I got to thinking about friendships this weekend, and how they seem to come and go at times. Everyone tends to have their designated “BFF,” or whatever modern abbreviations you kids are using these days, and for the most part these best friend roles are pretty standard. Be there as the default person on your call log, the first person you talk to when you’ve had a bad day, the one who will come pick you up at 3 am when you’re not really sure which way is up, etc. We all have, or have had, one. But what about our four legged friends? I’ve reason to believe that our horses are indeed our best friends, and here is my list to back it up.
1. Those big fuzzy ears sure are good for listening.
While they seem to tune out when you are trying to do something productive, like go forward or bend, they sure seem to listen with rapt attention while you entrust them with your deepest, darkest secrets. I know my horse was privy to some pretty personal stuff, and I’ve spent a lot of time over the years conversing in a horse’s stall while watching those ears flick towards me with empathy (disdain?). Nothing like a best friend who will listen without judgement, although truth be told you know they are just listening for the words “food,” “turnout,” or “retirement.”
2. They are there to help you learn about yourself.
I’ll tell you what, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned as an equestrian is that you never really know how high you are until you fall. That is, you never truly know what it feels like to clear a 3’6″ obstacle until you learn how it feels to meet the ground from that high up. Talk about humbling. I think the horse I learned that lesson on trotted off gleefully thinking about the life lesson he had just instilled in me, not to mention the lessening of his workload for the day as I hobbled out of the arena.
3. Working with horses instills a strong work ethic.
Having done my fair share of barn chores over the years, I credit the calories burned and pounds lost to those that blinked at me sleepily as I stumbled into their stall in the early morning hours, graciously spreading their gifts to me throughout the entire stall to ensure that I got the most thorough workout possible. I also became the master of balance after I worked at a barn that used a narrow ramp to push the wheelbarrows up the side of the manure spreader – trust me, after falling off of that, with your full wheelbarrow close behind, enough times you learn to have the balance of Wallenda pretty darn quick.
4. Horses make for a perfect shopping outlet.
We’ve all heard the term “retail therapy,” and this term has never come in more handy as justification for buying curry combs in every possible color and enough Stud Muffins to feed a cavalry. I swear that tack stores purposely spray a leather scented air freshener that wafts oh so invitingly out into the street like a cookie shop just to get you to come in “just to look.” You know, if I had a dime for every time I’ve uttered those fateful words…
5. They always know how to entertain.
I don’t know about you, but one of my all time favorite games is “Catch Me If You Can.” It’s really a game of strategy and endurance, a form of cat and mouse, if you will. I’ve traipsed naively out to a pasture to catch a new horse many times, expecting him to come galloping in happily and place his head in the waiting halter when I stand at the gate and whistle. Let’s just say I’ve learned the hard way that you must always come prepared with some grain and a whole lot of patience when it comes to this game. Gotta hand it to them for keeping things interesting though!
6. Best friends don’t judge when you’re not looking your best.
If I show up to the barn in a completely non-George Morris-approved outfit not limited to muck boots and a tie dyed t-shirt, I know that none of my equine friends will give me a haughty once over. It’s a good feeling, really, knowing that while I may end up on People of Walmart if I were to set foot in public, I can confidently stride into the barn and immerse myself in that big, non-judging bubble.
7. Horses make up a large part of your social circle.
I won’t lie, my “barn girl” friends have always been my best friends. Throughout the years, I’ve made some lifelong friends with girls who share the same interests and passion as me. Even though most of us don’t ride together anymore, we maintain friendships that were solidified over late nights cleaning tack or summer afternoon jump-painting parties. As exemplified by the photo above, our horses are always best of friends as well, although I’m sure if you ask the pony in the middle he’d say they were just using him as a head rest.
8. Horses instill confidence.
When you establish an emotional connection with a horse, you quickly notice things about yourself that may become more evident. I, for one, began riding as a timid and introverted 13-year-old, barely capable of making eye contact with my scary trainer (in hindsight, she wasn’t scary at all, just tall). As I began to learn more and become more confident in my abilities, I began to come out of my shell and truly show interest in my surroundings. I credit my time on horseback for a lot of the self confidence that has aided me throughout other aspects of my life, as there is no better way to build confidence than to watch yourself progress and grow as a rider.
9. Horses also teach patience.
As exemplified by the “Catch Me If You Can” game, patience is an oh so important virtue with all things equine. From patiently learning to post the trot to patiently bringing your partner back into work from an injury and everything in between, you learn to let the horse tell you when it is time to move on to the next step. Rushing and bullying is the wrong approach with everything in life, and while I am admittedly quite impatient, I am quickly brought back down to earth by spending some time in the saddle and realizing that two brains are at work in this equation, not just mine.
10. They pick you up when you are down.
I had a green OTTB on trial a few years ago, and we were trotting over some poles and small cross rails during one of our rides. He decided that the cross rail was terrifying and proceeded to awkwardly goat leap over it, unseating me and causing me to hit the dirt. Instead of running off, he immediately stopped, turned around and walked over to me, his concern over my safety very evident. I grabbed ahold of the reins and hoisted myself up, dusting off my breeches and dignity. While this is a quite literal example, I have lost count of how many times a horse has helped heal all sorts of emotional wounds that I carried with me. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes inside the barn for my spirits to lift and for my positive outlook to return. I don’t know how they do it (must be something in the water), but it’s surreal and a feeling I know that none of us would trade for the world.