Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Horse-Obsessed Mind

Please enjoy this great post from Natalie Keller Reinert, who jumped her first cross-rail at ten and galloped her first Thoroughbred at thirteen, has ridden everything from hunters to eventers to racehorses, and is now attempting to live sans-horse in Brooklyn, New York. Her recently released debut e-book, The Head and Not The Heart, is set in the horse racing world.

I call myself a multi-tasker, but that is a lie, a phrase that I cheerfully attach to myself because it makes me sound efficient and modern. Friends helpfully encourage this delusion by saying things like, “Gosh, you are so clever with technology!” and I take it to mean that because I have seven or eight tabs on Google Chrome open (four of which are different variations of social media) plus Twitter, not to mention the fact that I am often working on two different computers at the same desk simultaneously, I actually am an efficient, modern, multi-tasker.

But I am not, not really. The sad truth is, I can only do one thing at a time. I have a one-track mind. I just jump the tracks from time to time.

This past weekend, my husband, son, and I joined a friend’s family at their house in Upstate New York. We don’t leave the city very often, and when we do, it’s usually for a less-than-bucolic destination, like Washington, D.C., or Philadelphia. The greenest place we have been since moving from our Florida farm to a Brooklyn apartment house, nearly one year ago, has been Prospect Park. Or possibly, if you count the infield as greenspace, Belmont Park.

Hopping out of the car in the stone driveway of the country house, my brain immediately found the switch to an old track. The property spanned thirty-five acres, and the house was surrounded by a lovely clearing of deep grass. I could keep a horse here, I thought, before my feet swung out of the car and into the gravel. Right here. All I’d need to do is update the perimeter fencing and put a gate in.

“I could put a Thoroughbred here,” I confided to my husband. “I could get a retiree and ride him on weekends.”

“No you couldn’t,” he told me. “You couldn’t ride for fun. It isn’t in you.”

He was right, of course, and as the weekend progressed, I had the fun of observing my imagination’s tendency to run rampant with its own obsessiveness. Walking in the beautiful woods that covered the property, I mentally constructed a cross-country course with a hanging log, a sunken road, and a water splash. The seasonal stream would have to receive a well and a pump in order to run year-round, but it would be worthwhile.

We walked down the road in front of the property and I pointed how where I would restore the tumble-down stone wall and add black-board fencing.

We examined the site of the old barns and I lamented that anyone would buy a working farm and turn it into a barn-less, pasture-less wasteland of forest and garden.

We went for a drive and I exclaimed over the wastefulness of huge acreage used as nothing but lawns, without a horse to be seen. What is grass for, but galloping and grazing?

By the end of the weekend, something I’d often suspected had been confirmed. I am not a casual horsewoman. I am not a casual anything. If I someday indulge in weekly riding lessons again, as I have been daydreaming of since I quit riding at the racetrack back in December, it will not be a pleasant diversion from staring at the computer screen for hours on end. It might start that way, but about fifteen minutes into the first riding lesson - at most - I will be mentally scheming for ways to obtain a horse, by whatever means necessary, and compete it at Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event within four years. I just can’t help it. I can’t have hobbies or do things for fun. I have to do one thing, obsessively.

Perhaps I’m better off sitting tight in the city, steadfastly resisting the urge to ride my bicycle down to the little stables about half a mile away and beg for a job (I’ve already done this once, and apparently I’m not the only one, because they never called me!). I want to write, and in order to write, I have to do nothing else. I have to write, obsessively.

About horses. Of course.


Alison said...

Welcome, Natalie!

I'd sure love to know the back story behind why you are now in NYC and not on a farm or riding race horses!

LMW said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Natalie Keller Reinert said...

Thanks Alison!

Well, in the course of writing a blog, Retired Racehorse, about reschooling one particular OTTB to be an event horse, I ended up networking with a trainer at Aqueduct in NYC who invited me out for a ride. I went to New York, rode a few horses, and when he offered me a job as his exercise rider... I took it! We moved to New York (our favorite place in the world) a few months later.

As for why I stopped doing it... well, I wanted to write... and as you can see, I am incapable of doing something part-time!

The whole story is chronicled at Retired Racehorse Blog! http://retiredracehorseblog.wordpress.com

horsegenes said...


Your post made me smile. It is posts like yours that let me know I am NOT crazy. At least, I am pretty sure that I am not crazy... I don't eat dryer sheets or my dead husbands ashes. Watched that on TV. Made me feel pretty good about my horse obsession. :)
When my mind wonders it always ends up either riding every step of a reining pattern, pondering how to fix whatever wasn't right with my ride the night before, or going through the maze of "horsey what if's" that are consistantly bubbling around in my head. Obsession isn't necessarily a bad thing as long as you stay away from the dryer sheets.

Natalie Keller Reinert said...

I'm allergic to dryer sheets, so that is especially useful advice for me. Thanks.

Kel, we are all alike! And isn't it comforting to know that even if you snipped horses out of your life, as I have done (except that my entire work-at-home life revolves around the horses whose pictures adorn my walls and bookshelves), you still gaze out the window of subway cars and imagine how thrilling an urban cross-country ride might be? You calculate the heights of things in 2'6", 2'9", and 3'6" denominations? You go into a brownstone backyard and exclaim "This is totally wide enough to keep a horse in! What is this, 12 by 24?"

IT NEVER ENDS. That's comforting, somehow.

Laura Crum said...

Natalie--I enjoyed your post very much. It fascinates me how many different ways there are to be passionate about horses. Unlike you and kel, I haven't the least bit of interest in competing any more, though I did compete pretty obsessively for many years (at cutting and team roping) so I get that emotion. Today I am very content with relaxed trail rides and don't miss competing at all. BUT, I would sooner jump off a cliff than move to the city where I could not keep horses. The thing I am most passionate about these days(equinewise) is living with horses, being around them 24/7, having them be part of our lives. It gives me endless delight, even on the days that I don't get to ride. So, yeah, many different ways to be passionate about horses for sure.

Natalie Keller Reinert said...

Laura, most of my friends share your opinion. Move to the CITY? Are ye MAD?! A few do agree with me, the change is nice...

The strongest feeling I get on most days here is relief. After 20 years of constantly worrying about critters, whether they're my critters or someone else's critters, I have NO RESPONSIBILITY. I hadn't realized how completely burned out and exhausted I was. It's something that happens to a lot of horse people (usually high school seniors who are trying to balance international show careers and studying for AP classes at the same time!); it just took a while to hit me.

I can go out at night, I can leave for a weekend, I can forget to go to the store and rely on the late-night deli on the ground-floor of my building to supply me with hummus and Ben & Jerry's pints... let's just say I'm having my long-deferred college years, the ones that I spent grooming for USEF members and racing stables and running my own training barn, now in my roaring 30s!

Natalie Keller Reinert said...

Not to mention (to carry on from previous comment)

I really want to be free to write for eight hours a day, and when I had my farm, all the time that I was sitting at the computer, I was thinking, "Princess needs her hooves done, the yearlings need to be worked in the round pen, I have GOT to ride Bonnie and Final Call, the water trough really has to be scrubbed before it films over completely..." etc etc and I couldn't concentrate. I really had to make that choice... one or the other!

I think it's okay and kind of exciting that life comes in installments, though. It isn't one long movie with a single plot and setting. It's a whole bunch of different channels and seasons and genres! I don't have a five year plan or a ten year plan... anything could happen!