The Season of Acceptance


There are things I like about this time of year. The Christmas lights that festoon the trees lining our downtown main street are magical, especially after a nighttime snowfall. I like that the dark reminds us to go inside and recharge after a season of working from light’s beginning to light’s end. I like that I see kindness being given and received more often than other times of the year. It’s a good reminder that kindness can be a gift given no matter the season.

I like spending time with family and for someone who swears off cooking at every chance, I even like planning meals that we share around a big table with people we love.

When I think about why I feel so stressed despite the “joy of the season,” it really only comes down to one thing: the impending doom of December 25th.

Being plugged into the internet is just not a good idea this time of year. From before Thanksgiving onward, it’s a commercial scrum: who can have more sales, who can score the biggest Black Friday win? But wait! Now there’s cyber Monday!

It’s not like December 25th is a surprise either; get past enough Christmases and you know what to expect, you have a general idea of what your friends and family members would enjoy receiving, and you know that on that date everything will come together (or not). After the rush of the holidays, we then start the slow elliptical rotation toward longer days.

Every year I can feel myself winding up like a too-tight rope around a thick saddle horn: December 25th is the cow horse, and I am the steer. Every dang year, I have the same emotional response I did the previous year: race to get everything done on top of everything that already needs to be done until I am snappy and tired and sick of my own company.

This year it occurred to me that instead of fighting the march of time across the calendar, I could take a more active role and begin sorting out Christmas in October. If I got really proactive, maybe June! I could waltz through this holiday season with less stress, more rest and probably be more pleasant company. I could accept that time, and the calendar, pause for no one.

We are capable of sorting these kinds of things out for ourselves. But what happens when we start seeing the first signs that our beloved horse may need a change too? That’s just what has been happening with our horse, Rocky.

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January 2010

Mark and I walked out on the thirty-five-acre pasture where the horses winter, and I call “Hooor-ses!” Six furry heads pop up from eating and they gallop toward us, coming to a walk several yards out before greeting us with a whiff of warm breath that mists the cold morning air.

It’s the beginning of our clinic season, which means that Rocky and two other horses will be joining us as we work around the country.

We halter Rocky and the other geldings and hold them for the vet so he can write up health certificates. After he’s done, we turn the horses loose once more. The two other geldings walk away, noses lowered in a search for the grass under the snow. Rocky stays and we give him a pat on the neck before walking to the truck. He follows us back to the gate, hangs his head over the green rails and watches us walk away.

He’s always been like this; eager to work, greeting us first, easy to catch.

It’s December 2019 now, and Rocky has traveled over a million (no exaggeration) miles in a horse trailer. He’s stood quietly in hot and cold weather, rainstorms and wild winds, city traffic and along desert highways. That’s a lot of time for his hooves to be disconnected from the earth. He’s twenty-one next year and has been doing his job with excellence since he was seven. His nickname is Rockstar for good reasons.

He’s stood calmly while other horses worried. He’s helped our less experienced clinic horses get to know the job. He’s a ranch horse, a trail horse, a clinic horse, has worked cattle, starred in a movie, given a few rides to folks who want to feel how soft true softness is, and in the last four years, has been teaching me how to jump.

In the last year, we’ve noticed some quiet changes. We often need to walk to Rocky to halter him, instead of him meeting us at the gate. He’s harder to keep weight on during a trip and he no longer finishes the hay that we hang in front of him during long hauls.

This past summer while Mark was riding him, he refused three times to get close to a horse Mark was trying to help through a gate. When Mark asked Rocky to step in a little closer, Rocky didn’t move.

Instead of using a stronger cue, Mark let it go and finished the workday. He later admitted that Rocky’s time as a clinic horse was done. Our red horse, who has never said no to anything we’ve asked, refused three times in the space of as many minutes.

He was the first to go out on pasture this winter. As we walked over the grass that was pushing through the snow, I called to them “Hoooor-ses!” Up popped four furry heads, and they galloped toward us, Rocky leading the way.

