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An Early Start At The Stables…

This is an excerpt from the just-released memoir, Horse Girl

I jumped as the alarm went off. I hadn’t been in a deep sleep with all the butterflies in my stomach but the alarm still spooked me. I was on high alert. Frankly, I’d barely slept. I leapt out of bed and looked outside. It was still pitch black. I grabbed my uniform which I’d prepared the evening before and got ready. I forced a cracker with a slice of cheese down me whilst standing by the kitchen sink. Eating was the last thing I wanted to do but I knew I’d need the energy. I’d need everything I had.

I grabbed my readily packed kit and headed into the car. Before getting in, I took some long, deep breaths. Gosh, the nerves were really getting to me. As I drove out of the garage, I checked the clock: 4 a.m. The early bird catches the worm, right? Eww - the thought of that just made me feel even more nauseous. Not good.

Before I knew it, I’d arrived at the stables. It wasn’t a long drive and in today’s focused state, I barely noticed doing it. I entered the barn through the middle entryway and turned left. I pressed the light switch as I passed it to turn on the lights in that half of the barn. I was the first one there. But I wasn’t alone. At the stables, you never were.

As I walked over to Mickey’s stable, I took great joy in hearing nothing but the munching of hay. It’s one of the most meditative sounds in the world. So much peace. So much calm. So much contentment. Even in my distressed state that morning, I was still able to enjoy it.

As I got to Mickey’s stable, I looked over the door to see his two beautiful black ears lower down. He was munching away on his hay that lay on the floor. He turned to look at me, surprised, as if to say, “What are you doing here at this hour?”. I opened his stable door and went in to stroke his neck.

“Hi baby boy. Big day today,” I whispered into his ear. He listened. He nuzzled my hand and we had a quiet moment to ourselves. Moments like these are the ones I live for. Just him and me. Together. Fully present. But I didn’t have much time to indulge myself in that. At least not today.

I reached to the other side of the stable door to grab his neatly hung black head collar that matched his beautiful black coat. He stood still as I secured it onto him. How lucky was I to have found him? He was the kindest, gentlest, softest horse I’d ever known. Even at his very young age, he was already like this. Always placing his big kind heart and trust in me. It really humbled me.

One by one, I picked his hoofs up, cleaning them carefully. I used the hook of the hoof pick to meticulously clear the shavings, the poo, and anything else that was stuck in his hoof. I used the brush side to gently brush the frog, the sensitive, inner part of the hoof. All seemed to be in good order. I let out a silent sigh of relief. I opened the stable door and led him out. As we walked towards the grooming bay, we passed his big brother Ollie who was actually a lot smaller in size. They weren’t brothers by blood but they were both my horses so that is how I saw them. Having sensed my presence, Ollie had his head already over the stable door. I stopped to give him a quick cuddle. Mickey waited next to me patiently. Until he didn’t. He nudged me on my arm as if to say, “Shouldn’t we get ready now?”. I smiled and nodded to myself.

I walked over to the grooming bay, turning him around in it so he faced the hallway and not the wall. Horses, being very claustrophobic, are always calmer when they know there is a way out. Facing him this way is more comfortable for him and safer for me. I attached both sides of his head collar to the long ropes on the sides of the grooming bay. He quickly took a relaxed stance, resting his back leg and slightly lowering his head. How could a four-year- old be this calm and trusting?

I grabbed my plaiting kit and stepped onto the steps to get higher up to his mane. I didn’t want my arms being fatigued from plaiting so I needed to be above the mane, not underneath it.

Mickey being 173 cm tall at the withers meant I definitely needed to take a few steps up. He looked at me sideways as I rose above him. I talked to him gently whilst rubbing his neck. He seemed to approve and turned his head straight back into his relaxed state. Perfect, I could get to work now.

I separated his mane into 13 equal sections, ensuring the parting between each section was exactly straight. I wrapped each section in a black plaiting band and checked that the sections were all of equivalent size. Nodding approvingly, I started to braid. I braided as up and as tight as possible, but not so tight that it disturbed Mickey. It was a fine line to walk but he was clear in his opinions then and always has been ever since. Once I’d finished the braids, it was time for the trickier part: to roll them into neat, cinnamon bun look-alike plaits.

