Rebounding After A Loss in Horses

sisyphus modernDo you know the myth of Sisyphus? Sisyphus was a king whose trickery and cunning in life earned him the punishment in death of endlessly rolling a boulder up a mountainside, only to have it roll back down just before reaching the apex. For all eternity King Sisyphus must labor without end, never being able to rest at the top of the mountain.

This story is appropriate to life with horses, though not for the reasons of futility that the theme suggests. We labor to reach the top of the mountain and many of us will find ourselves at the summit, but it is a mistake to think we might stay there. It is the nature of the sport that we watch that boulder roll back down and know we must follow it.

When a huge setback strikes in the horse world, it is easy to collapse under the weight of it. I would be lying if I said this week has not been difficult. When you invest yourself in a horse’s personality and have such plans for the future, it is devastating to have it all wiped away.

As horse professionals, and even amateurs, we build up the illusion of control. There are countless placebos that allow us to pretend that we can control the next day, or week or year. But horses prove to us time and again that it is not so. It might be something as mild as an abscessed foot that puts you off the show you have been preparing for all winter, or it might be something more… permanent.

I do not write this to put us off these plans and placebos however. One must always have something to build toward and structure along the way. When these plans to go awry everyone’s reaction is different. To give up our goals, or not, in these moments is the test of our mettle. And to decide to give in is sometimes valid.

But for me, it is not this time, and if my mettle holds, it will never be so.

So now we ask, what is next? It would be a mistake to look for a replacement to recreate what has been. No one could replace the one lost, and it would be unfair to look for that in another horse. Still I am on the search for a better way to ride, to train, to teach until I reach the best way. Something tells me that I will never find that best way, but the sense of wonder I have at the process has not dampened. So what is next is that next horse, the one who will teach me something else (chances are humbling me along the way) about that better way. Just like there will be that next student to show me a better way to teach and other trainers who show me a better way to train. And I will make plans, one little step at a time, and I will have my rabbit’s feet of structure, supplements and the occasional beer to help me along the way.

We are all Sisyphus when it comes to horses. These creatures are not machines and they do have the audacity to go lame, or get sick, or even pass away. So you can enjoy your labor of pushing the boulder ever upward, and thrill at your momentary view from the top and know when you head back down the hill you will soon be climbing again.  

If you enjoyed reading this, you might also enjoy Dressage Goal Setting AND Motive Setting. 

5 responses to “Rebounding After A Loss in Horses

  1. Eloquently said. I went through the same with my favorite mare not too long ago, and I still tear up thinking about her. Some days are a struggle, and I’ve found myself — in an all too human and irrational way — blaming Lucy’s foal for her death. Interestingly, my most difficult young horse has proved my salvation in all this. Again, I’m so sorry for your loss. I think horse grief hits riders differently from any other kind, perhaps because of the unique relationship we have with our equine partners.

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  4. I just happened upon your article, and it came at the right time for me. I have just lost a young horse that, in the short time I had him, became very dear to my heart. I have been searching for the next horse that will humble me and hopefully give me at least brief glimpse from the top of the hill. Maybe I will be lucky and get a longer look. I think I have found her. I appreciate your well-written article. I plan to print it out so that I can read it the next time I am headed back down the hill and need a boost.

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