People ask me why I got Charlie. Why I got a standardbred. And why, over two years ago, I decided to buy a horse 1200km away from a picture off Facebook, I don't know. I had decided the previous year that I wanted to casually - very casually - start looking for a new horse, one that I wanted to compete with, eventually, ideally in eventing. I wanted a green-broke gelding and I wanted anything but a bay with as much chrome as possible (ha). Over the year, I had inquired about and looked at a small number of well-bred local horses, but for whatever reason - sometimes it was cost, sometimes I just didn't feel the connection was right - none of them fit the bill. But then one day, I saw this face on my news feed, and the rest, as they say, is history. (I did get him vetted first, though, and he came with a trial period. So I did my homework. Kind of.)
The first picture I saw of Charlie (J&M Acres Horse Rescue)
And then people ask me why I brought Charlie - a $500 standardbred - across the country with me, another 4000km, when I moved, when it would have been significantly cheaper to sell him and buy a "better" horse here (yes, I've actually been told that). A year ago, if you asked me, I would have given you answers that, though honest and heartfelt, were somewhat generic: he's my horse and I love him, he's young and it wouldn't be right to let him sit, and leaving or selling him never even crossed my mind (leaving Hal, my golden oldie, was one of my hardest goodbyes, and definitely the most tearful).
Since I got Charlie, I've seen him, on average, 5 days a week. Not always riding, but Hal requires daily medication, so I'd go give Charlie his grain, too. The first time I went on holidays after I got Charlie, before I left I promised him that I'd be back. Perhaps this was silly, but at least in the first year, I figured Charlie had been so used to being moved around that he could use a little reassurance. And so it became a kind of tradition - before I left for more than a day or two, I'd tell Charlie that "I'll be back, I promise I'll always come back". I did the same on my last visit to the barn before I moved, 3 weeks before Charlie was expected to arrive at our new destination.
Charlie's arrival in Sherbrooke
The general circumstances surrounding my move to Quebec were stressful, as any move is - but, over the previous 14 months I had another opportunity that I was working towards that ultimately fell through, due solely to a timing issue. Going back to school was only supposed to be my "back up plan", and it was more than a little tough for me to face the reality that I had decided to move on from my main goal. In retrospect, I had only needed to wait for another month. But - and this is one of my least-favourite sayings - it is what it is, and I have to live with my decision. It's gotten easier, but for the first several months, it was horrible. Every day, I recited to myself the reasons why my decision was the right one. I practically had a speech memorized that I'd repeat to myself, countless times a day, to try and lift my spirits. Those close to me often reiterated these same reasons when I expressed my lingering disappointment to them. But it just didn't matter. No matter what I did, no matter how sound my justifications were, no matter how many times I tried or others tried to make me feel better, I sank into what I can truthfully say was the darkest times of my life. In the past, I'd struggled a little through my bachelor degree with depression and anxiety, but this was incomparable despair. I'd let myself down, I'd sold myself short, and I was stuck somewhere, both literally and figuratively, I didn't want to be. I felt as if I was a prisoner to myself. I was sinking deeper and deeper into a hole and the harder I tried to fight my way out of it, the further I sank.
The only light in my life was Charlie. Without a doubt, the only thing that took my mind off of how horrible I felt 23 hours a day was the one hour I spent in the saddle. The only thing that got me out of my house and interacting with people in the evenings and on weekends when all I wanted to do was hide under my blankets. And the only thing that kept me going in my most unspeakably horrible moments was the promise that I made Charlie. That I'd always come back. Those four words, a simple, silly promise, ridiculously whispered into a horse's ears, saved me.
And I know, now, why Charlie came into my life.
Scoff, if you wish; I will understand. I know I sound foolish, and if I had read something like this a year ago, I would have thought it romantic and immature. Maybe I am daft for spending more money on my horse every month, especially during show season, than I do on myself. Maybe it wasn't the best use of $500 ($1500 after the vet check and transport) to buy a pacer from a province away with an ultimate goal of competition. Maybe I'd have blue and red ribbons to show for this season so far instead of brown and white if I'd chosen to buy a new horse here. And I'd definitely have chalked up fewer hungry days if I didn't have a horse at all. But, if you ask me, those things all pale in comparison to what Charlie has done for me.
And I can't help but wonder who rescued who.