Overcast 55° Good Evening
Overcast 55° Good Evening

Remember When, my horse and my therapist

Reader Liz Smith of Centerport with her horse

Reader Liz Smith of Centerport with her horse Ivan, around 2009 Photo Credit: From Liz Smith

I’ve been riding horses for 40 years on Long Island. I started at age 11, working in a barn in Hauppauge to pay for riding lessons. Later I rode on the C.W. Post equestrian team.

I dare not add up my expenses for owning, leasing, lessons, competitions, equipment, vet bills, etc. Riding is truly a passion that usually only a fellow horse person can relate to. There’s just something about the smell of a barn, the miles of beautiful and scenic trails on Long Island, the sound of your name announced at a horse show as you collect a ribbon, a jump you execute perfectly.

Between horse and rider, a bond can form that surpasses human relationships. Every now and then, one may be lucky to encounter a special horse that makes a profound difference in a rider’s life. I mean the ones that teach us something and help us to overcome personal issues. This came to pass for me in 2009.

A few months after I lost my beloved Spec, a sweet bay that I owned for 10 years, to colic, I began leasing a horse named Ivan. He was by far the largest horse I had ever ridden, and I recognized his talents immediately. This was an experienced show horse that had seen more in his 10 or so years than I had at age 45. He was magnificent to look at, and at 18-plus hands (about 6 feet from the ground to the base of his neck), Ivan seemed larger than life, but he was a gentle giant. Little did I know that my quest to ride this animal in three months’ time at the Hampton Classic, a national show each summer that had eluded me all my life, was going to be the least of my accomplishments with him.

My non-horse life was at an inflection point. I had recently left a dysfunctional relationship with a man, hired a business coach to help with my career, and embarked on a journey of self-help to heal old wounds.

I hadn’t ridden at a competitive level in years and my aging body reminded me of that. I started running, ate healthful meals and gave up alcohol. I was determined to reach the horse show and I intended to win.

The life lessons began with jumping Ivan. His sheer size almost enabled him to step over the jumps, but my fears, and my lack of guidance and focus on the jumps, produced many crashes. Ivan would stop short and knock down the entire obstacle, and I’d awkwardly land on his neck. But it also was a turning point.

When Ivan stopped in front of a jump, it was as if he said, “If you don’t know what to do now, I certainly don’t.”

He stood perfectly still and waited patiently as I righted myself in the saddle. Then, I’d attempt the jump again. Instead of being distant and worrying only about how large the obstacle was, I trusted my safety to this experienced soul and told him what I needed him to do by applying any necessary adjustments or pressure through my hands, legs and feet. After a crash, the second try was always perfect.

We made it to the Hampton Classic, and we won ribbons! Ivan’s show name is Remember When. I will always remember when I learned to trust again, to concentrate and focus, to communicate effectively, to believe that age is just a number and that we can achieve any goal. I learned to live in the moment, to not be afraid, and to rely on others.

Reader Liz Smith lives in Centerport.