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  • crissimcdonald

Bree Returns

I didn’t know I needed to see Bree until I saw her again. Five years had passed since she and I had the accident that put me in the hospital with a small brain bleed. For five years, she had been fostered by a kind Texas horsewoman who took her in as a companion for her Arabian. For five years I’d let that Bree-filled space in my heart close, knowing she was well taken care of. But life is filled with switchbacks and steep hills, and the woman’s life changed. When she texted us that she needed to find Bree a new home, we decided to take back my mare.

As we traveled from North Carolina to Texas, panic stole my breath when I thought about seeing Bree again. My heart raced, but it wasn’t because I was thrilled. When we arrived at Bree’s foster home, I watched as she was led to the trailer and watched as Mark loaded her. I was sweating, the rivulets running down my back so that my t-shirt felt soaked and much too small. On the way back to our clinic venue, I remember breathing deeply and letting the wind from the open window dry me off. At the venue, Mark unloaded Bree and put her in the paddock with our two geldings. I watched her from outside the pen, then—feeling a recurrence of the earlier hyperventilating coming on—turned away and sat down in the shade.

Knowing a little about trauma and its aftereffects, this level of panic didn’t surprise me. The intensity did, however. As I watched Bree look for grass in the paddock, I realized that I felt the same as I had five years earlier, when I’d watched her through a fog of painkillers. Fear was doing its best to convince me that time hadn’t passed, and that I really didn’t have the tools to deal with this. “There’s a monster in the paddock!” my fear shouted that day.

The next day was humid and windless, and as I walked by the horse pen, I broke out into a sweat again, but this time because the air was as thick as the water I’d just drunk. I called Bree’s name (“Ree-ah!”) using the tone of voice I’d adopted when we were together. Her head popped up, her ears came forward, and she walked up to the fence, standing close to me and breathing quietly, reaching out to touch my face and shoulder with her nose. It washed through me that this is why I’d loved her, and I loved her still. The gratitude I was feeling was far bigger than my fear.

For the next three days, I took care of her while we worked. When I called her name, she came to me. We shared moments with her sniffing my belly and arms and shoulders and me stroking her silky neck. It felt natural to put on her halter. It was easy to groom her and put on her fly mask. I led her between paddocks and her stall and wasn’t afraid, even when she snorted, flung her dainty head, and pranced. Sometimes, wildness needs to be celebrated, after all. In my heart, I celebrated right with her.

The only thing I felt was admiration for her beauty. The familiarity and ease that I experienced when I handled her was a safe place for both of us. It wasn’t just that I’ve led a few horses. It was that I was leading Bree, and we’d written years of our own personal history. Both of us had now opened a new chapter in the book we shared. It was my fear that turned the accident into a 900-pound monster. 

Bree helped me see that there were no monsters in the paddock.

We got back to Colorado just days before the quarantine went into effect, and on the way home, dropped Bree off at Happy Dog Ranch, where our friends had so kindly arranged a place for her. Here, she could be a lesson horse for groundwork sessions, a safe horse for beginners to groom and learn with, and an addition to their therapy program. This life suited her far better than the one I could give her, one in which she would have minimal interaction with people because of our work schedule.

Before we left the next morning, we moved Bree from the paddock with our two geldings and put her in a round pen close to the ranch herd. She was upset, running and calling to her friends. I knew how she felt; my mare had returned and now I was leaving her, albeit in a home where I knew her intelligence, gentleness, and grace would be appreciated. I was tempted to go into the round pen and run and holler myself.

Instead, I watched how her long, black tail flagged in the wind. How with each stride, she seemed unfettered by gravity. How she snorted, came to a walk, and grabbed mouthfuls of hay and sips of water.

I knew she would calm down and come to feel safe in her new life. I knew my friends at Happy Dog Ranch would appreciate and love her, and that she would help so many people feel better. I also knew that I would be able to see her more often and share those quiet moments that hadn’t disappeared, despite our long separation.

It’s funny how some relationships grow, disappear, and stay gone, and others continue to grow in spite of distance and time. After our accident, I knew that by placing Bree in a foster home, I was doing the best I could for her, and made peace with my decision to have her live elsewhere.

Then when she returned, and after my terror faded, I realized that she and I had both grown in our own ways. When we had a chance to spend time together again, it was as though no time at all had passed. She was the same sweet, beautiful mare that I had loved, and that love hadn’t gone anywhere. Rather, it had, like our hearts, expanded.

This is the gift of a good horse: without design or artifice, manipulation or grand plans, they bring us to the realization of how to be a good human, and in so doing, to grow beyond what we thought was possible. Sometimes, what we consider to be a monster is really a 900-pound gift waiting for us to open it. 

The full story of Bree and Crissi is included in her book, “Continuing The Ride: Rebuilding Confidence from the Ground Up.” Available on Amazon as both an e-book and printed version. Signed copies are available here.