In memory of Jamie Solomon,
With the recent loss of our beautiful friend, I've been doing a lot of thinking about what really matters in terms of this strange world of horse showing that we are all so deeply involved in. In the week after Jamie's death, I attended the world show where she would have been competing in the western pleasure classes on her wonderful mare "Forever The Best". My trip was planned about a month prior, and I was eager to watch Jamie compete and to support the rest of our barn mates as well. As fate would have it, plans changed.
We got the devastating news that she had lost her battle with cancer just a week before she was to ride. Turns out cancer doesn’t care about the world show or any of our plans. As I sat in the stands and watched the horses and riders jog down the center of that prestigious arena, I felt numb. It was hard for me to be excited about watching a horse show after everything that had happened, even though I know how important it was to her to compete at this level. She so badly wanted to be among those riders. Even so, l found it tedious to care which horses front leg fell just a hair softer and flatter kneed than the rest, which hock was stronger and deeper, who had the most flawless ride and the prettiest clothes and tack. It all of a sudden seemed so weird and trivial, I tried to get myself to care about who won but I couldn’t. What was the point? I felt totally apathetic, indifferent and at the same time guilty for feeling that way.
Then, after the finals of that amateur western pleasure class, I walked back to our barn aisle alone, opened the door to Millie's stall (Jamie's liver chestnut mare with the sweetest disposition) who met me at the door with ears forward and a soft expression. I ran my hands over the tops of her eye lids, leaned in and rested my cheek on her flat forehead, closed my eyes and inhaled the heavy smell that we horse addicts all know. Millie lowered her head and sighed. It hit me then that the only thing that matters in this sport, the ONLY thing that really means anything is the love, acceptance and lessons that these great animals give to us. That and the relationships with the rest of the people who understand the power of that connection. If you don't see that, I think you are missing the point entirely.
I think this is the reason that so many of my best friends are also horse people. We get it. There are certain things about being around horses that are unique and profound and cannot be replicated in any other way. Horses teach us so much about communication and how to be present in our lives. They operate in the “now” and force us to do the same. I think any horse person will attest that there is something special about this species to which we are unequivocally drawn. Within a horse lies an emotional intelligence balanced in a powerful yet fragile being. For some people, the ones who become the exceptionally great riders and trainers, the communication is almost instinctual. I realized at that moment what I have always known but have never been able to pinpoint. That the ear to ear grin you had when you first sat astride a horse as a child, when you felt your first gallop strides that seemed like you were flying, when one nuzzles your hand gently for a carrot or nickers to you in the barn aisle. That uninhibited joy you felt and hopefully still feel is the only real reason we are here. It’s the real reason we started riding and showing in the first place and it will always be the most important reason we still do. The subtle nuances of our western pleasure classes, or showmanship or whatever class you choose are all a showcase of that respect and communication between a horse and human. There is nothing more important and there is nothing greater than getting the opportunity to share this.
I began thinking about how I would like to be honored if it were me whose time it was to take my last deep breath of sweet smelling pine and alfalfa laden air and run my hands across my horse’s strong and trustworthy back for the last parting of that day. If I were to look over my shoulder at the well swept barn aisle and hear the contented munching of evening hay for the last time, I would wish for someone else to feel the same peace and joy that I have spent my life feeling in the presence of great horses.