This is the best photo that I could find of Sterling. He’s the one in the front with the sweet expression and the black fly mask. He is pictured here in a clinic I gave at Cady Brook Farm being ridden by my student who half leased him for the summer.

The fact that this is the only photo I have left of him shows that I was never really in love with him and therein lies the heart of the Sterling episode in my Re- rider journey.

I bought Sterling because he was everything that I should have in a horse that I could partner with for my first re-rider steps. He was kind, he was well trained, he was as safe as it’s possible for a horse to be. His attitude was submissive, he didn’t care if you rode him Western or English—and he was handsome. There was literally no reason NOT to buy him.

At first it was perfect. I rode everyday, slowly and carefully, I was very sore because my poor body had a really hard time re-developing those old riding muscles. He didn’t put one foot wrong. He passed every test. When I took him on a trail ride he stood still while the person on the horse I was with ran away when a dirt bike came towards us! He was so amazing that I was able to half lease him to the owner of the farm where I kept him so he practically paid for himself.

So why did riding him gradually become more and more like work? Like going to the gym because you need the exercise not because you want to.

A few things began to really wear on me. Things that I told myself I was being lazy and unreasonable about. First he was grey and always dirty. When I arrived I had a choice, spend an hour grooming and bathing or ride an ugly, dirty horse. Call me vain but I hate riding a dirty horse! Two, he wasn’t comfortable, at least for me. He had too big a stride for my old hips and back. Three, he was too tall for me to get on comfortably in my now pathetic physical condition, a hip that doesn’t work right, a knee that is torn to shreds, a back whose old injury keeps showing its nasty face, and oh yes those extra rolls that now get in the way. Of course I beat myself up about that too. I eat too much, haven’t exercised enough, and brought it all on myself. Four, I just didn’t love him and there is the crux of the matter.

Every horse is going to put you through this stuff. They are always dirty, grey or not. Riding is physically hard no matter how comfortable or not the horse is. If you don’t have that extra spark, the LOVE factor, it simply gets to be too hard to be fun. There had to be chemistry to make it fun for me on this Re-Rider adventure.

So dear, wonderful Sterling had to go. It was a difficult decision because I felt guilty about the fact that I didn’t love him. It wasn’t his fault, he was what he was. In fact he couldn’t be a better boy, so was it fair to send him on his way? Two thoughts helped me with this decision.

First of all I knew that it would be easy to find him a new home. He was the perfect horse for so many situations. Well behaved, handsome and safe.

Second, and this is selfish, but it is true. You only have one life and I am well more than half way through mine. If I am going to have a long term relationship with another horse I may only have enough time for one more. Am I going to squander this opportunity on a horse that I don’t feel a special connection with? Rationally speaking, Sterling was perfect but in my heart he wasn’t the right one.