When my husband died during his third tour in Iraq, I didn’t think I’d be able to go on without him. I felt alone, hopeless, and afraid. I stopped doing the things I loved. THIS was my new normal.
Concerned, my mother encouraged me to get back on a horse. She reminded me that taking care of something outside myself might give me some purpose. I found Destinaction, a registered Polish Arabian, whom I named Red. I brought him home and got him settled, but I didn’t feel any connection.
A few days in, I took him for a ride. This horse moved like a dream and was unflappable. I stroked his mane as we strolled along. Feeling some trust restored in the world, I leaned forward and turned him loose. The ex-racehorse took off smooth as a song. I pressed into him and shocked myself by smiling as he ran. As he surged forward, I actually laughed out loud for the first time in a long time.
I felt a stab of guilt feeling any type of joy, but before I could process my emotions, we were suddenly in a storm. The sky darkened, the thunder clapped, and the rain dumped like someone had turned on a faucet. There I was, with a new horse, sorting through a slew of emotions, and now this! Would he bolt? Panic and throw me? Put us in more danger?
But like a soldier at the ready, he bravely faced the storm. Despite the flashes of light, ground-shaking thunder, and sheets of rain, Red walked with intention and care, as if carrying glass. He knew how fragile I was and knew I couldn’t handle more. He took on the stress of carefully navigating us home. I placed the reins on his withers and let him do his job. We arrived home soaked and chilly—but safe.
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I knew then that my husband had placed Red in my life, given him his courage, placed his love for me in Red, and armed him with the strength and grace to now be the one who’d care for me. Red knew this was his job and he knew it well.
I put Red up in the barn with some feed and just sat with him, listening to his easy munching. I stared. Looked at him. Really looked at him and really saw him. And in that moment, I felt restored, capable, and strong enough to get through the journey ahead without my husband. In its purest form, I felt love. It was a connection I though I had lost, but it came back to me in a new form. It surged through me in such a way that I was able to let go of the pain; I purged it all right out of me until nothing more came out. I laid it there at Red’s feet and never picked it up again.
He hasn’t let me down since. Not once. And because of the healing power of horses, I opened my own equine-assisted therapy program and nonprofit horse rescue—Destinacion’s Therapy and Maybell’s Mission—where people have a loving place to let go of their hurt and journey forward alongside horses. Together, they forge a new path of resilience, perseverance, hope, and forgiveness. —Jennifer W.
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