The Dream Horse
I am 43 years-old, but I think I remember the first word I ever spoke ….“horsey”. I asked Santa Clause for a horse every Christmas. But, every year, Santa Clause fell short by bringing me: horse themed clothing, a horse head blanket, or a stuffed horse. One year, I even drew Santa a diagram with specs for my horse: big, black, with areas of silver white on his face. Sadly, all that got me was a Breyer horse…..a far cry from the real thing. I finally rationalized that Santa must not speak English. So, I sought help elsewhere. I made a plea to the “Heads of the Five Families”: the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Great Pumpkin, Cupid, and finally ….. the non-denominational “Birthday Wish”. However, the ever-elusive “Godfather of the land of childhood dreams” must have been disappointed in me, because none of his henchmen ever came through for me. Then came the worst tragedy of all. Adulthood. A time when fantasies are replaced with the harsh realities of life, and dreams are washed away like watercolor paintings caught in a thunderstorm.
In my darkest moments, I thought about my dream horse from childhood in an attempt to bring my mind to a happier place. College and medical school left very little time for daydreaming, but even that could not keep my big black and silver beauty from my thoughts. By the time I started surgical residency, when my workload was at its heaviest, I started taking horseback riding lessons at a stable near my hospital. Over the next 7 years, I would take lessons at several different stables, none of which gave me the feeling that I belonged there. My trainers were not interested in an adult rider who had no intention of showing and giving their barn a horse show win to boost their stature. As a result, I was often treated as an afterthought. I began to doubt my instincts that I would one day own a horse. Maybe I was clinging to a silly childhood fantasy, and I needed to just let it go.
Eventually, I became a surgeon in private practice, and I was riding once a week. I had changed stables four times due to an inability to find a trainer who thought I was worth the time and energy to teach, since my only goal was to learn to connect with a horse and ride with confidence and balance. Then, it all came crashing down….. literally. I took a bad spill on my school horse going over a jump. I dislocated my elbow and had to cancel my patients’ surgeries for a month. My hand was forced. The dream was officially over. The same feelings I had as a child when I learned there was no Santa Clause all came flooding back to me, and my heart actually physically hurt as it broke in two.
I recovered from my injury, and threw myself into my work. I put the mental image of my dream horse so far in the back of my mind that it couldn’t torture me with fleeting glimpses of the big black eyes of a magnificent horse, with the sweet smell of his warm breath coming from his velvety nostrils. Over the next four years, I changed as a person. The death of a dream comes at a steep cost. Along with my dream went my joie de vivre. The shine in my eyes was gone. The spring in my step was gone. I felt like I was living my life as an actor, playing a stressful role that I could not get out of. I lost ….. myself. I tried various outlets to relieve my stress and help me find happiness: yoga, meditation, salsa dancing, and cooking (to name a few). Nothing worked. I would take long drives, by myself, on Sundays to be alone with my thoughts, hoping that the answer would just come to me if I cleared my head. One Sunday, as my eyes stared blindly at the beautiful Michigan scenery, a sign, way back off the road, buried deep in the lush greenery caught my eye. I couldn’t read the sign at all. It was the picture of a horse’s head painted on the sign that my eyes focused on. I pulled over just far enough to write down the phone number. When Karen Rach answered my call, I knew immediately that she was not like the other trainers I had met. The ones who not only took little interest in my dream, but who also played a direct role in dismantling it piece by piece. Karen was not only immediately interested in helping me, but she had so much confidence in her ability to get me back in the saddle, that I opened the door to that padlocked treasure chest in my mind. All of my precious magical thoughts started popping out right and left. Karen worked as intently with me as she would with an Olympic hopeful. For Karen, the main quality she looks for in a student is simply that they are ..…. hopeful.
