Falling Into Place

I had to take a few deep breaths before barreling forward. I was doing this, and for the first time in a long time, I was not about to let fear get in my way. The old cliché saying that “where there’s a will, there’s a way” kept flashing through my head — mostly because K repeated it at least once or twice when I visited her. K, who is not just a fantastic horsewoman and a wonderful friend, has been through hell and back these past few years. She is determination personified, and I admire her and her feisty personality like no other. She encouraged me from day one when I met this horse eight months ago, and was my biggest supporter when I decided to take my life into my own hands and do this.

I made myself sit down and remember that this is doable, if I allow it to be doable. It might be hard, and it might be scary, but I was not about to give in without a serious fight. The only “thing” getting in the way of this was me.

So, I started planning. I tried to keep myself from getting too excited, just in case something went awry…but, as things fell into place and I began saying “when” instead of “if”, I knew it was a done deal.

Time passed, things solidified, and I began to hope. It had been months since I had felt any sort of positive emotion about the future. It never truly occurred to me, even though it was extremely obvious to everyone else, how much I needed a horse in my life. Not everything was fixed, and I still had (and have) my struggles, but the world felt a little more bearable all of a sudden.

Once I had decided that I wanted him home and had a plan in place, I began reseaching names like crazy. Puff was adorable, and it made me think of a squishy, fuzzy kitty that you wanted to hug all the time. This horse was, indeed, fuzzy and squishy, and I definitely wanted to hug him all the time…but he had a much more poised and structured air about him. He was kind without being overbearing and clingy. He was composed without being super standoffish. The word that immediately came to mind was “regal”. I knew I had to find a name to match.

If you’ve been following along, you’ve already read the story behind the name I finally settled on. I won’t rehash that here, outside of the fact that I nearly settled on Black Russian, with a barn name of Stoli. I liked the name, and it held some meaning for me. My grandmother, my mother’s mother, had passed away shortly before my 22nd birthday (and shortly before the original email I received from B). My grandmother was a spunky woman who did not drink often, but when she did, she was partial to White Russians. Of course, with the critter being black, I couldn’t name him White Russian, so I decided on the next best thing. For awhile, I thought I was settled. I even began telling people. It wasn’t until I heard the line in that movie that I changed my mind. “Love Me In Focus”, however, didn’t lend itself to an easy barn name. I struggled with finding something to call him on a day to day basis. I threw around a couple of options with friends: “Focus”, “Pixel”, and “Canon” (referencing the type of camera I used) were among the front runners, until the simplicity of the name “Image” crossed my mind. Just like with his official name, I thought the word and his face popped into my head. I entertained “Pixel” for awhile longer, but it wasn’t too long until I settled on Image.

One of the first times I saw him worked. He was tense, but notice the ear tipped in to his handler.

With all of this in place, I was getting anxious to get the ball rolling. By this time, it had come upon the scary-busy season at my job, and I knew it made no sense to move him home just to not have any time to spend with him. B, in all her wonderfulness, was happy to let him hang out for awhile yet, telling me that there wasn’t any rush at all. It made sense to leave him where he was until the holidays were through, but it sure made the child in me throw a bit of an impatient temper tantrum. My next email to B was to ask if I could come up and see him that coming weekend (Thanksgiving weekend). Her reply was an enthusiastic “Come on up!”

A mix of emotion flooded me. Excitement and glee at being able to go see this horse…MY horse…but, strangely enough, there was also a heavy dose of anxiety. Did I imagine everything from before? It had been eight months. Did I make this up in my head? Was I kidding myself in thinking I had any sort of connection with this horse? I was honestly unsure. Well, there was only one real way to find out. I couldn’t wait for that weekend.

Love Me In Focus

I’ve been asked a few times where I got Image’s “official” name, so I’m going to break away from the beginning of this saga to explain it to everyone. “Love me in focus” is actually a quote from a movie (I know, wicked original, but bear with me!). For Lovers Only is a movie starring Mark Polish and (for those who know me well, this is no surprise) Stana Katic, about a couple who splits up and then inexplicably reunites in Paris on separate business trips eight years later. In the span of an hour and change, these two characters undergo an incredible amount of growth. It is brilliantly written, impeccably shot, and perfectly acted. Hell, there IS no acting in this movie — Katic and Polish ARE their characters. What’s even cooler about this film, is that it was shot with one camera. Katic, Polish, and Mark’s twin brother took turns behind the camera, depending on who was in the scene. There was minimal editing done. It was very low budget, but it spent a few weeks at the iTunes top ten movies.

World’s most perfect woman, right there. Ahem. Still from For Lovers Only.