That day we needed to trim their feet. All four horses stood quietly in the winter sun as we chatted with our farrier. After he was done, we turned Rocky loose first. With barely a backward glance, he galloped away without waiting for the other horses, or us.

At some point, all of us will have to let our good horses rest. We will have to read their signs and listen closely when they begin telling us they can no longer do what they used to. This is, in some ways, of course what we do for Rocky. He doesn’t owe us a thing; it is we who owe him.

This new chapter, for me, is also a braid of emotions: one strand for sadness, one strand for gratitude and one strand for curiosity.

I’m sad that Rocky has reached twenty-one so quickly. I’m grateful we’ve had the pleasure of his company and his big kind generous heart. I’m curious because I’d like to find out where his yes’s still are.

I know two of them: trail riding and jumping. However, these two activities are now done with care and limits. We recognize that his spirit will probably always gallop ahead of his body. We accept that it is time for our good red horse to keep his hooves connected to the earth and go a little easier in this world.

Photos in slideshow by: Crissi McDonald, Mark Rashid, Kim Beck, Stephen Angele, Paul Krizan, Louise Oliver, Tim Harvey, Leslie Robinson.

26 responses to “The Season of Acceptance”

  1. Just beautiful in so many ways. He’s a very lucky horse.

    1. And we are very lucky humans. Thanks, Jerri!

  2. Big waves of grief here, SSL. And he is still here! Living wholeheartedly ain’t for sissies as I remember Buck and Ben . Maybe your word gift is touching so deeply because Mom said goodbye to yet another dog yesterday, and my call this morning with healer-friend, Grace, was about the feeling of helplessness that comes when things are changing and we don’t know what to do and we want to help sooo much. Her 15 yo 3-legged Aussie, Pogo, is getting closer to transition. And, maybe, it’s because I finished your book, that intimate sharing of the awesomeness of you, and I haven’t found the words to express how deeply it touched me.

    This wordless feeling place takes me back to those first wordless feeling places when we became SSL. No words necessary.

    In the end, and always, it just comes back to Love.

    In service to Love,

    Your ssl

    1. Sweet SSL – as always, you find the perfect words to soothe the hurt places. Yes, I am hopeful that Rocky has many more years with us; they are just going to look a little different and that is ok. These changes teach us so much, so much about gratitude for being alive, gratitude that Rocky has chosen to show up for us the way he has, and still does. It’s very clear he’s asking something of us, and now it is our turn to say yes.

      You’re right; in the end, and the beginning, it is all about love.
      Your SSL too. xo

  3. Brilliant totally get this.

  4. I wanted to let you know how much I loved your book. Your eloquent words soothed my soul as I made the hard decision sell my horse. I too had an accident that left me battered inside and out. I tried for 2 years to heal our relationship but I knew it was not to be. He went to a wonderful young woman and I continued my horse journey with a lovely mellow quarter horse. Life is good!

    1. That sounds like the best outcome for everyone! It is sad to recognize when these things need to happen-and I think that is natural emotion to have. The really brave thing is that you sought the best for both you and your horse. Thank you for your kinds words about my book. Life is, indeed, very good!

  5. so very lovely and the photos are so beautiful ~thank you

    1. Photos of a life well lived. Rocky has something to teach all of us. 🙂

  6. Lovely thoughts and beautiful photos of your dear friend. Sounds like he’s going to love retirement, or maybe semi retirement?

  7. What a beautiful tribute and lesson from a horse who given you so much. He sounds like a special, special horse. Good tidings to you and Rocky.

    1. Thank you, Cathy. We got the better end of the deal. 🙂

  8. Sadness and compassion. Sad that Rocky has reached retiremen age. Compassion in knowing it’s time. Many would have missed the signs and kept going.

    Rocky is one of my heros. He’s a Zen master if ever I met one. I, along with many others, are going to miss him at clinics. The smoothe effortlessness with which he did his job will always stay with me.

