Gandalf

I'm thankful for Gandalf, who's currently my favorite horse on the planet.
Photo by Stephanie L. Church

Gratitude journals were all the rage a few years ago, and the concept has graduated to Facebook posts of thankfulness each day of November leading up to Thanksgiving. Sometimes I participate; usually I’m an observer of everyone else’s posts. I recognize there’s a lot to be gained with the exercise of expressing our gratitude and resting our minds for at least a moment on those things for which we are thankful.

This has been a whirlwind year. Quite honestly, I can’t remember a year that hasn’t been a cyclone of activity since joining the staff of The Horse 13 years ago. But despite the busy, there’s a lot to be thankful for, especially in the realm of horses, even though I don’t currently own a horse. I’ll stick with categories of at home, at work, and away.

  • Here in my hometown, Lexington, Ky., I have some great friends who are wonderful stewards of their horses. I farm sit for them from time to time and go riding at their place, and they let me pick Gandalf as my favorite and dote on him and talk about him as if he’s my own. I rattle on about his fun quirks and enviable mane and tail to friends after spending time with him. In the past when I watched the farm, I always pretended bottom-of-the-totem-pole Gandalf was mine and hoped he’d one day make a face at one of his herdmates as if to say, “She is my person. Get away.” Last month he did exactly that, making an ugly face at the pony (about half his size) whom I was scratching. My heart swelled. It’s the little things.
  • At work, I’m surrounded by skilled people who are passionate about great products. The Horse boasts a talented staff. The editorial team works hard and plays hard; team members love their personal horses and that’s reflected in what they write, edit, and produce. I am blessed to work with them. Elsewhere in the building, from the artists and the advertising team to the digital management group, marketing folks, and information technology guys … someone is always working on The Horse and helping make it better. You’ve seen their efforts in the redesigned TheHorse.com. We’ve also got the business/finance department making sure a bunch of creative people are watching their numbers, and our customer service department interfaces with our readers and site users daily. It really does take the whole team to keep The Horse rolling, and I am thankful for all who play a role in its operation.
  • Away from home, I am truly thankful for parents who let me be that horse crazy child who wrote her pony’s name--surrounded in hearts--on Trapper Keepers, clipboards, textbook covers, and just about any other stationary object I could find (though I don’t remember defacing public property). They hauled me and my various mounts all over the state of Virginia and up and down the East Coast, making sure I had a shot at excelling as an eventer. Their willingness to let me chase dreams to make horses my career was key to my starting down this path. And mom’s current horses have enough weird things happen to them (not necessarily something to be thankful for) that there’s plenty of fodder to write about in columns and blogs.

It’s important to note that a real challenge of making horses your livelihood is keeping that love for the horse alive, even when you’ve been reading about them all day. Not owning a horse--a choice I’ve made for the time being--can make that challenge seem bigger.

Sometimes I’ve worried that the passion will fade entirely, and that horses will become just science and words to me. So I am especially thankful for an opportunity to ride in Ireland this summer, on a special Irish Draught named Shanlara.

I’m particularly thankful for our inaugural beach gallop: Not 15-20 minutes after getting on Shanlara for the first time, we were set to gallop with a group of six or seven horses down a deserted shore. With a few vertebral fractures in my past and one really terrifying beach-riding experience under my belt, this scenario seemed a little concerning to me as Shanlara pawed the air, Zenyatta-style.

Shanlara

Shanlara calmly declares his readiness to gallop a beach in County Donegal, Ireland.
Photo by Christa Leste-Lasserre

But there was no time for reflection. I took a deep breath, exhaled, bridged the reins, and my smartly dappled mount shifted directly from spirited walk into confident gallop. And while he blazed down the beach with remarkable speed, his footfalls were with a metronome’s certainty. I felt safe and secure despite my relative unfamiliarity with this 5-year-old horse; he neither felt like he’d take off with me nor zig-zag erratically when we came across spook-worthy debris on the beach. As we sped over the sand, tears streamed back toward my temples—I’m not sure if it was the speed, my joy, or the rain that had just begun to fall.

Regardless of the cause, that moment (and my permagrin) reminded me of my strong foundation in the love for the horse. And for that reminder I am especially thankful this year.

What are your Thanksgiving plans--do they involve horses? What are some vivid horse memories for which you're thankful?