I grew up on the back of a horse and I mean that in the literal sense of every word. When I was six years old my family moved to a farm in rural Oklahoma. The post and rail fences that surrounded our property soon contained a multitude of horses. There was Betsy, Charmin, Okie, Carrot, Honey, and all of the others that came and went over the years.
I was that girl. The horse girl. I was the one who spent every unscheduled moment of every day in the saddle. I was the one who got up at 4 am to prepare for a horse show, or to ride in the dark, often in my nightgown, during the early hours of July days, before the oppressive heat of an Oklahoma summer sent every living creature scurrying for shade.
I spent rainy days when it was too muddy to ride scrubbing tack and cleaning stalls. I learned about thrush and laminitis and birth and death. I learned about patience and control and quiet strength. I learned about bravery and fearlessness, and that fences meant nothing when jumping them was the fastest way between point A and point B.
I fell, I crashed, I broke bones, and I was knocked unconscious. I screamed, I cried, and I lost my temper. Throughout it all, I never failed to get back on, and my horses never failed to forgive me for being human.
Most of all, I learned about love.
My life changed, as it is wont to do, and the farm was sold. I watched the horses travel away to their new homes, and I spent one final moment draped across the neck of Carrot, a person in a horse body if there ever was one, before he was loaded in the trailer. A friend of the family took him to her nearby farm. I saw him a few times before I left Oklahoma for good and he died of old age a few years later.
My life took me in various directions over the next several years, but I was the one who still had riding boots and a box full of Black Stallion books. I was the one who refused to obey the no cantering rule on a trail ride. I was the one who attended horse shows, fidgeting in the stands because I knew I could have done it better. I was the one who never really stopped being that girl.
As I began my world travels I had more opportunities to ride than I had in the previous twenty years. I trained at a dressage barn in Kaohsiung, Taiwan where, despite my decent Mandarin skills, I needed a translator for my lessons. I rode a champion Peruvian Paso stallion through the Moche ruins of Chan Chan in northern Peru. I galloped a feisty Arabian mare along the road to Petra in Jordan. I drooled over the fancy stables in the United Arab Emirates and I regretted that the prices were too high for me to take lessons in the air conditioned arenas.
Then we moved to Panama.
I met Jess on our first trip to Boquete in 2011. As we rode in the taxi from the David airport to the little, mountain town 45 minutes away I spotted the barn on the side of the road, the outdoor riding ring set with a jumping course. As soon as the niceties were exchanged with my husband’s friends who we were there to visit I asked who owned the stables. I rode with Jess on that visit and again a few months later, just prior to our move to the UAE.
When we made the final decision to settle in Boquete for a while I knew that I had to make riding an important part of my life. It wasn’t about anything other than claiming a passion that had been on the shelf for too long. You see, I need to ride, I need to fill my head with the scents of hay and horseflesh, I need to recognize that my life will always be intertwined with that of a horse.
It’s not always that I allow myself to be so reflective. There are too many portions of my past that I’d really prefer to forget. However, years spent in unfamiliar places around the world have taught me to relax and live in the moment. Through travel I’ve discovered a strength and resilience that I hadn’t seen since those days when I was that girl, the skinny blonde on a horse.
And through horses I’ve learned that, in very unexpected ways, it is absolutely possible to go home again.