Granted, I originally rented the movie because…well, Stana Katic. If you don’t know who that is, go Google her. Then you’ll get it. Anyway, this isn’t about her. Both the main characters are involved with the literary world — the male lead is a photographer for magazines and newspapers, and the female lead is a journalist. There was one scene that was playful, with light music and quickly changing frame, and snippets of conversation. I rewatched this movie shortly after deciding to take the plunge into horse ownership, and was struck by how I interpreted this scene and the line “love me in focus”.

In my spare time (whatever that means!), I like to play amateur photographer. I’ve been published in a few small magazines, have a couple of regular clients, and dream of supporting myself as a photographer some day. When I look through my viewfinder on my camera without pressing any buttons, leaving the shot out of focus, there is so much missing. Sure, I can see some of the potential of what a shot may be, but not enough to really see what I’ve got. Then, the second I press my focus button, the scene becomes clear. I still have to position myself, get the correct lighting, find my white balance, adjust my shutter speed, and fix my aperture…but the potential is there, and I can see it for what it can become.

When I looked at this little black horse for the first time, it was like looking through the lens without focusing my camera. I could see, just by looking at him, that there was a lot he could be. Then I got to work with him. I got to move him around, ask for his respect, and see how he interacted with me. That was pressing the button on the camera that asks the lens to focus. That first glimmer of “Well, he could be…” turned into a “This horse has so much potential. It’s just a matter of uncovering it.” Now it’s just a matter of putting all the other proverbial ducks in a row to turn that potential into reality, just like setting up for that perfect shot.

Loving someone in focus is not only loving them for who they are right now, but loving them for all they can become. It can take a long time to get to where you need to be, but someone who sticks by you during that journey is an irreplaceable soul in your life. It’s acknowledging the trials and tribulations of right now, and knowing that tomorrow will bring a better, brighter, whole-er being. It’s loving someone despite their past mistakes.

I chose this name because I felt it represented who this horse was going to become. Right now, he’s a little damaged. He deserves to be a little damaged, after the things he’s endured. However, underneath all that damage is a horse that wants to trust someone again. I see glimmers of this every time I work with him. They are small — sometimes minuscule — but they are there.

I can’t wait to help him along the way.

Leap of Faith

I spent the next eight months trying to force myself to act in ways as normal as possible.

I rode when I could. Laughed and joked at work. Went out with friends when I felt like it…but most people caught on relatively quickly that I wasn’t “me”. I was anxious and withdrawn, my temper was left unchecked, and I spent a lot of time wearing long sleeves when it was too warm to do so. I had slipped back into being a person I really thought I had left behind. Now, I have never — not once — believed that my problems are truly “curable”. Depression and the accompanying struggles I have had can be managed, but never cured. However, I thought I had reached a point where I could manage these things successfully. Most of the time, I can. During those months, though, I was going simply going through the motions.

I never stopped thinking about that little black horse. Every few days, something would come up and I’d think of him. I’d stop whatever I was doing to enjoy the memory of his whiskers tickling my cheek, before shaking it off and resuming my task. It hurt too much, to be honest. I wanted nothing more than to bring him home, but I allowed fear to get in the way. At the time, I called it logic. Hell, it probably was logic, in a way. I had convinced myself that I was not fit to be an animal parent, and because of that, I did not deserve to have this critter, or any critter, in my life. It wasn’t fair to them to be owned by me. I was unfit, and I refused to see it any other way. It would be irresponsible of me to subject a dependent animal to being in my care…and that was that. I refused to let myself believe that owning a horse was something that I truly needed, and not just a frivolous luxury.

Asking him to drop his head and sneaking in a kiss at the same time.

Then came November 2nd, 2012. My 22nd birthday. I had just returned home from dinner out with the couple that have claimed me as their own child, and was reading my email. I was shocked (and, admittedly, a little concerned) to see an email from B. I read it with trepidation, fearing the worst.

Instead, it was a simple request for help. B, knowing she could not give this horse the time and energy he needed to become the rock star I knew he could be, was going to start advertising (quietly) for his forever home. She relayed to me just how much hope she had been given when she watched us work together, and was wondering if I could be a reference for potential new owners.

I stared at the words on my screen until they morphed into a black blur. Ever fiber in my being was telling me to back away as quickly as possible, before my heart broke again. Instead, I wrote a hasty reply stating that I would be happy to help, just so I didn’t have to think about it…or so I thought. I did think about it, and I started thinking that maybe — just maybe — this could become a reality.

I turned to my friends — all 100+ of them on a very close knit bulletin board. These ladies (and a few brave men!) have known me for years, and many of them have been there during my struggles. I posted a thread with the update, and detailed my internal struggle. I claimed that I knew I would “do the right thing”, insinuating that I would put a stop to considering the possibility of bringing this horse into my life.