    It was a great honor to ride him in a clinic a few years ago. He and Mark teamed up to show me things I didn’t know existed. I will always be grateful for that.

    As I said before, Rocky is one of my heros. Bigger than life in the mind’s eye.

    When Mark unloaded him from the trailer at our place a couple of years ago, I didn’t recognize him. The mind’s eye saw him as 17 hands with wings. I think I ticked Mark off when I said,
    “Oh, I thought he was bigger.” Foot in mouth disease in the form of a backhanded compliment.

    Rocky is an exceptional being. The world needs a lot more Rockys.

    Big shoes to fill for the next horse.
    Thanky you Rocky! Enjoy the easy life.

    1. I feel the exact same way. He’s an exceptional being and they are indeed, big (horse) shoes to fill. Aren’t we lucky that we all got to be in his orbit? Thank you for this Matt – a lovely response.

      1. Every once in a while a soul comes along who has something special to do. Rocky is one of those souls. We are indeed lucky to have been in his orbit. You and Mark in particular. No two better folks to share him with yhe rest of us. 😍

  9. Hi Crissi, hope you and Mark are well. I liked this post very much and to be fair I think the same applies to our human friends too. I have had to accept that I can’t do everything I would choose to do and neither can some of my friends. As we age and bits start to wear it would be easy to become frustrated but I choose to be positive, I have some arthritis in my hands that means learning guitar is a sporadic pastime but I enjoy those days I can rather than groan about those days I can’t. My horse riding days are over due to a long term back injury but I cherish the memories of my time with horses rather than be upset that I no longer ride. Don’t get me wrong not every day is perfect but there are a lot of very good ones left to enjoy in many still possible ways and I have a fabulous semi-retired lifestyle now and a new rescue dog who’s my wingman. Life can still be great even as we change.

    Happy holidays

    Andy Cooper Yorkshire UK

    Sent from my iPhone


    1. Hi Andy – I would say your mindset is admirable. I, too, am focusing on all that Rocky and I can do, not bemoaning what he can’t. Do I wish we could haul him around forever? Sure. Is that a fair choice for him? No. Like you said, there are days when it is more difficult to hold a positive view, but as long as they outnumber the negative days, I think we’re doing alright. Happy and peaceful holidays to you! Xo

  10. I, too, love your writing. And, I loved your book. I’ve fallen a number of times, but recently, badly…twice. Your words helped. Thank you. I am grateful for the lessons that grief and loss teach, even though those lessons are often the hardest to learn. There is always a gift if we can only stop long enough to lift our eyes, broaden our perceptions, breathe. Through your writings, through Mark’s writings, through my life with horses, I am learning. In gratitude, and merry quiet Christmas to you, thank you.

    1. Hi Kim – I appreciate what you’ve shared. I agree with all of it. There’s a certain amount of grace in having the ability to recognize the gift. I’m glad that you’ve found it.

  11. Another wonderful blog hitting so close to home. Words of wisdom for us and our horses. We have retired our 21 year too. He’s still loves the people contact and ground games but he truly seems relieved to not be the one going down the road. He’s become a wonderful guide to our 2 year old, teaching him ground, barn and pasture rules. From an abused, aggressive horse to my heart horse. He will enjoy the rest of his days as he so deserves.
    Thank you again Crissi for your wise words. I’m glad I got to meet Rockstar in person.
    Merry Christmas!

    1. Thank you, Gayle. These older horses are treasures and it makes me happy to hear another one being treated so well. Merry Christmas to you as well!

  12. What a wonderful tribute to a wonderful friend…

    1. Thank you! He is, indeed, a wonderful friend.

  13. Another beautiful article to exit 2019 and enter 2020. Thank you and looking forward to more of your thoughts in the coming year. Did I say that I LOVE your writing. Well I do!! All the best for you and Mark and your family of 2 and 4 legs in 2020.

    1. Hello Victoria – thank you for your kind words! I’m looking forward to writing more in 2020 and can’t wait to share it with you. Happy New Year to you and yours!

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