I have a favorite season. It’s not summer, or winter, or spring, or fall, really. It is a kind of in-between season, and I call it “the end of fly sheet season.” It’s those few weeks when the days are still warm, but the nights dip into the low 60s and high 50s. There is not yet the risk of frozen water troughs and the sweltering, humid 95-degree New Jersey days are pretty much in the rearview mirror. It includes the weeks where you don’t need to put on any blankets or sheets — not for warmth, and not to protect the horses from flies.
It’s one of my favorite times of year because it usually provides ideal riding weather, the chance to head out on the trails and see all the beauty of late summer – sunflowers just past their peak on neighboring fields, foxes scurrying into the hedgerow, searching out voles and mice for their fall fattening, and hints that leaves might soon be changing colors.
I love this season because summer isn’t irretrievably lost; you can feel its memories in the warm afternoons and you can see its legacy in the lush green fields, reinvigorated after a dreadful, drought-filled summer. I love this season because, although I like the heat, my 23-year-old mare does not. And with the cooler mornings comes her frisky attitude, which I meet with great relief that she is clearly not ready to give up her job of low-level, amateur eventing — for without her, I am not sure I will keep climbing into the saddle.
Mostly, I like this season for the opportunity it gives me to reflect. Maybe it is the extra minutes I have in the day because I don’t have to put on and take off sheets and fly masks for the horses that are under my care. It could be that. It might also be the rapidly shortening days, a later sunrise, an earlier dusk, that remind me that time is fleeting. Although it’s still warm, winter is, inevitably, coming, and when you are an amateur approaching 60, riding a mare who is in her twenties, another eventing season is by no means guaranteed. She could decide she is ready to retire. I could decide I’ve lost my nerve for jumping. These are the waning days of the fair weather, non-snowbird riding season, and that is a cause for reflection.
I haven’t met all my summer goals. I didn’t take all the lessons I wanted. I didn’t finish a recognized horse trial. On the other hand, I did have another summer doing what I love with inarguably the best teacher in the world. Sometimes I think the appreciation for these moments comes with age. I am so aware that I won’t always be able to ride this horse. One of us will age out. When I think hard about it, however, this is the nature of horses, not just for me as an older rider on an older horse, but everyone who invests so much of their sporting efforts into a bond with another living creature. This is what loving horses means. There is always the possibility of injury, or a training setback that might make the next season just out of reach. While I’ve recently come to the awareness that each day with my horse is a precious gift, I think it is an appreciation available to anyone who marries their soul to a horse.
When I bring the horses into the barn in the morning and am reminded that I don’t have to take off sheets and grateful for the few extra minutes that gives me, I’m working hard to take those moments to recognize everything that being near horses has offered me–the chance to see the sun rise and set on a daily basis, the motivation to move my body and do the chores of horse tending, and the opportunity to try and understand another being and to do that without words or conventional ways of communication. This is a gift given to everyone who loves horses. Sometimes it is hidden beneath the urgent striving for goals and accomplishments that is also a crucial appeal of horse sports. Soon I will set goals for next season, and lay out the ways I plan to improve as a rider and farm owner.
At the ‘end of fly sheet season’, however, I am taking a pause to appreciate just being with the horses.
Marnie Stetson is an adult amateur who operates Cool Breeze Farm, a horse and flower farm in East Amwell, NJ. Marnie events her buckskin mare She’s My Temple at local, unrecognized shows, supports young riders active in Pony Club, and reflects on the joys and challenges of life with horses.