaret Cowan McGrath

After the veterinarian’s truck rumbled down the gravel drive, I stood in the barn’s parking lot, holding the lead rope of my very first horse.

Reality did not match my childhood dreams. Sirocco, a 6-year-old Arabian, fleabitten gray with bloodmarks splashed on his ribs and hip, didn’t look like the horse I wanted when I was 12. To be fair, I was no longer the girl who pined for the Black Stallion, either. I was middle-aged and---unmoored by my mother’s sudden death ---I had just done what all the books tell you not to do while in the throes of grief: made a big, potentially consequential decision.

I’d fallen in love with Sirocco based on an online ad. Under his trainer’s watchful eye, I’d worked with him for a few weeks of lessons and at a weekend clinic. But, I could count on my fingers and toes the number of hours I’d spent on horseback before my mother’s death, so it was clear that I was in for a steep learning curve.

To make matters worse, the long-ago riding lessons I’d taken lessons as a girl were linked to devastating memories. In the aftermath of an acrimonious divorce, my father circumvented the custody agreement by promising to buy me a horse if I came to live with him and my new stepmother. But after I took two bad falls from the sorrel Paint my father bought me, he sold the horse and sent me back to my mother.

In the decades since, these physical and emotional traumas were welded together deep in my subconscious. Over and over, I replayed the moment I tumbled from that sorrel Paint’s broad back into the tall pasture grasses, and daily I carried the shame of being sent away. In my mind, I had already lost one horse to my inadequacy as a rider and a person. I couldn’t afford to fail with Sirocco.

A young, green Arabian and an inexperienced rider with horserelated trauma and perfectionist tendencies was a recipe for serious injury, so I continued working with Sirocco’s trainer. She specialized in natural horsemanship and, having worked through her own traumatic experiences, was able to integrate a healthy dose of therapy into our lessons. For months we worked on the ground and at the walk and trot in the saddle.

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