Maybe So: life, lessons and a horse named Ben

Me and Ben in 1999

I was a moody, stubborn, impatient teenager. I had big visions and felt determined to accomplish something worthwhile in the world. I felt frustrated because I felt like I had not and that it was already too late. I was full of self-doubt and anger and all those other potent emotions that swirl around within us so intensely at that age. One of the biggest grounding factors in my life was, like so many girls, horses. I had taken riding lessons since I was eight and starting competing in horse shows when I was eleven. When I was fourteen I realized one of the biggest dreams of my life up to that point: to own my own horse.

Ben and I on the day I got him

Maybe So, aka “Ben” was an all-American mix, a Morgan Quarter Horse cross with a lazy walk and a white star on his forehead. He was as headstrong I was and so much of our relationship became a battle of wills: I wanted him to trot fast, he wanted to trot slow, I wanted him to jump over that log in the woods, he was sure it was going to eat him for lunch, I wanted him to walk calmly into the horse trailer and he was convinced that was the last place he ever wanted to go.

Season's Greetings

Our season’s greetings picture, 2010

I put all my free time into taking care of him, training him and riding him. I even read him beat poetry. We were not champions, though we did win a lot of ribbons at shows as we got to know each other better. More importantly, he taught me the kind of things that it’s impossible to teach teenagers except through experience. He helped take all those raw emotions and channel them into something productive and focused.

Show jumping at an event in Massachusetts

He threw me off onto the hard ground more times than I can remember and I knew that unless I faced my fear and anger and got back up the fear would win.

I learned that I couldn’t hide from the emotions I was feeling: he could feel if I was nervous, angry, impatient or excited.

He taught me that hard work can win you ribbons and respect, but life will always be unfair, and that’s okay. There will always be someone with the more expensive horse, the better trainer, more natural talent, and true validation of your hard work will only come from within.

He taught me that it wasn’t always about my agenda. I could arrive at the barn convinced today was the day we would master a certain technique and he would show me that it was really about convincing him not to be afraid of the puddle in the riding ring.

Okay, I'll be cute

He taught me patience and to look at the big picture. One show, one jump, one routine might have gone less than perfect, but if I looked at what we were working on over time I could see improvement. I learned very quickly I couldn’t blame him for my own mistakes, misunderstandings or shortcomings.

Even when I stopped riding and moved on to punk rock and New York City I would always feed him carrots and pet his velvet soft nose whenever I cam home. He always snapped to attention when I called out “Hi, Ben!” across the pasture and eyed me warily, worried I was going to make him work.

Me, Ben, Lynnli

Me, Ben and Lynnli, another young woman who loved him, in 2010

I had a premonition last Friday while I was walking home. I suddenly felt that he was gone. I knew it was time and he was too weak to make it through another Maine winter. Tears dripped down my cheeks as I walked through the early fall twilight. So when I got the call this week I wasn’t surprised. I understood it was the right moment and I’m glad he decided it was his time to go.

Ben was 31 years old, the same age as me. He was a part of my life for 17 years. 17 years later I’m still moody and headstrong and determined, but he played a big role in helping me grow up and move past my raw emotions. I feel lucky we got so much time together. RIP, my best friend.

Ben and Sonny in their pasture in Maine

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4 thoughts on “Maybe So: life, lessons and a horse named Ben

  1. Wow, this is such a moving piece. I never really rode horses (impractical in Brooklyn) but they are so powerful and majestic, I can see why many girls are drawn to them. Your story reminds me of social programs that allow at-risk teenagers and prisoners to train animals and develop a connection with them. The unconditional love seems so healing. RIP Ben. I’m glad you had such a good friend.

    • Thanks, Danielle. Yes, animals teach many lessons and the love is unconditional if you treat them right and try to understand their perspective. They are such an important presence for good in the world!

  2. I’m sorry for your loss. First horses, especially those that we have during tumultuous times (aka being a teenager) are the best horses. They teach you so much. I’m sure you will fondly remember Ben! I love all the photos of him.

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