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June 27, 2023 4 Comments
"Not my Prince," is a story about an extraordinary horse, a young man with a dream, undoing loss of that horse, and finally, that slightly older man's dream, re-written.
His name was Prince.
Picture the quintessential Arabian horse. Slightly dished, chiseled face, narrow shoulders when you look at him straight on, long pasterns above the feet, making for a smooth ride. He was just over fifteen hands high and snow white in color. What made Prince special was two-fold. First, you could tell he was Arabian, there was no denying his heritage. A keen eye could even point out his particular Egyptian breeding, making for a more refined head. But he was the perfect model of an athlete. Everyone who saw him, immediately knew he was not cut from the standard cloth. He was molded in a special way.
He was compact, sleek, strong, rounded in his topline and neck, flexible, and soft in all the right ways. He had big round eyes, unhindered by life pressures, and long eyelashes that suggested a certain kindness and warmth. He had a low resting heart rate, and a huge heart to boot. His endurance was off the charts. One time, in a mile long flat race with my friend on his quarter horse mare, I found his speed limit. He could not provide an ounce more energy, not one more mile per hour in speed. So naturally, I started to pull him up at the end of the race only to find I couldn't. He didn't want to stop... in spite of the fact he had nothing left. We carried on for nearly two miles before he felt inclined to heed my suggestions. My friend's horse was faster in the quarter mile, but Prince had something else my friends horse couldn't touch. A heart, not unlike the famous Secretariat.
The second thing that made him special was his willingness to learn. I'd never seen a horse that could pick up new skills like him. In mere days of trying out bridle-less riding I could canter and fly through figure eights and jump courses without any problems. Liberty work was a breeze. He loved to connect and perform for me. When presented with a young rider, he would be extremely careful. It's like he knew when someone sat precariously on him and his level of caution for the rider increased. His attention to detail remains in my memory like no other horse before or after him, in my experience. He had the body and he had the brains. He was, by most measures, a perfect horse for me. I felt proud to sit atop him. The kind of pride someone gets when they show up in their newly purchased car to a family barbeque and everyone gets to see it. Only I felt that way every time I rode and every time I worked with him on the ground.
And then... one day, late in his teens, he began to fade. I retired him early and a few short years later he passed. His last year was spent in darkness as his vision slowly diminished. Such is life... filled with awe and wonder and also undoing grief. I saw it coming, it wasn't as if it came as a surprise, but it left a huge hole in my life and an opportunity to learn in ways I never imagined and in ways I can only describe today, twenty years later, in hopes of supporting you on your journey earlier, rather than later.
After Prince came many other horses, many memorable experiences. One mare in particular became my "true blue" partner. She stamped her own place in my heart and refilled that space that Prince left in her own way. But every single horse, if I'm honest with you and honest with myself, came short. People would ask me if I like my new horse and I would always answer enthusiastically, just how much, but inside, deep inside there was a voice that would whisper, "But it's not my Prince." No horse compared to Prince and I found myself always comparing them and falling short. He was the legendary Prince and the standard for all great horses. As time passed, with grace, the whisper faded too. I don't remember when, but one day I didn't hear myself comparing horses and I felt freedom I didn't recognize right away.
Now... fast forward to just weeks ago. I find myself in an open arena, stretching my voice across the sandy surface to all my students, teaching a horsemanship class set in the green, fertile hill country of eastern Pennsylvania. Suddenly, I hear one on my students express her frustration toward her horse. Her comment snapped me back to that whisper I remember.
She said, "I like this horse but he doesn't compare to my old horse."
She continued to express her desire to give up and sell the horse in hopes of getting a better one. With some prompting questions I found out she'd done exactly that before. Many times in fact. She'd lost her Prince and was searching again for the same thing. I knew her loss. I felt her frustration. I lived it then, and in the moment again with her. And in that moment, a deep, sad truth presented itself. Prince, "my Prince," was gone... and gone for her too.
And then a sliver of hope emerged. A sliver that took me many years to realize and identify well enough to point toward it in our shared moment of grief. That light was the realization that the horse in my hands had it's own value. A different value, no doubt, but a certain, strong, important value. A life changing sense of worth. A grand opportunity to experience something new and deep and meaningful. That sliver of hope was the realization that the horse I have now, and I explained this to my student in the moment, is the horse I need most in my life right now. Whatever fate brought us together, we are here to learn, to grow, to become something new. That means stepping into the relationship boldly, trusting there is something important and memorable at the crossroads of memory and potential. It means living in the moment and celebrating the past but not reliving it. It means seeing a path layed out ahead, fraught with hazards and new learning curves, and also joy and freedom and excitement.
I hope for my student's sake, she took it to heart. Certainly, for the rest of the class she held a different kind of gaze on her horse. More like a curiosity and sense of wonder, rather than a frustrated sense of resentment and loss. I hope she remembers to live in the moment and see what she has. And of course I hope you can do the same, dear reader.
If you love horses, it means you love your horse, the one standing in your field. Maybe it's not easy. Maybe your horse sucks at boundaries and bonding and has the attention span of a teething, tantrum-throwing, two year old child. BREATHE! It's all going to work out. There is a lesson here, that if you take the time to accept it, will change your life. In psychology there is a term called "trauma bonding." The term explains how when two individuals engage in something challenging and prevail or even just survive it, they bond in a way that no other means can present. It's like you've been to hell and back and you've learned something hidden and deep and special about each other. Don't be afraid of hard things. Don't be afraid of screwing things up. Don't hide in the corner and pout about the world you knew, when the world you have, waits for you.
Prince gave me a gift. A feeling I'll never forget and always cherish. I still want him back. I still want to find his clone somehow. I'm sure that feeling will never die. But I won't dishonor his gift by missing what's right in front of me. I won't wait for a better life when I can make one. I won't wait for a better horse, when I can progress with the one I have. I will honor my Prince and the horses that have come since. I hope you will too. My dream is not to ride Prince again, not anymore. My dream is to experience the gifts my horses that I have now, give me, and for you to experience the same freedom at your own crossroads.
Thank you for hearing my story, and his story, and how he changed my life then and continues to do so even in death.
"Here's to you Prince, I raise my glass and whisper your name." And here's to the horses in my field and your fields too.
You can learn more about me and my journey here. Join my weekly classes and share in the journey together with fellow, progressive, horse loving friends.
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