Again, this was a precise art. The rolling had to be accurate and snug or it would quickly fall apart. At the same time, it couldn’t be so snug that it would pull Mickey’s mane, creating tension in the muscles in his neck. Fortunately, I’d had a lot of practice and some great teachers. Once the roll was complete, I carefully used a thick black cotton thread and a plaiting needle to sew it into its place. It was the more complicated way of plaiting but I’d always found the end result so much more beautiful. So we carried on. After about thirty minutes, the plaits were done. I was happy with how they looked.

I descended down from the steps and gave Mickey a treat. He was a true champ for standing still for so long. I carried on to groom his coat, condition his tail, and oil his hooves. He was now starting to also look like a champ. Ouch, there were the butterflies in my tummy again. Having been so focused on the plaiting, I’d kind of forgotten about them. Oh well. I just had to carry on. We were nearly there.

I popped his smart show rug on and put him back in his stable so he could have his breakfast grains before we left. I checked the horse truck and ensured his tack, my gear, and the first aid kit were all in place. I put up a haynet for him to enjoy during the drive and packed an extra one for the drive back. Once he’d finished eating his grains, my trainer Sarah and her partner David, whose stables we were at, showed their faces.

Sarah was coming with us to help us warm up before our test. Honestly, I think she was coming to keep me rather than Mickey in order. David was the designated horse truck driver and he never let us down with his jokes. This was especially good on a day like this.

“Are you ready?” Sarah asked.

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” I smiled weakly.

I went back into Mickey’s stable to put his travel boots on. He looked at me a little nervously and I handed him another treat in a vote of confidence. He took it gladly. I lead him out of the stable and onto the big horse truck. He walked onto it as if he’d done it a hundred times before. In reality, you could probably count on one hand how many times he’d been in one. But it didn’t faze him. Like always, he trusted me to keep him safe.

It was now about 5.30 a.m. We were on the road and the drive to the competition venue took about an hour. I was scheduled to enter the ring as the first rider of the day at 8 a.m. sharp. We had plenty of time. I don’t know if that was a good or a bad thing. More time for me to panic, to stress, to imagine total fail scenarios. But I did my best not to. Instead, I kept chewing my mint chewing gum which helped against my nervous nausea. In between my chews, I did my best to close my eyes and take deep breaths. Before I knew it, we were already there.

I checked on Mickey before going to check the warm-up and competition arenas. If I was nervous before, I was a nervous wreck now. I tried to walk it off and I kept taking deep breaths. Once I started tacking Mickey up, I felt slightly better. Staying busy always helped me with my nerves. Once I’d finished tacking up, I went to put the final pieces of my gear on. Now, I felt a little faint. I took a moment to sit in the living part of the truck with my head in between my legs. Come on, Susanna. There is no need for you to be this nervous! I nodded my head in agreement with my inner voice and got up.

I walked out of the truck, onto the mounting steps, and hopped on.

Sarah had taken Mickey out of the truck with a long lunge line in case he did have a moment of excitement or distrust. He seemed curious and alert but not stressed. This was good. Though I can’t say I wasn’t feeling the stress. I was the experienced one that was supposed to keep him, as the young inexperienced one, calm. Yet, it seemed to me that he was the one keeping me calm. Maybe subconsciously we’d somehow found a way together to keep each other calm.

As soon as I was up in the saddle, I felt more at home. This was my happy place. I took a deep breath and rubbed his neck, whispering compliments to this sweet, young soul. Sarah marched alongside us into the warm-up arena where there was no one except us. She let us off the lunge line and we immediately popped into a trot. It was better to get him busy with things rather than wait for a possible explosion. After ten minutes of moving around, I felt more at ease. Some other riders had entered the warm-up with their youngsters and everyone seemed to be behaving relatively well.

