I’ve loved horses since seeing “The Black Stallion” as a kid. A quiet kid and his horse. Bonded by what happened in Africa. It couldn’t get any more poignant to a child like me, obsessed with Africa and wildlife.
I love Africa with all my heart. I love being quiet. I love horses.
Unfortunately, horses do not love me.
When I went to an equine camp in upstate New York one pre-teen summer, I don’t remember much about camp, other than playing soccer. (That tells you a lot right there.) Fast forward to high school. While working in Belize one summer, I was riding a horse through the jungle when something spooked it (tarantula? Scorpion? Choose your own adventure…) and it took off. I thought I was going to meet Jesus via death by canter until the horse came to a screeching halt in the field after barging out of the jungle. My friend helped calm the horse down. The horse stopped when he wanted but also listened to said friend. Me? I had no control.
My last experience was while in inpatient treatment for the ED. They had something in that remote town in Arizona called “equine therapy.” Pretty much you get paired by your treatment team with a horse who they think will be “good” for you, and you spend time grooming it, riding in the desert and stuff. I had visions of “cantering in control” with a black stallion, blowing past cacti and tumbleweed, blonde hair billowing in the breeze along with its black mane. It was one of the reasons why I looked forward to going there (as much as anyone looks forward to going to inpatient for a month and a half).
I watched as my friends got paired with the pretty horses. The calm ones. The ones with cute names. And then it was my turn. I was so excited; an idiotic grin was plastered to my face. Finally.
“Mel, you’re going to get Tigger.”
I blinked. The smile was now creepily frozen on my face. You know the look; lips turned up while the corners start to turn down as reality sets in and you can’t will your mind to close your mouth. Therefore, your upper and lower teeth are protruding, bared in some psychotic wolverine look. Yep. Tigger. His name said it all. My face said it all.
His reputation preceded him. He knew I didn’t want him and feared him. And he seemed to be amused by it.
The next few weeks were a constant battle of the wills on the trails and in the arena. What I thought would be the highlight of my hospital stay turned into what I dreaded most out of my meticulously scheduled day. Weigh me daily. Take away my hairspray and Listerine and deem it contraband. Check on me to make sure I’m not doing squats in the bathroom. Just don’t make me stay with Tigger.
Oh, I had to stay with Tigger. Then there was the “show,” where we had to demonstrate our equine abilities to family/loved ones who were in for “Family Week” in an arena. Tigger and I beat to our own drum. My parents still have the photos of that horrible day up in their kitchen, completely unaware that I fought that dang horse the entire show. And he won said battle. Every time I pass that picture, I remember. I can tell how frustrated I was in that photo. But I realize that, as a chameleon, most people wouldn’t have known I detested not only that horse, but my team for pairing me with him and making me stay with him. “You’ll learn to use your voice, Mel.” It took a decade to realize that they were right to put me with such a beast. And it’s because of Tigger and their attempt to teach me something that I didn’t know I needed growth on that I recently started a new chapter in my life.
I’ve been working with a local equine rescue here in Vermont. I don’t believe things happen by chance. “Coincidence is God’s way of working a miracle anonymously.” After my first month of recovery, I found myself asking, “Now what?” I was ready to start adding things back into my life, now that I had more time and energy to do so. The local paper had something about the need for volunteers at this nonprofit, so I emailed to get more info. I haven’t looked back.
I’ve stumbled upon an instant community, bonded together by the desire to help out but also the common understanding that sunshine is a gift that most people take for granted in the rest of the U.S. and life here in Vermont can be taxing beyond comprehension. I’ve been craving the connection that only females understand, and many women working at the rescue have shared the same feeling. It’s been the perfect place to connect with other females who are introverted, love horses, yet wonder where all the other women are at. (I wondered that for nine long months. Working in a predominantly male field and not having children, you really wonder where the other women are at. Now I know. The equine rescue!) Ironically, almost all of them are also artists. Photographers, jewelry makers, and more. I often shake my head at how good God is. He knew just what I needed. And when. And waited until I was ready, knowing that when pushed, I often run far the other way.
