This post is about a journey through life, not a journey from place to place but one made in my mind and in my circumstance. It has however been a journey, like all the others, shared with my horse P, with whom I now have an even deeper connection.
On the 17th of September 2015 my husband Ian died suddenly. We lost him too soon, he was too young and we weren't ready, I am still not ready to live my life without him but there is little choice. This post is not about that loss or how I am adjusting to it. There are many excellent blogs about bereavement, I've read them and drawn solace and support from them but this is a story about me and my horse and the journey we are making together to give ourselves a new way of being.
When we had Ian with us we were a team of three. We all had our jobs and we supported one another. He was the driver and navigator when we were away, the mender and fixer at home. He sorted and planned, made dreams reality and believed anything was possible. He was the one at home buying provisions, packing the trailer, doing all the chores to make sure that, when I had a break from work I could make the most of it.
When he died the life I knew ended too. Everything changes following this sort of loss, you become a different person with different feelings and different priorities. The only things that were important to me in those early days and remain so now were my family and friends, my horses, my dog and my home. I adjusted my life to make sure I could achieve this, changing my hours at work and giving myself more time. I didn't want to work to pay someone else to care for my home and my animals. This has given me more time to do the things I enjoy and I value that, even though the price I have paid is too high.
People who ride talk a great deal about building a relationship with the horse, about how important it is to have the respect of your horse and to be a firm, consistent leader who instils confidence and always gives a clear message. People also talk about the way horses see inside you, beyond the way you look and the way you speak but deep inside to the way you feel and fear. The two can often be different; we can all put on a brave face, pretend not to be scared or angry or upset but the horse sees through the mask to the truth that lies behind.
P did exactly that and, to be honest didn't much like what he saw there. Bereavement messes with your head. You don't know what you want, even if you did you wouldn't have the energy or strength to achieve it. You can't make decisions, can't concentrate on tasks and suffer from exhaustion because you rarely sleep or relax. None of this makes for a good leader and as a result of my weakness the horses stopped listening and stopped following. They would be naughty to lead up and down from the field, were quick to push and barge and P became difficult to ride. He felt as lost as I did, had no confidence in me and sensed the pain and uncertainty surrounding me.
Knowing I had to do something, but without the energy or focus to know what, I sought the help of my friend and trainer Philippa Unwin, an amazing horsewoman who has worked with me in the past. There would be no quick fixes here, that's not how she works.
The first year Pip free schooled P for me, I could hack him out but he was unrideable in an arena or in company. Sometimes he worked alone, sometimes he worked with other horses who taught him respect and manners.
The photo's above show P's speed and position in the school being controlled by both Pip and the helper horse. P worked with many different horses and they taught him how to behave in a group finally enabling me to ride out in company. She also carried out Reiki on him, releasing some of the pain he felt as a result of our loss, occasionally accessing my grief too through the open channel of communication I hold with him. This was an incredible and very emotional experience, something I still don’t understand but I appreciated the release and unburdening it brought to both of us.
I attended her regular Pippsway clinics, whole weekends of intensive work, free schooling, groundwork ridden and in hand. We work with obstacles, over jumps, in an arena and on grass. The more variety, the more the horse has to think and the more the rider has to engage.
The end of 2017 finally saw me riding in the school, earlier that year I also returned to Bronwen at Tugford Farm for a horse holiday in Shropshire, one of my favourite places for riding. With the whole family and a new Grandson it was far removed from the trips Ian and I had shared but I was on holiday, with my horse, riding the lanes and bridleways. This was what moving on looked like, not perfect but not too bad. I wanted to go somewhere friendly and familiar but there were plenty of tears in the hot tub as we reminisced that week.
It had taken me two years to get to this point, such is the power of grief and the loss through bereavement. Along with my family the dogs and horses gave me purpose, focus, strength and solace. I might not have a better life yet but I am a better person and I will get stronger.