The fascination began with the book Black Beauty by Anna Sewell before I could even read. I imagine I was about 3 years old when I saw this magnificent black horse with this great flowing mane on a paperback. I remember flipping through the novel feeling dismayed, seeing there were no further illustrations of this awesome animal I had seen on the cover. This is my earliest memory of my equine obsession.
I now dreamt of becoming an equine vet. If I didn’t ride them, I’d heal them.
I told my mother that I wanted to be a horseback rider when I grew up. Yes, that would be the dream. To get paid to ride horses. Perfect. Dolphin trainer was the runner up. But coming from a family of high achievers and academic phenoms, my parents persuaded me that Medicine was the way to go and riding alone just wouldn’t cut it. My parents occasionally took me pony trekking on thirteen hand stocky types being led behind another on lead ropes. Boring. I wanted to RIDE. To be free. My adolescent years were heavily spent on studying and figuring out what my career path was to be. Fortunately, my love of biology and animals ultimately led me to become a veterinarian. I now dreamt of becoming an equine vet. If I didn’t ride them, I’d heal them.
Then the reality sunk in four years after I started vet school and was now on my clinical rotations in equine medicine and orthopaedics. I realized I hated horses. They were fractious, dangerous and unpredictable. Trying to administer eye drops to an angry horse was like asking for a death sentence. I was bruised and battered from being stepped on, kicked, bitten. The rope burns I endured from the lead ropes off rearing heads were excruciating.
Being a horse vet meant being on call. I vividly recall being woken up to assist with colic surgery in the middle of the night. I had to stand on a narrow four-foot stool bearing 15 heavy litres of saline and on demand, would have to pour and flush the surgical site. For ... two ... whole ... hours, I stood on that stool. Colic surgery is messy. Smelly. Foul. Exhausted and sore, I would then have to sit in front of a screen half asleep monitoring recovery.
Unfortunately, orthopaedics was no better. I was dismayed by the boredom of lameness work ups. Nerve blocking, hip hikes and head nodding. Frankly, I found it all underwhelming, and, in the end, my love of and interest in, horses died. However, I did graduate from vet school and, ironically, wanted to be a mixed veterinarian specializing in farm and companion animals. Anything but horses.
Fast forward nine years later. I found myself lost in my own buzz of life. By this time, I was a single mother of a rambunctious, young toddler. I was also now back to work after leave and had relocated back to Toronto after being gone for fifteen years. Settling in wasn’t easy and after some very challenging personal hurdles, I realized it was time to do something for me. I realized that I was always doing something...for someone else. That had been my life for many years.
Could I still ride?
Then I remembered them. Could I still ride? I’m rounding close to Forty.
I took the plunge and nervously signed myself up for riding lessons. I couldn’t even tack a horse. I remember my first day entering the stables and the first thing that hit me was that lovely barn smell, a very distinct sweet, dry smell. His name was Lenny. A twenty-something bay coloured thoroughbred. A little reactive, but he got it. He knew I was a novice.
How could it be that I knew so much about horses but at the same time, so little? How could I name every anatomical part of the distal limb, know how to treat every disease, but not know how to put a bridle on? Riding taught me something I didn’t learn in vet school. That horses can teach YOU. I learned a different type of respect for these animals. I also learned that trust has to be built and gained. It was possible that a relationship could form with these powerful, formidable nearly one-tonne animals.
Nearly a year now after riding, I learned that riding and horses can’t be conquered. Lenny taught me how to post, how to canter but he also taught me the emotional side of the sport. Some days, he makes me feel like I’m on top of the world and other days, I can’t wait to get off him because, well, he isn’t doing what I want him to do. Being in the saddle proved to be, at times, exhausting. There are days when he isn’t happy to see me. And yes, he’s bitten me. We have had words but in the same token, we have also had lots of snuggles. In a clinical environment, I am always in control. In the ring ... not so much. I’m in a much more vulnerable place, but a place that excites me, that challenges me and, most of all, has made me realize that that love I had for them has never departed.
WHO IS STEPHANIE HU?
Stephanie graduated from The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2009. She practised in the United Kingdom for 9 years before recently moving back to Toronto in 2018. When she’s not working or riding, Stephanie loves spending time with her 12 year old Border Collie (Ollie) and her young son.