I brought Mickey down to a walk. I gave him partially free reins as totally free reins would have been a tad overly optimistic. He walked around, taking his surroundings in, whinnying a few hellos, and making a few sideways leaps to avoid foreign horses who came a little too close for his liking. I giggled and patted him in confidence.

Soon it was time to enter the competition arena. Would he be just as calm in there? Fortunately, as it was a four-year-old class, horses went in pairs to give them a more positive, reassuring first experience of competing. The other horse entering with Mickey and I was ridden by a professional dressage rider specialised in producing young horses. Mickey was being ridden by a nauseously nervous wreck who had never done a young horse class before. Add to that the fact that this young horse class happened to run at a prestigious Premier League show which I’d also never ridden in before. Hence, no pressure then.

Sarah said some words of encouragement to us as she led us into the competition arena indoor. If I’m entirely honest, I have no idea what she said. I was so focused on breathing and simply staying alive. Yes, a little dramatic, I know. But also how I actually felt.

Mickey was a very trusting, kind horse, but could also be a little spirited when you were onboard. I was simply hoping that not too much of his spirit, or at least a controllable form of his spirit, would be in the competition arena with me.

I walked in and began. I nodded a greeting to the judges by the side of the arena. The other rider and I started our test. It was a pre-rehearsed collection of basic movements that showed the young horses’ gaits and temperament. I rode about 20 metres behind the other rider - and was secretly glad that I wasn’t the one going first. As we started our trot at one end of the arena, I saw birds flying at the top of the roof. This was not good. Mickey was on the sensitive side and was notoriously known for spooking at birds. He didn’t enjoy their unexpected manoeuvres, especially when they left the ground and went to the sky. If I’m entirely honest, I don’t blame him. I had a distrust of birds too having seen Alfred Hitchcock’s horrifying film The Birds and being traumatised by it.

Nevertheless, I did my best to ignore the birds and so did Mickey. The key was for me to show him that there was nothing to worry about. This wasn’t always easy but a critical part of horsemanship. If you’re worried, your horse will quickly sense it and start to worry too. He will always mirror you - so make sure you’re offering him what you want him to mirror. In this instance, it worked. I forgot about Hitchcock’s birds, Mickey took one quick sideways glance at them, and we carried on, fully with each other, like before.

As we picked up canter by where the judges stood, he whinnied a hello as we passed them. Everyone smiled in response. What a charmer. Before I knew it, we were finished with our test. My supporters on the sidelines erupted into clapping and cheering. I walked out of the indoor with a painfully big smile on my face, holding back tears of joy. I gave Mickey long reins and a big cuddle on the neck. We did it. I whispered, “Thank you,” in his ear, as I let out a massive sigh of relief. From that moment onwards, I knew we could do anything.

Horse Girl: A Journey Home, by Susanna Newsonen, is now available worldwide via Amazon. It’s a memoir on love, life, and finding your way home.

Excerpt from the just-released memoir, Horse Girl submitted by Susanna Newsonen

Susanna Newsonen
Susanna Newsonen


Susanna Newsonen is a philosopher, writer, and poet based in a tiny village in rural Southern France.

She is on a mission to spread hope and love, around the world, one reader at a time.

Her books include Notes on Self-Love, Happiness is Here, Screw Finding Your Passion, and Horse Girl: A Journey Home.

Before becoming a full-time writer,

she was a sought-after life coach and keynote speaker when wearing her now-retired Happyologist hat. Her client list ranged across industries, including Brainwash Festival, American Express, BMW, Kellogg’s, and The School of Life. She has also been a TEDx speaker, an online columnist for Psychology Today, and a regular commentator in the media from the BBC to The Huffington Post and more. Her quotes and writing have been featured in a wide range of publications, including Psychologies magazine, Marie Claire, Women’s Health, The Guardian, and Thrive magazine.

In her free time, she is a dressage rider and horse lover. She also adores dogs and believes we can learn a lot from our four-legged furry friends. She inspires her following on Instagram at @susannanewsonen.



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