The following post was written by Global Gap Year Fellow, Amelia Laursen.
October 24, 2022
Isabela, Puerto Rico
My heart has grown three sizes, or maybe four, or possibly five or could even be twenty-seven sizes bigger since I moved to Puerto Rico. What size does a heart have to be to hold two quarter horses, two ponies, and a thoroughbred mare?
My heart felt a bit stretched at first – in fact there definitely were some very distinct growing pains, one of which involved a horse kick to my left butt cheek, another few involving crushed feet, and a good many more involving tears of frustration and hours spent wading through waist deep wet grass in pursuit of stubborn and hungry horses.
Now my heart is nice and airy and I think my horses are very comfy and homey in it. I’m glad they like being in my heart because they will be staying there for a very long time.
When I first came here and started work on the farm and therapeutic riding center, I would say that the way I felt toward the horses was less than comfy. Firstly I felt confused by them, and very afraid of them, especially the three Bigs (KT, Junque and Jibaron). I wasn’t here long before Jibaron kicked me in a moment of high anxiety on my part and annoyance and nervousness on his. I wasn’t hurt badly, but it scared me and hurt my feelings. But I was still too proud to admit those things, to myself or to him.
I did what I have been taught to do and what I have been doing my whole life – I grit my teeth, swallowed down the tears, and trudged on with my work. I shrank from the thought of bringing Jibaron in from the pasture or going near enough to put his halter on but I feigned confidence and marched, again and again, into his paddock. And again and again, he pinned his ears and turned on me or ran at me or put his butt to me. A month ago I would have said that the more he pushed back, the more I bucked up. Now I would say that the more I pushed myself away, the more he closed himself off from me. I was a foreign creature to him. I didn’t know what I myself wanted or needed, much less what he needed, much less what our connection, or lack thereof, needed.
Now, I’m still scared of Jibaron… but I’m not afraid to let him know that. And sometimes he still pins his ears at me. But I can usually talk him down from his ledge, and he has become quite good at talking me down from mine. Recently my days have been peppered with more small triumphs that feel as big as battle victories to me. One day I managed to get Jibaron’s grazing muzzle on after thirty minutes of talking and walking and wheedling. Another day he switched from pinning his ears to calmly sticking his head out for me to put his halter on without me having to step foot in the paddock. Multiple times on different days, when I went to bring him in from the field, he walked in with me without batting an eye. All I did was ask.
Wars may be fought, dynasties may rise and fall, presidents may be elected in the world outside the farm, but Jibaron walked in with me! Nothing else matters. And that’s what I love most about being with the horses.
When I’m with them, everything else falls away. The traffic noise on the roads around the farm falls silent. My mental to-do list fades away into static (not always a good thing). The vibrations of my phone in my pocket soften. Multiple times I’ve even been in the middle of a phone conversation with a friend or family member and sensed that Junque wanted to talk, so I hung up. In those moments, there is nothing on this earth except me and the horses. Whether it’s a high stress moment with them or a sweet and still moment, they force me to be present… They force me to feel my emotions. They force me to accept myself and what’s happening inside me so I can then let it all fall away. I have no choice but to exist, fully, completely, with all of my being and every cell of my body. I have never existed this mightily before in my life.
Yesterday, I was taking some time to just be with the horses in their paddocks in the late afternoon. It was a dreary and disjointed day and I just needed to breathe. I was standing with Junque, absentmindedly scratching him, when I started thinking about the fact that I am flying home in a month. I’ve been avoiding that thought but that morning I had finally bit the bullet and booked my flight. All at once, it hit me that I was leaving. I am voluntarily and purposefully leaving these five horses who have grown to be such a huge part of my life. I started crying… sobbing is more like it. Tears and snot. Not graceful, or beautiful. I was feeling my heart break. My heart was literally breaking.
Without preamble, without questioning me, Junque lifted up his great big head and curved it over my shoulder. He scooped me into his chest and held me there. My fingers were tangled in his mane and I was getting snot all over him but he didn’t care. He just pressed his cheek into my back and took big deep breaths. I cried and cried and he just let me and breathed with me. He was literally holding me up.
After a few minutes he gently but firmly nipped at my shirt as if to say, ok, I know you’re sad, but that’s enough. It’s time to stop worrying so much about the future and start being present in the now. You have a whole month left, for pete’s sake.
If you had told me a year ago today that five horses in Puerto Rico would have completely changed my life and become my life, I would never have believed you.
I’m still not a great horseman and I’m definitely not a great rider, but the horses don’t care. I crave being with them, I crave our conversations. If you’re one of the friends I’ve made in Puerto Rico and you’re reading this and wondering why I said no to going out tonight, it would be because I would rather sit with the horses. No shame.
This is a piece of a letter I wrote and read to Jibaron a few weeks ago –
“Thank you for calling me out on my bullshit…. Thank you for helping me sort out my eternally jumbled emotions when I can’t sort them out myself. Sometimes, I don’t even know what I’m feeling until you tell me. I can’t be fake with you….”
[some paragraphs omitted]
“People and horses learn and grow and change. I’m proud of us. I still jump when your ears perk up too fast, you still nip if I go to scratch your withers too suddenly. But we find an equilibrium, we talk it out, we live and we learn. Solo said that life is long. I’m not gonna be here for too much longer… Already the time is flying. But every day that I spend with you, every minute, every second in the sun with the warm breeze and the coquis and the roosters crowing, time ceases to exist. It’s just you and me and the earth beneath and the trees around and the sky on our heads. In those moments, life is long and you are big and I am small but we coexist and nothing matters. Thank you.”