I got a flurry of replies asking me what it would take to make me realize that sometimes, you have to live life and not let the “what if” get in the way. I was taken aback. Wasn’t I being smart and mature and responsible by saying no? I certainly thought I was. Could there be something I’m missing?

I was prodded with questions by those wonderful women: “Can you afford monthly board?” “Well, yes, but –“ “Can you get the things you need?” “I guess, I work for Dover, but that doesn’t mean –“ “What worries you about owning a horse?” “Don’t you realize that you have so many people that are behind you that would do anything in their power to help you?” “Please at least consider this…” It wasn’t until the simple reply of “You can’t wait until everything is perfect” to my insecurities that the realization hit my like a ton of bricks.

It dawned on me that I was terrified of the “what if”. What if my car breaks down? What if he gets hurt, or sick, or ill? What if, what if, what if? These were all things completely out of my control…things that I couldn’t predict, no matter how hard I tried. This revelation caused me to stop in my tracks. I realized then and there that there is a very, very fine line between being responsible and logical, and letting fear run your life.

It took me a day or two to wrap my head around the whole idea. It took me another day, and a visit to K to convince me that this could become reality. K pushed me that day to email B and to let her know my thoughts, just in case someone else came along and saw the same potential that I did.

I wrote B back that evening, and told her, with very cautious terminology, that things had changed on my end and I was working to put things into place to take him for myself. I couldn’t let him go without a fight. It was time to allow myself to live…and it was time to take a leap of faith.

Meeting "Puff"

In the days that led up to the our first meeting, I bounced back and forth between excitement and fear.  I wanted to like this little black horse more than anything, but at the same time…well, what if I DID like him? What then? I felt guilty, as if I was moving on too quickly. It wasn’t until someone said to me “You know, GP is the one who died, and you’re the one who is absolutely miserable…don’t you think that’s a bit backwards?” that I realized that being without a horse in my life was the worst possible thing I could do to myself. So, I told my brain to shut up, and went with it.

Our introduction to one another was brief, but it told me a lot. He stood in his stall, and allowed me to touch him all over. He wasn’t unfriendly, but there was a guarded air about him. He had a wide, kind eye and there were small flashes of just what kind of horse he really was — smart, willing to please, and looking for someone he could truly trust. His current mama, B, is the kind of horsewoman that obviously puts her heart and soul into her animals. Puff was shiny, healthy, happy and wanting for nothing in every aspect…except, maybe, his very own horse crazy pretend adult woman.

It wasn’t until I was able to work with him a little on the lunge line that it became apparent that someone in his past had been extremely unkind to him. A worried, unsettled expression came over his face as B asked him to move around her in a circle.  He scooted out like a bullet, and did not settle down. He would lap her a few times, and then spin in, his ears rotating like antenna, his eyes wide. My heart ached. You could see that he wanted to do the right thing, but past trauma got in his way. B had forewarned me that he had some issues that were from a heavy hand, so this didn’t come as a surprise. Still, it hurt my heart to see his struggles.

B worked with him for a few more minutes, before handing me the lunge line. I did not ask anything of him, outside of walking him around and having him stop and back. Without fail, he did as I asked, his mouth softening and expression becoming calmer. I could hear the click of my camera, held by my dear friend K, as I circled the paddock. When we reached everyone else, I stopped to chat and share my observations with B.

Our first meeting. 

I knew I was sold on the critter the second I saw him, but as we were all standing together, he lifted his muzzle and snuffled my cheek. It was all I could do to keep from crying. GP was never the demonstrative type, and he used to do the exact same thing. It was small, but it was all I needed to know that he was it.

I went back and saw him a few more time, just for good measure. I rode him, and theorized that someone had gotten on him and been extremely heavy on his mouth. He would crow up out of fear, and then spend the rest of the ride waiting for the proverbial “other shoe” to fall. Our third ride had him relaxing just a little. However, through all of his “flaws” (which I put in quotes because they are man made flaws that should have never been there in the first place), the horse oozed with potential. He was kind, he wanted to do right, and he thought. He did not just react when something was thrown his way — you could practically see the wheels turn in his head.

I got off of his back after our second successful ride, and could not stop smiling. My heart felt lighter than it had in months. I nearly stuffed him in the back of my Toyota Corolla then and there. It was crazy, but only two months after losing GP, I had found another horse that made me excited to go to the barn again.

