I have a horse named O’Hadi. After I ride in the afternoons I tend to run errands in my riding clothes, because I’m already out of the house. Recently I stopped on my way home from the barn to grab a few last-minute groceries. An older woman casually asked me if I rode. I bit back my usual response (“Why, can you smell me?!”) because that seemed rude. I said yes. She said that she used to ride as a girl, and then asked a question that I completely didn’t expect. “Is your horse valuable?” I had no idea what to say to that. I hesitated, and she kept chattering about her horses from her youth, and how they were Walking horses, and were very expensive… ah. She meant money. I told her that it was nice that she had such a lovely childhood, excused myself, and left with my groceries.
The question bugged me all the way home. Valuable? Or worth money? O’Hadi is an Arabian, and a retired endurance race horse. He used to race for miles across open desert. He probably has more airline miles than I do (and that is saying a LOT). I’m positive that he was incredibly expensive when he was bred, raised, and raced. Now? Well, he’s retired and around 30 years old. If we had to sell him (which wouldn’t happen) he would probably just be given away. His worth and his value are so much more than those things though. Let me rewind.
I was the typical little girl who dreamed of horses. They were amazing to me. I read about them, I watched movies about horses, I stared at pictures of them, I drew pictures, collected model horses... the whole deal. I learned how to ride from my Father’s girlfriend when I was 10. I rode more in my early 20’s, and took lessons for a while. Then I joined the Army, and horses were out of the question. I mean, I didn’t have the time, the energy, or the knowledge to have a horse and drag it around the country. And I didn’t have family who could keep a horse for me when I was away. So, the dream was set on the back burner to simmer gently.
Last Spring I got out of the Army (a HUGE transition that I still struggle with) and moved near a close friend who owns a horse. She invited me to ride with her, and of course I jumped at the opportunity. At first I rode a horse that was being boarded at the farm. I groomed him, rode him, and even gave him baths. My husband noticed that when I came home from the barn (sweaty, dirty, tired, and sore) I was always in a better mood. I was calmer. More clear headed. Even I could see that there was a difference, and marveled at the changes. At the end of last summer that horse left the farm to live in a place closer to his owner’s house so I started to ride O’Hadi. It seemed to work out well. He was so old that he wasn’t really a great lesson horse anymore, but he was getting depressed at not having the attention and love that had clearly been given him for decades. He was glad to have the attention I was giving him.
After Thanksgiving I was offered to take a care-lease on O’Hadi. I had never heard of such a thing, but it works like this: I pay for his monthly expenses, ride him whenever, groom him, baby him- but he still belongs to the farm owner, making her (an experienced horse owner) the overall person in charge of his care. Since I’ve never actually owned a horse before, this was totally a great option for me, because it’s less scary. I mean, how do I know when he needs to have a dentist come out? Or the farrier? How do I know what to put on his sores, or where to take broken tack? Yeah, this was a great arrangement.
Agreat benefit of having a horse of my own is that he’s a consistent reason to leave the house. While I love interacting with people, clinical depression gets a vote when it comes to what I do. Some days, making the bed and taking a shower are a HUGE accomplishment. Do I like this? No, not really. And while I do have meds that I can take, I feel like they numb me a little. While I’m less depressed, I also get less excited. All of my emotions are made… less. No good. Horse time doesn’t have these side effects though. There are days when I leave just to go put medicine on O’Hadi’s legs. Or sunblock on his nose. Or sometimes I just go give him treats. And when I really can’t tolerate talking to people, I can still be with him and not be alone. His worth in helping me tackle depression is beyond words.
And I love the outdoors. The woods are my favorite- they always have been. O’Hadi takes me exploring through woods, around fields, near streams, and we see all types of flora and fauna. It’s early summer now, so we’ve been watching the blackberries to see when they ripen, but we’ve also watched primroses, cherries, dogwoods, and tulips as they bloom in turn. We smell the soft perfume of the tulip poplars. We see cardinals, finches, bluebirds, woodpeckers, turkeys, and hawks, as well as rabbits, deer, squirrels, and even one little fox. It’s beautiful to begin to feel so much more connected with the natural world around me. And it’s damned hard to let myself slide back into the realm of “I don’t care” when I’m watching a sunset from the top of a hill, on horseback, and then ride back to the barn watching fireflies appear around us. It’s much too magical for that.
Not looking at the financial part of “value”, O’Hadi came into my life in a place where I really needed him. He filled a space in my heart that I didn’t know was empty, and brings joy, peace, and happiness back into my soul, where it follows into my home, my marriage, and even my relationships with friends. He brings value into my daily life. My husband calls him “the old man”, and has even come out to ride. He has even been known to say things like “Do you want to go to the barn today? Your horse misses you!” (I’m sure that this is husband code for “Wife, you’re being a bitch and I want to play video games. Please go somewhere else and come home happier.” I prefer him saying it the first way!)
I think I’m more “O’Hadi’s human” than he is my horse. You can see the renewed happiness in his stride, in his body language, and in his expression (which he has a lot of!) We spend hours together while I groom his coat, brush and braid his tail, treat his crazy old-horse skin to keep him from being itchy from Summer allergies, and even play stupid games. (His favorite? He walks behind me and nudges me with his nose. When I finally turn and look at him, he yawns in my face. Apparently I bore him.) He turns his ears to listen when I talk to him. Some days he’ll stare at me and stamp his foot to MAKE me talk to him. When I brush his face, he sometimes falls asleep. I love him entirely, and he is so much happier to know that he is loved.)
Since I’ve circled back to the “value” thing, we can also look at this from a financial standpoint. O’Hadi’s monthly board costs the same amount as a 90 minute session with a psychologist. I can go see him whenever I want, and stay as long as I want. I ALWAYS come home in a better mood, and have days where I tackle some of my own issues while I work with O’Hadi. I come home wanting to take part in the world’s activities. Yes, I get those same results from the doctor, but visiting her costs a LOT more over the course of a month. So, in that way, he’s quite a bargain.
All of that was went to my head as I drove home and tried to think about what I should have said to that woman who asked if my horse is “valuable”. Lady at the Grocery Store, here is my response:
“Yes, he is valuable. He is worth a hundred good moods, a thousand smiles, dozens of hugs, hours of laughter, and days of quiet contemplation. He earns me beautiful views of the woods where we walk, of the animals in the woods and the many flowers that are blooming. He gives me a feeling of worth again, when I thought I had lost it with my identity after getting out of the Army. He is treasured beyond words, and that is where true value lies. His value is in the fact that I love him.”