My lessons went well and my confidence was building, and ….. then it happened. I remember exactly where I was standing when she said it. I was just finishing a lesson with Karen on an Azteca mare named Selina. We were chatting about how lucky Selina’s owners were to have found her. I asked Karen how they even knew where to begin looking for a horse and how they were able to find one with all of the qualities they wanted. What I heard Karen say next sounded to me something like this, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, “Dream Horse”, blah, blah, blah, blah…”. The hair on the back of my neck stood up and my heart started racing. I felt like I couldn’t get home fast enough. I still had my riding boots on as I tore through my living room to grab my lap-top.
When I found the dreamhorse web site, my heart dropped a little. The search process was so complicated. I didn’t even know the meaning of some of the terms included as search options. What type of horse did I want? An eventer? A trail horse? An all-around horse? The options were endless! Once again, I felt lost. But this time, I knew I had someone who would help me. Someone who was honest, giving, caring, and who not only knew horses, but she knew people. So, I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. I found the mental image of my dream horse, which I had locked up in the back of my mind. I saw his face ( …. his face … I was looking for a gelding). Search criteria #1: gelding. I could see his eyes, so young and cheeky (young … ). Search criteria #2: a young horse. I could see his tall beautiful stature, and gleaming black coat with silver flecks and markings on his face. Search criteria 3 and 4: big horse, dapple-grey. My search criteria started taking shape, and as I entered more specific qualities, the list of matching horses got smaller and smaller. I started to focus on his personality. The horse of my dreams was fun and playful, but brave and willing. He was calm and bomb proof, yet athletic and agile. My fingers were flying across the keyboard now, adding more and more qualities until I realized that there was only one horse left on my screen. I clicked on his name, and up popped a photo of Elliot. A 4-year-old, 17.1 hh, Percheron-Thoroughbred gelding. A horse that could have been drawn by a sketch artist, listening to me describe the horse of my dreams. He looked exactly like the picture I drew as a child.
I made the call and had an appointment to meet him three days later. Karen didn’t hesitate when I asked her to go with me. She took time out of her exceedingly busy schedule (having just opened a new barn which required a total renovation) to go with me. We made the hour drive together as Karen gave me a quick education in horse ownership, and what to look for when we see Elliot. But, like the kid in the movie who just got his Red Ryder BB gun, I only heard a few words she said. All I could think about was the fact that I was on my way to meet my lifelong dream. It was better than any Christmas I have ever had. It was better than any birthday I have ever had. It was proof that magic is possible and dreams do come true …… what was Karen saying about rubber stall mats? Who cares! We had arrived!
I stood in anticipation, palms sweating, as his current owner, Vicki, disappeared in the September morning fog, over a small hill at the far end of the pasture. Moments later, through the fog, I could see Vicki walking towards us. A split-second later, I could see the lead rope emerging from the mist, seemingly held up by an invisible force. Then it appeared as the sky on the horizon turned black behind the lead rope …. like a storm cloud rolling over the hill. But that was no cloud. That was Elliot’s massive body emerging from the distance in a haze made thicker by the steam rolling from his nostrils. My legs got weak and I started to tremble. I couldn’t tell if it was my nerves or if the ground was shaking as Elliot approached. Karen remained calm, cool, and professional. She saw my excitement, so she did all of the talking. She had Vicki put him through the paces, and asked her all of the right questions. When I got on Elliot’s back, I got a lump in my throat and my eyes started stinging with tears. It was all I could do to keep my heart from bursting with happiness. There was no doubt in my mind that Elliot was my dream horse. After confirming with Karen that he was a good choice for me, I bought him right there on the spot.
From the moment Elliot arrived at Karen’s barn (aptly named “Miracle Ranch”), my life has changed. I finally found true peace and happiness. My lessons with Karen have brought me closer to my horse and, for the first time, I feel like I belong here. I have made many friends (young and old), and Elliot had a cult following. He gets more visitors than I have ever had! He even gets requests for photos that would put George Clooney to shame. Most of all, he has given me the strength to deal with the harsh realities of life by offering me the magic of a childhood fantasy every time I see his face. Now, when I hit those really hard days at work, surrounded by death and dying, I close my eyes and take a deep breath. The smell of Elliot’s sweet breath coming from his soft, velvet muzzle fills my lungs and all of a sudden, I am capable of anything.