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How Nina Got Her Groove Back

Published: 4/10/2014
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Editor's Note: Photographer Nina Fuller, maintains a healthy herd at Lily Brook Farm.  But her own well-being wasn't always so well. Thanks, Nina, for offering a delightful story and a gentle lesson in self-motivation. Great images, too!

By Nina Fuller

My kids had grown up and gone off to college and beyond. I’d given away my daughter’s show horse. My horse, Flurry, whom I loved like she was my own heart, grew old and left for that colorful bridge that is supposed to make the loss easier but doesn’t. My previously happy farm in Hollis, Maine, was feeling very empty. And I felt empty right along with it.
    I still had a pesky blue-eyed pony that bucked, a donkey, her mule son and some chickens that never laid eggs. I also had a beautiful paint who was greener than I thought. I took a spill from her back, ended up breaking ribs and became afraid to ride. Barely able to breathe or move, let alone work, after the accident, I didn’t venture far from the couch. That’s when I started reading about horses and fear and how the brain works and how horses help us heal. This research led me to Prescott College’s Master’s program in counseling psychology with a concentration in equine-assisted mental health. (Talk about overreacting to a fall!) I’m happy to report that I graduated last December, and that the blue-eyed pony, named Frankie, has turned out to be a wonderful therapy horse.
    But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.
    After a time, my ribs healed but my head never really did. My fear lurked around me like a mist that the sun could not burn off. I had lost something, and it coincided with the accident and empty-nest syndrome and all sorts of other stuff that I don’t remember signing up for. One day my daughter said to me over the phone, “Mom, I think you have empty-nest, middle-age, menopausal hysteria.” (This was because I was convinced the donkey I bought was pregnant. As it turned out, she was. Read the story.)
    I so wanted my fearless, ride-like-the-wind self back. So what did I do? I called Active Travel Riding Trips, of Standfordville, New York. It was a decision that changed my life. Oh-so-many years ago a riding trip to France had reignited my passion for horses. Could the same magic happen again? This time, I chose to go to Spain to try to find what I had lost—to reclaim my joy, my soul, my laughter.
    For eight days and seven nights, seven women, aged 30-something to 70-something, followed our leader, Maria Elena, from the Cortijo de la Corbera, on the boundaries of Donana National Park in Andalusia in southern Spain, to the towns of Torrequemada and El Rocio. One day we rode through pine forests that looked like something from a dream and then through la Matanza, a private bull-breeding estate, and into la Calera for lunch and then on to Villamanrique for dinner. Each day we stopped for aperitifs mid-morning and lunch mid-afternoon. Besides being beautiful riders, the Andalusian people are experts at dining in the countryside.
    The Andalusian horses we rode were brave and strong, just like I wanted to be—and I was! They guided me back into strength and confidence. I recovered what I lost when I fell.
    The pièce de résistance of our trip came on the last day as the horses galloped through a flooded field. The water splashed up all around us, a hectic wake of sparkling beauty, catching the light of the setting sun. What a spectacular image of power, water, earth and sky. Then a thousand flamingos suddenly rose up in front of the horses, turning the sky from deep evening blue to light pink. They formed a pink arch that bent from right to left over the glistening, galloping power below.
    Eventually we slowed the horses to a stop and looked at each other and laughed. There was no need to ask, “Wow, did you see that?” Our eyes were as big as dinner plates and our smiles seem to stretch beyond our faces. The last day of our trip to Andalusia had been a doozy. The appearance of the flamingos seemed to wrap in a big pink bow all the other amazing experiences of the last week. I was ready to return to Maine, my old self back in place, prepared to take on the next chapter of my life.

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4/10/2014 Julie
Wow, just beautiful! You certainly took your fear of falling to a level where you could work with it. Congratulations! Most people I've had contact with that had a terrible experience while around horses, just gave up being around horses. Good for you to find a really special way to find your way through to the other side and, once again, enjoy being horseback!
4/19/2014 Marsha Craig
Nina, I swear there is nothing you can't conquer. You never cease to amaze Jack and I and we look forward to your photographs and stories. Before we join the earth we hope to visit you and your Blue Bench!!!!!

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    "No horseman or horsewoman has ever finished learning" - Mary Gordon-Watson