Married with Horses: My Therapist Eats Hay

A horsewoman's husband seeks equine therapy when the stress of preparing to run a boarding farm full-time overwhelms him.

| © Andy Myer

It was a bittersweet departure when we moved from the old house last week because it was the first home we shared with our horses. Kimberly and I always considered boarding them to be a necessary, but temporary evil. Once we had our horses at home, we bonded with them and grew fond of our slightly run-down, 6-acre farm.

The new house, however, has plenty of room for our dogs, cats and two geldings, and about 10 of their equine friends. We now live in a pristine 1850s farmhouse with 16 acres of pasture and two beautiful barns where we plan on boarding horses. Though having a horse farm was really Kimberly’s dream, she will keep her marketing job, and I’ll run the farm full time. And frankly, the move couldn’t have come at a better time.

My last day as a warehouse forklift driver was yesterday. While I’ll miss driving the forklift (forgive me–I’m a guy who likes machinery), taking care of a horse farm is more my style. Simply put, the warehouse job was frustrating me. I liked the guys I worked with, but the simplicity of the work was allowing my brain to atrophy, and I spent a lot of my time edgy and irritated. After teaching pre-kindergarten, helping run a children’s foundation, working construction and spending years cooking professionally, I am still not sure where I’m headed.

Yes, my wife took a huge chance when she married me. I don’t know what I want to do even if I grow up–and I’m not sure I ever will. Lucky for me, Kimberly and our animals love me anyway. So, here I am–the pensive and troubled zoo keeper.

I had a few days at the new farm with just Vander and Skip before our boarders were due to arrive. The warehouse frustration was beginning to wear off, but then there was the fear of my not bringing home a paycheck, and the rent on this new place is a whopping $1,700. (I’m sweating just typing those numbers.) Additionally, we’ve secured only enough boarders to barely break even. We’ve got to give the dream a shot, right? Come on, even if you don’t mean it, please just say “Right, Jeremy” anyway. (Yes, I’m still sweating.) Hey! How about a new column titled “Homeless with Horses.” Yes, you’re right. That’s not funny.

It’s ridiculous. I’ve got a dream horse farm job, and somehow I’m still stressed. This is a part of my life where I get to stop and smell those roses everybody keeps talking about, and I can’t seem to do it, and that, too, stresses me out. Holy cow! At 33, I am both too young and too old for this kind of thing. I’m simply working myself into a frenzy–and with frenzies like these, who needs enemies! Oh, dear.

So, it was in this state that I began work on the horse farm. I found myself leveling stalls, repairing fences, planting grass and scheduling hay and shavings deliveries. Did I break down? Did I commit myself to a home and begin a strict regimen of medication? No, but I did find a therapist–well, actually I found two therapists, and they both eat hay. Don’t laugh. I know you saw that coming. Like our lives, these columns always come back to horses.

In the same way that horses are intensely instinctive, they are also supremely sensitive to anything in their environment. The first few days at the new place I had plenty of time with Vander and Skip. I initially attributed their unsettled behavior and agitation to being in a new place, but that wasn’t the problem; I was.

Even if I quietly entered the barn or pasture with food, they acted spooked and uneasy. I then observed them from the house, only to find them behaving calmly. I’m not a rocket scientist, but I figured it out anyway. My tension was upsetting them. Do I need to tell you that my stressing them out, further stressed me out? Oh, you saw that coming, too. So where’s the realization or epiphany, you ask? What’s the fix?

I needed to be more honest. It was that simple. I didn’t have to figure out the world–or even myself–for our horses to be comfortable around me. I just needed to acknowledge my worries and stop pretending that the stress wasn’t there.

Horses need us simply to admit that we’re frustrated, or confused or sad. They don’t demand a solution, just forthrightness. It felt silly at first, but I told Vander and Skip that I was worried about the future and that might not change anytime soon. I also told them I was happy to be on the farm with them, beginning a new phase of my life. I said these things to them out loud, in English. Strangely–or perhaps not–I felt better for having articulated my feelings. They didn’t hug me or say anything back, but I immediately noticed a difference in their demeanor, which made me feel better. Now, if I have to take any worries to the barn, I make sure I bring it up to the horses. I don’t know how they do it, but they always make me feel better.

This technique works with people, too. Interacting with other people while you’re upset is not as productive as collecting yourself and maybe discussing your concerns with someone first. (And as crazy as it sounds, it works especially well with significant others.) It’s not easy, but it definitely helps. Believe me, our mood sets the tone for our interaction with any animal. All of us have way more influence than we ever give ourselves credit for.

In order for us to admit our issues to each other, we must first admit them to ourselves. Now, for me I’m not sure if it’s the monologue with myself or the dialogue with others that brings the calm. Perhaps it doesn’t matter.

It’s both ironic and beautiful that our horses are helping me be happier and more human.

Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina with their two cats, two dogs and two horses.

Read Jeremy’s other columns in EquiSearch’s Humor section.

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