I can’t say enough about this place. “Not what I was; not yet what I will be…” When I’m happily shoveling poop, this runs through my head. These horses have been through a LOT. The founder intercepts many of the horses from kill buyers. Gives them a new lease on life. A chance for a second home, one where they’ll be cared for and loved. The nonprofit is “dedicated to rescuing equines, restoring their health and wellness, and providing a natural environment in which they can heal both physically and mentally until they can be adopted into their forever homes.”
Their mission isn’t lost on a lost cause like me. And it’s hard not to be happy when you pull up to the farm and are greeted by three extremely social and lovable miniature horses who are the reason why this rescue started.
Meet Daisy, Duke, and Bo.
Recently, I was asked to build fences at the rescue around two ancient maples that the new horses decided to munch on.
I was a little worried that Foster and Sheila would be pissed at me for blocking off their new chew toy. And like with Tigger, I’m pretty sure Foster could tell that I was a bit fearful of him stampeding me while my hands were full of power tools.
He’d come over often to check out what the heck I was doing. And then walk away.
I’ve been able to drive in and out with Taco (my Tacoma truck), secure the gate, and they don’t even care anymore. I was warned they may try to run out when I drive in. But they don’t. It’s like they have associated Taco as an extension of me, and they’re cool with it.
I have a healthy respect for the horses here, and I’m finally to the place where I also respect and appreciate Tigger and the treatment team, and what they were trying to accomplish to help me. They knew what I needed. I just had a defiant spirit, determined to hold on to the last few things I thought I could, even though I knew deep down that I wasn’t giving it all over with an open hand. I wish I had trusted in the process more, but here’s to second chances. Better to learn a decade later than not at all.
At the end of most days, I’m physically exhausted. My muscles scream at me from work at the rescue and work at home. I’m in the middle of prepping for the busy show season, I’m remodeling the cabin on a whim to chase a lifelong dream, and I’m at the rescue a few days a week, around amazing animals and equally-amazing women. But my days are full, and I am happy. I am happy. I tear up writing that. It’s been so long since I have felt that. A loved one recently told me they could hear the joy in my voice when I talked about the rescue. Yes. For someone like me, as much as I need alone time and a certain level of spontaneity in each day, I also need a bit of a schedule and companionship. To be able to rest my head on the pillow at the end of the day, knowing it was full. Not just of things I wanted to get done, but things that help others. I crave serving. It’s in my blood. I wasn’t a born leader; I was born wanting to serve others. (I’m not talking about indentured servitude here, people. According to some digging my family has recently done on our family tree, we have discovered we came to America as white slaves, with young William Simcox being taken off the streets in England at age 12 and forced to come to America; a classic example of enslavement of Europeans by non-Europeans. So for those of you who said I was from noble decent because of the bump in my nose, I have to break it to you. I’m far from that. I fell down the basement stairs and broke it. No noble blood here. But so proud of how my family fought to get to where they are. Tangent. ANYWAYS.)
God knew. The timing. The nonprofit. The work. The place. The impact it is having to push me into the next phase of my recovery. I don’t know what tomorrow holds, and if i think too much about it, it overwhelms me. But for today, I am content. And thankful. I am going to my parents’ house this weekend for Father’s Day. I will see the photo of Tigger and me. It will have taken a decade to not just see that crazy horse in the photo, but to also see that my best friends from treatment are in the background. By my side. Knowing the crap we’ve been through that most people will never, ever realize. This time, I will smile. Ah, Tigger. Thanks, bud. I finally get it.
I’ve found my voice.
Only one question remains. A classic bumper sticker question.
Who rescued who?
Please consider donating to the Dorset Equine Rescue. Or going to their ball, which is being held July 9th in Manchester, Vermont. I can’t think of a better weekend to visit the Green Mountain State. For more information, please visit http://www.dorsetequinerescue.org.