I believe it is time to do something I haven’t done in a while. Celebrate the birthdays of two of the most important persons in my life. Saleem and Poseidon.
It feels so wrong to write that, because it was always Poseidon and Apollon, but for the purpose of this post, I’ll leave Apollon out of it.
Now, Poseidon would have turned 22 yesterday, if he had still been here.
And Saleem just turned 10, a few days ago.
It’s funny, when I started writing Surviving the Equestrian World, I was telling Poseidon’s story, and Apollon and the others joined in, as they played a huge part in his life. And in the end, I chose to use Saleem for the cover of the book, not Poseidon, even if Saleem’s story has all but just begun in the book.
I am not sure I quite understood why it felt so right to use Saleem as the cover horse, back then, but I think I get it now.
Poseidon and I struggled for 15 years. I jumped through hoops trying to make him happy, to make him feel safe. I defended him, I protected him like a mother bear, and whenever someone tried to tell me to get rid of that insane horse before he killed me, I cut them out of my life, rather than him.
I loved and adored and hero-worshiped that horse. I cried, I bled, I lay awake at night, wondering how to make him live. How to make him be happy and feel safe in this world.
The truth is, and this is what Surviving the Equestrian World is as well, I never accepted us. I never entirely accepted what we could and could not do. I kept pushing it.
Be it, that I kept having the Farrier trim his hooves, even after we had to give up on shoes, because he was simply too dangerous. I never took the step and just trimmed himself. Why?
I guess I was afraid. Afraid to do something wrong, and hurt him, yes, but afraid too, to have the responsibility for this horse, all rest on me. At least, as long as my Farrier kept coming by, and kept trimming him, Poseidon was not too unmanageable. A small part of us was still fitting into the equestrian world and as much as I told myself that it did not matter to me, it did.
The truth is, this horse walked through fire for me, every single day, and I… I kept asking him to do so.
Because I could not shake the feeling that I had failed as his human if I did not somehow make him measure up to what people expected. So, the vet could not touch him, so, most of my friends could not touch him, so I was always afraid when the boyfriend was alone with him, but I could touch him, and we got by, didn’t we? And the Farrier never quit on us. That was something, wasn’t it?
I always knew that he should not be ridden much, and after his mental break down, that competing was not in the cards for us. And it never quite stopped torturing me, how talented he was, how strong, how much he loved to jump… He could have been the best show jumper I had ever owned, if only his mind had allowed it. If only I had found a way to make him normal. And I knew I could not. And I knew, I should not. And most of the time, it did not matter as long as he was happy.
Seeing him with Amalia and new born Apocalipse, I knew that this was the happiest he had ever been. When Apocalipse was born, I finally stopped pushing him. I stopped expecting him to fit in, because I knew that taking care of Amalia and her foal, was tearing his body apart. As much as he found peace as their guardian, his old injuries were killing him, and I did nothing to stop it. I did not call the chiropractor for the 666th time, that summer. I did not insist on the Farrier keeping shoes on him. I let go. And I watched him slip away.
Even when Amalia blindsided me and died 4 months before he did, I knew I was losing him, I was just postponing the day. And when the day came, when I finally let him have peace, and he walked up to the fence and met the vet without flinching, letting her touch him for the first – and only- time, I had never been prouder of him.
In that horrible, beautiful moment, he was happy. He was safe. And we put him down because his body failed.
He will always be the other half of me, my heart, my soul, my star, my endless night.
And I was always terrified of how I would handle losing him. To my surprise, I think that most of all, I have been relieved that he is finally at peace. The peace I could not give him in life. I managed to give him 15 years of love and adoration, and I did everything I knew how, to make him happy, and I am sure he knew that, even though, for the most part, I think I failed.
Now, I can’t fail him anymore.
I could, however, fail Saleem. And I did.
When Poseidon died, Apollon got sick and died as well, leaving me with having lost my two red boys, Amalia and Legacy within two years. All of them for different reasons, all of them to things in their bodies I could not fight, like heart failure, ringbone, fractures, and ruptured arteries.
Saleem was the horse left standing, on my pasture of foals. He was the eldest, all of a sudden, and the one that picked up all my ambitions after Apollon died and I no longer had a horse that could compete.