Of course, it wouldn’t be my life if there weren’t speed bumps. A few major changes happened in my life in very quick succession, and I faced an extremely hard decision. I wanted nothing more than to bring this horse into my life, but with so much stacked against me, I felt utterly defeated. I threw in the towel before I could become any more shattered over the whole situation. Many tears were shed as I wrote the email to B, detailing just how much I adored him, but now just wasn’t the right time for me to take on the responsibility of a horse. I was heartbroken all over again.

So, that was that. I spent the next eight months trying to fill my life with anything I could. I had other horses to ride, including a wonderful love of a draft gelding who was more teddy bear than horse…but something was missing. I knew what it was, but I wasn’t willing to admit it to myself…not when I felt like I had no way to repair the horse shaped hole in my life.

The Beginning

When I was growing up, I was “that girl”. The horse-obsessed kid with drawings of various dream horses all over her schoolwork, a different breed of horse written on her Christmas list every year, and a library full of every single fiction book related to horses on the planet. I lived, breathed, and dreamt of horses. It was torture to drive by a barn and not stop to lay my hand on a velvety nose. My only passion, from my first pony ride on, was horses.

My first ever pony ride. My mother used to say, half jokingly to my father, that is was his fault that I was so horse obsessed.
It wasn’t until I was seven that I had my first riding lessons. It wasn’t until I was 11 that I cantered for the first time. It wasn’t until I was 15 that I got to whoop and holler as the horse I was riding galloped (albeit slowly!) down the trail. The ages of sixteen and seventeen had me immersed in all things horse, as I learned the nuances of running a small farm. It wasn’t until I was 19 that I fully understood what it meant to give your heart away to a horse, and to know that it was going to break some day when that horse left this planet.
My life, up until I met this horse, was messy. My father had passed away at the age of 38. I was 10. The next ten years turned my nuclear family into a fractured mess. The first four years after his passing were defined by my mother’s trips to various psychiatric hospitals. The next four were spent in various different living situations, as my mother was deemed unable to care for my sister and I. At the age of 41, my mother’s demons finally got the better of her and she joined my father, wherever that may be. As for me? I had become shattered — a fraction of the person I was, and the person I wanted to be. The only thing keeping me afloat was the promise of a better tomorrow, and the notion of pressing my face into the sun-warmed shoulder of whatever horse was closest.
My mother and I during better days.
The horse that happened to be closest was a 31 year old chestnut Quarter Horse gelding. General Purpose, or GP, was an unremarkable horse to those who didn’t know him. Hell, I was pretty sure he was unremarkable myself. His owner had to practically throw me on top of him herself to get me to ride him. It wasn’t until I sat in that saddle that I realized he was something special. The quiet, dead broke gelding on the ground was a spitfire under saddle, with just the right kind of energy I needed to soothe my soul. The first time we cantered around the ring, I knew that this horse was going to change my life.
He did. We spent countless hours exploring the trails, galloping the trails, swimming in rivers, and getting into trouble. I trusted that horse with my life. He taught me how to love again, and that life was worth living.
My silly red horse and I
I had three amazing years with this horse, until colic took him from us at the age of 34. The night he was put down, I cradled his head in my hands and cried. I cried harder than I ever had over any living being in my entire life. I was about to lose my best friend, and the reason I chose to keep living. 
I honestly couldn’t imagine getting another horse when GP died. I couldn’t fathom loving any animal the way I loved him. But, with the encouragement of friends, I began looking. I posted on a local online bulletin board with what I was looking for and scoured the online “want ads”.  Shortly after my post on EquineSite.com, this picture found it’s way to my inbox:
My heart skipped a beat. I told it to chill out. I glanced at his picture again, and knew then and there that  if nothing else, I had to meet this little black horse. The email described a sweet but guarded Tennessee Walking Horse gelding who had been rescued from a terrible situation five years back. His current mom, a lovely woman who already had a horse to focus on, did not have the time for the one-on-one interactions this guy needed to overcome his past. We wrote back and forth for a few weeks, and the more I learned about him, the more he tugged on my heartstrings. GP had only been gone a few months, but something kept nudging at my subconscious. Now, I am not one to make rash decisions. If anything, I overthink and overanalyze everything. I was also very conscious of the fact that I had just lost my horsey soulmate, and my heart was yearning for something to fill that hole. I wasn’t keen on rushing into something. Yet, even with all of these misgivings, I kept pulling his picture up and studying his face. There was something there I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It intrigued me.
It was time to meet this little black horse, who went by Puff. It was time to see if the nagging voice inside my head was saying things that were true. We set up a date, and I readied myself for two possible outcomes: falling head over heels for a little black horse, or the realization that I was kidding myself and needed to separate myself from the romanticized idea of finding another horse so quickly after losing my best friend.
To be continued.