What Have I Done?
By Betsy Kelleher
While racking my brain about what to write in this column, I received an email from Rahn Greimann, who said he was the owner of Performance Horse Digest and HorseDigests.com. It was a nice letter, reminiscing about the fading summer and asking if I had ridden enough while I had the chance. I had no idea who this guy was, and I had never seen the Performance Horse Digest. But his question of course got me thinking.
I don’t ride as much as I used to. Since my husband stopped riding about three years ago, I now ride alone and only near the stable where I board. But I really feel that Lady and I have made big progress this year. Lady was never comfortable being ridden out alone, so I have worked on that, very gradually. While I try to ask Lady to do a little more on each ride, I prefer to avoid an overload on her nervous headstrong nature.
There is a nice trail near the stable, probably less than a mile long, which goes straight back from the road. On the right we pass several paddocks, a pasture, and the edge of a five acre wooded tract. On the left is a deep drainage ditch and a field now in soybeans with a growing yellowness, not yet ready for the combine.
This trail may seem boring, but Lady and I have become partners on this trail. Together we have bravely gone on as a large black snake slithered across under her feet, and when a great blue heron flew up unexpectedly from the ditch. Once two raccoons ran across the trail ahead of us and I asked Lady to walk on past the spot where they had crossed. We often see deer. One morning I watched a young deer playing in the water in the ditch, until he saw us. Sometimes I’ve asked Lady to walk down the side of the ditch and back up again. When the ditch was dry, we crossed it and went up to the edge of the field before coming back to the trail. Nature offers its own interesting obstacles. I believe that we learn to work as partners as we face those obstacles together.
This was the year that Lady and I finally rode the whole trail inside the wooded five acres, the main loop as well as the side trails, from the corner of the woods near the trail all the way to the opening into a 40 acre field at the other side of the woods.
This was the year that I asked Lady to go through an overgrown passageway almost closed in with branches of honeysuckle, a short connection from the back of a neighboring unfenced pasture to the big open 40 acre field. The first time through it was slow, with lots of encouragement needed. Now she rarely hesitates.
Going out into the big open field seemed scary at first, and I haven’t yet ridden Lady alone around that field. I was raised on a farm. I don’t want to ruin someone’s hard work and mess up even a small part of his income. But we have to go a short ways at one edge of that field to reach the entrance to the wooded trail.
My husband and I used to trailer to beautiful parks almost every week in the summer to enjoy an hour or two of riding. I’m grateful for all our rides together and for the hunter pace events with friends. I’m grateful for my experiences long ago on the competitive trail rides with my first mare. Earlier this year, I cut my herd of two down to one. It was a good thing. I’ve even pondered the notion of walking away from horses altogether. It’s not time yet; but I’m thinking ahead.
I always get nostalgic this time of year. Fall used to remind me of those exciting competitive trail rides that I enjoyed so much. I love fall—the changing colors, the cooler temperatures, the crisp morning walks with our dog. I love to pick up bright leaves to hold for a moment, and I remember one particular leaf that appeared in my path one day when I needed encouragement. I like to believe one of God’s angels guided it there for me to find. I needed to know that day that God was watching over me.
Now, in late fall, I think more of what lies ahead: snow, cold, ice, staying inside. I need to finish some yard work, and to collect those spray cans from the horse trailer and my tack room, and put them in the closet where they won’t freeze. I need to clean out that tack room before it gets so cold that I won’t want to do it. But I know how that goes. I often put it off a little too long. I also used to give my horses a thorough bath each fall with an iodine-based shampoo, to protect against skin problems over the winter months. I missed that last warm day in October, and it’s too late now! At least I did Lady’s mane and tail!
The question is: have I used my time wisely? Time is a limited commodity and a God-given gift. There is never enough time to do everything I feel I should do or want to do. Sometimes I see certain things that may not be on my to-do list as opportunities that may never come again. I want to grab the moment! Enjoy life while I can! And schedule the things that need to be done some other day.
This fall, I have been dealing with a hand problem. I strained something at the wrist while dumping a muck bucket into the manure spreader. It’s painful to put a saddle up on Lady’s back, and it hurts to pick up and hold a hoof. I’ve tried liniment as well as the cold laser I bought for use on horses. My husband tells me it’s just the result of getting older. Thanks a lot, honey. But I do think it is finally starting to get better.
Mr. Greimann ended his email to me with this thought, “Let’s inspire each other to take the time to ride. So when winter hits, and surely it will, faster than we would hope, we can answer that question, ‘what did I do with my time when it was nice outside?’ with a peaceful inner knowing we did just the right thing.”
That thought reminded me of a long, serious poem, “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant. I loved that poem and I chose to read it in high school for an interpretive reading contest, where I earned an excellent rating! I also remember that my Grandpa’s brother, Uncle Emmett, quoted that entire poem from memory during his last visit to his doctor just before his death at the age of 90. The brief version of the poem is this advice: live your life so that when it ends, you will sleep in peace.
Perhaps now is the time to look back at the summer of our days, not with regret, hopefully, but to see if we need to make changes while we can. We never know what tomorrow brings. Can we go to sleep tonight without worry?
If not, please know that God offers forgiveness for any past mistakes and He is willing to help you find new peace and joy for the rest of your future. As Lady and I formed a partnership facing trail obstacles together, anyone can build an intimate partnership with our Creator, if they are willing to let Him take over as Lord. That partnership grows as we face life with His help, God’s Spirit within as teacher, comforter, and guide. We are never alone once we have asked Him into our lives. But we have to be aware of His Presence, to seek it and to yield to it. Very much like what we want from our horses.
Before next month’s column, take time to count your blessings. I hope and pray that you have as many as I do. Let this coming Thanksgiving season be a special one without later regrets.
(Originally published in the November 2013 issue of the Illinois Horse Network)