Saleem proved to be a huge challenge with his violent headshaking, and for a while, I did wonder if I was ever really going to ride this horse.
But, as we all know, I am me, and I was unable to not make him fit in. After Poseidon’s demons, and Apollon’s dangerous temper, a little stress-induced headshaking should be something I could handle, right?
The truth is, I can handle it. I can handle most things. I have a dangerous skill set.
As Saleem became my “main” horse, while the little ones were growing up, I took him competing, because that was what I always wanted to do, and he may not have been the biggest talent I ever worked with, but there was a glimmer of raw beauty inside him, and as his rider, I was hoping to make him shine.
And, he was so sweet, so kind, so patient, that no matter what I threw of him, he took it with a headshake and a deep breath and soldiered on.
We taught him to load and drive in a trailer, and we had him go to the beach, the European Championship for Arabians, and Natural Horsemanship Shows. He never complained.
And then there was the last show I did with him when I realized that I was done.
Just done. Done with the equestrian world and everything it entailed. Done with the world that forced me to wear a noseband and spurs on my beautiful little, sensitive horse. Done with trying to be who everyone expected us to be, or to prove Saleem’s worth through how many ribbons he won.
And so, I did what 15 years with Poseidon had not made me do.
I started to change.
We quit the bridle, and everything that would make him headshake.
I know I had told myself with Poseidon that I did not care what people thought of us. I always joked about it and smiled when people referred to me as the girl with the crazy chestnuts. It was who I was, who I had to be, but not necessarily who I wanted to be, even if I never admitted it to myself.
I wanted to compete. Natural Horsemanship was a skill set I learned, a hat I put on, and a weapon I used to be special, just in a different way. I can train any horse, no matter how dangerous. Even if I can’t win ribbons, I can make your crazy horse less dangerous. How about that?
It’s funny how it is in human nature to want to prove yourself. To need to be good at something.
And it is tragic how I was never able to let that go with my crazy chestnuts.
Well, now I have, with my last chestnut.
It’s been a long process for both of us, but it just hit me the other day, as I was watching him eat, (looking for signs that his broken teeth might be a bother to him, like the crazy person I am,) that of all my horses, Saleem has been the one to teach me the most. The one to truly change who I am.
The one to make me find peace.
The one to teach me the most important lesson I think I will ever learn; as long as he comes to me, nothing else matters. As long as he wants my company, nothing else matters.
I should not want to impress anyone, except him. Between Saleem and me, no one else matters.
I know that when I started this blog, I was posting pictures of my horses all the time, and lately, I have kind of stopped that. Not so much because I am not taking pictures of them, but I guess I have little need to show them off anymore.
Don’t get me wrong, I am amazingly proud of how Apocalipse has grown up, and I still love it when people tell me that they are beautiful, but I don’t care about the rest anymore.
Another important thing Saleem taught me is that some days it is just not “today.” And that is okay too. Some days, he is up for everything, and some days, nothing works.
All horses has “off days,” and usually I would have kept pushing it, because that is what you are taught in the equestrian world. The horse must perform. What if it has a “lazy day” when you are at a show? Oh no. Keep asking until you get an answer you can accept. That has always been my mantra.
Keep asking until you get an answer you can accept.
The truth is, what you “can accept,” is all up to you.
With Saleem, I have learned that when he says “no,” that is the answer I should accept, because I can tell him “yes” and he will say “okay” but he will be stressed and as much as he will do his best for me- like Poseidon always did- he will not be happy about it.
So yes, some days your horse tells you no, and that is perfectly okay. If I look at Saleem and ask myself, do I want him to canter for me today, or do I want him to be happy, the answer is pretty easy.
I guess that Poseidon never managed to ask me that question in a way I could understand. Saleem did. And for that, I owe him the peace in my own soul.
Happy birthday, Poseidon. I hope you are grazing somewhere by the Rainbow Bridge, looking down on me, and I hope that you are finally proud of me.
Happy birthday, Saleem. Thank you for helping me grow up and let go. You did what no one else could. You made me change to fit your needs.
Now I know why you were my cover horse. You were the future I had not seen yet, when I wrote the book. You were the answer to the questions, I did not know how to ask yet.