Growing up in a horse family has been the biggest blessing in my life. My maternal grandmother grew up in Lexington, Ky. Horses were always important to her and she was surrounded by them her whole life. When she was a teenager in the 1920s she worked on the racetracks. It was a way of life and she wanted her future family to own horses, not just work with them. When she adopted my mother while living in Knoxville, Tenn. she made sure my mom had horses.
My mom owned and showed American Saddlebreds, but before she got her first show horse, a family friend gifted her a pony that lived in their small paddock. My mom didn’t even own a saddle. She would hop on her pony, grab the mane and off she went. It was a passion from the beginning and she taught herself how to ride bareback before ever having a lesson. My mom said she didn’t care too much for showing. It was stressful and the pressure to win tied her stomach in knots. She told me she really wanted to just brush and enjoy her horses without the pressures of showing at times. Her horses brought her the most peace and joy in her childhood and the barn was her safe haven.
She did continue to show and ride when she moved to Memphis, Tenn. and started raising her family. My siblings and I were barn babies. There is not a day I remember when horses were not a part of our lives.
I personally think the hardest time in a person’s life is when he/ she is a pre- teen and teenager. The hormones, lack of confidence, pressures of school, and trying to “belong” weigh heavy on teenagers these days, especially with social media. Online bullying is prevalent and the fear of missing out or being left out hangs over many pre- teens’ and teenagers’ shoulders. The main thing that helped me through my teenage years was going to the barn, and being outside with our family’s horses, Sam and Sketch. It was my safe haven too and I enjoyed the peace and joy horses brought into my life.
Being raised around horses helped build my confidence and trust in others. Our horses helped me grow bold and fearless in my decisions. I learned how to better communicate with others by learning how to communicate with horses. I learned how to read body language of horses which spilled over to reading body language in people.
Horses taught me how to control my emotions. I rode a very sensitive and spooky Thoroughbred, Sketch, so I had to make sure I did not fuel his own anxiety with my emotions. This helped me learn how to keep a level head even during high pressure situations. It also taught me humility. The moment my head started to get too big for my shoulders, my butt would end up in the dirt. Horses have a funny way of literally bringing you back down to earth. And, speaking of failing and falling off, I had to learn how to pick myself up and start over again. Learning how to brush off the dirt, ignore the bruises and sore muscles and get back on is one of the best life lessons any teenager can learn. I believe it is what taught me resilience and perseverance.
Our horses brought me through the teenage years. I cried a lot on my Thoroughbreds’ shoulders. I had the best laughs with my siblings while at the barn, and I also learned what grief was like for the first time when we had to put Sam to sleep when I was 15 years old. He broke his leg in the pasture and that was the first time I truly experienced that level of grief. I stepped back from the horses after that. Going to the barn brought a level of sadness I did not expect. I did not ride again until I was almost out of college. I will say, the moment I started riding again, my grief lessened over time. Being at the barn was not as painful. I started enjoying the long hot and cold days in the barn. I took riding lessons and rode several different kinds of horses. My confidence started to build again and I grew happier. The grief and sadness I felt lessened and by the time I graduated college my sister, Ashlee, gifted me the first horse of my own, Gage. Gage has fulfilled so many dreams these last 16 years.
Five and a half years ago my mom had a massive brain stem stroke. The shock and suddenness of her stroke put my family into a level of grief that we never experienced. She stayed in the ICU, off and on, for 9 months. During that time my dad, who had displayed some minor memory issues, declined to full onset dementia. There were times my mom was on the top floor of the hospital, while my dad was on the bottom floor. Having that level of stress shook me to my core. It has been the most difficult five years of my life. My mom lives with her disabilities from her stroke; bound to a wheelchair, feeding tube and a trach, and my dad is in the sixth stage of Alzheimer’s. There are seven stages.
In March, 11 days after my daughter was born, my brother passed away. It has been one thing to watch our parents decline over the last five years, but to lose one of my siblings, especially the one closest in age, was devastating. When I was in labor about to give birth, my brother, Philip, was constantly texting for updates. He was excited, he kept saying how he remembered what it was like when his son was born. Eleven days later he was gone, and he didn’t get to meet his new niece, my daughter.
I mention this personal grief and trauma because I believe if it wasn’t for the many nights I sat in my barn, brushing my horses, mowing the horse pastures, cleaning stalls, filling up water buckets and feeding them daily, I would not be standing as tall. I believe horses have a way to bring people through the hardest moments in life, and they help people of all ages process stress, grief, anxiety, depression and really any physical and emotional challenge or trauma one can face.
This issue, “How Horses Heal” is one I am passionate about and I hope to share the many ways horses help people through hardships in life. I know you, the horse lover and owner, understand how therapeutic cleaning a stall can be, but I hope to share this issue with others, outside of our sport and lifestyle. If I can ask you, our readers, to do anything, it is to share our cover story with all your friends and family, who are not horse people. Let’s share the many ways horses can help heal. It may help someone, who does not have the luxury of horses in their life, move past a challenging or devastating time in their own life.
Lauren Pigford Abbott
Publisher & Owner