bioStories Blog is an extension of the online magazine bioStories: Essays from the magazine, news, updates on contributors, and other features appear here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Grace and the Process of Letting Go

 by Vanessa Jo King

Grace was my 16th birthday present. It sounds ridiculous to realize that I was raised in a family where horses were birthday presents (on my 18th birthday, I actually received a Mini Cooper, but I don't think that enforces any misconceptions of normalcy). She was hand-selected by me after months of searching for the eventual replacement for my gelding, Ace. He was wonderful and beautiful, just not mine in that complete way that a horse can seem to be perfect for one person alone. Grace was different. I knew the first time I sat on her that she was mine. She was almost four. She was simple and honest.

For the last ten years, Grace went everywhere with me. Her dark, steel grey coat slowly lightened to a slightly freckled, almost white. We did amazing things in amazing places. We chased clouds on sweltering Boulder summer days. We won the blue ribbon in Greenfield, Massachusetts at her first show. We spent a summer in Longmont, Colorado, where I tried to convince her to swim and she not-so-politely declined to put even one hoof in water. We conquered hills at full speed and explored during thunderstorms in Erda, Utah. She gathered a harem of geldings in North Salt Lake, and eventually she moved high into the Wasatch Mountains to Heber, where we played games and briefly reconnected with each other.

As I approached my 26th year, I hadn’t ridden consistently since my late teens. The horse-crazy passion that consumed me for most of my youth seemed to have faded. Why did I keep her, this extravagant beast, this endless drain of money? I suppose I can answer that with another question: how can a girl willingly part ways with an animal that more closely resembles a best friend than a horse? There were times when I was in a new place and I had no one but Grace. Sometimes I wrapped the familiarity of her around me like a blanket. The more terrifying reason for keeping her was the fiasco of letting Vixen, my first horse, go. After searching for the perfect home with the perfect people, I was devastated to learn that she had been starved. I refused to let that happen again. The tragic story of Vixen made me swear I would keep Grace until the day she died. There was a certain comfort in knowing that the only person I could trust with an animal I cared about so profoundly was me.

Mere semesters away from graduating from my seven year college adventure, something changed. Faced with the inevitable entrance back into the real world—a world where ideally I would receive a paycheck, and not depend solely on the assistance of my father—I became painfully aware of how difficult owning a horse would be. A horse would tie me to certain places, limit my ability to be courageous, and add a significant amount of worry to my everyday life. I wanted to find a job I loved. I wanted that job to pay me enough to be comfortable. But I had no guarantees that either of those things would happen. Adding my Grace worries to the mix made me feel like a single mother to a 1200 pound animal that had a proclivity for injuring herself on a bimonthly basis.

The more compelling issue was one that was much harder to voice. At what point did I let go of who I was? For over a decade some of the primary words associated with my identity were "rider" and "horses". Regardless of the reasons, that had changed. What used to bring me an incredible amount of peace and joy now brought me a sense of guilt when I tried to recall the last time I visited Grace, or analyzed how much I "should" have been riding, or thought about the increasing amount of money she cost as she aged. I never, ever thought it would happen, but I had outgrown horses. Thirteen year old Vanessa raged petulantly inside me every time I acknowledged that reality.

After years of my best friend harassing me to let her have my horse for her riding lesson program, I conceded in January of 2010. The day I put Grace on the trailer to go to Colorado was one of the toughest of my life. It seemed that the universe was testing the strength of my decision in every way possible. The horse movers were two weeks late and I waited for them at the barn for well over eight hours. Grace had a large wound on her leg and I worried that she would injure it more on her way to her new home. Grace refused to get on the trailer. When Grace finally loaded on the trailer, I crumpled in the dirt driveway of the barn, beyond caring about the mud or the people watching me cry like a child. I felt like firmly affixing a sign to her side, maybe attached with duct tape wrapped 12 times around her large, warm belly that read, "Please, take this creature gently: she has a part of my heart."  But that sounded dramatic even to me.

The situation has worked out as well as I could ever have hoped. Grace arrived safely, and the wound on her leg healed within days. Aside from a recently developed aversion to being tied up, Grace has behaved herself very well at her new home. She is one of the favorite horses in the lesson program, consistently showered with attention, treats, and a regular fitness regime that has slowly whittled away that massive belly that used to trick strangers into thinking she was due to birth triplets within the hour. Everything has worked out. Perhaps the most profound lesson I learned from the experience was that I am not going to be the same person for the rest of my life. What drives me now, might not drive me in ten years, and the ability to let go of who I was in the past frees me up to be who I am right now. The relief I feel when I travel home to Colorado and I'm able to physically check on Grace, is tangible. She's safe. I'm not guilty of anything except growing up a little.

Vanessa Jo King grew up in Oakland, California and Boulder, Colorado, and currently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. She (finally) received her bachelor’s degree from Westminster College in 2010, and has yet to use it in any practical way (aside from planning some pretty awesome weddings). She has a herd of obnoxious animals including a lovable dog named Cricket and two very destructive cats. In her spare time, Vanessa likes to set her hula hoop on fire and read books. Sometimes concurrently.

No comments:

Post a Comment