A Long Way from Normal


Horse people are…different, as we’re sometimes reminded when we go out in public

Reprinted from the October 2017 issue of USDF Connection

By Karen Abbattista

If normal is defined by the company you keep, then I’m in serious trouble.

I share my home with two giant dogs, a calico cat, and a free-roaming sulcata tortoise named Socrates (or So-Crates if you are a fan of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure). Socrates currently sports a bright orange feeding tube, a result of surgery to remove an obstruction from his cloaca (look it up on your smartphone) that cost me a quarter of my annual income. Outside, there are four barn cats, two miniature horses, eight full-size horses, and an ornery goat named Shadow. There is one lonely rooster, who used to be king of his flock until a fox came through and all of the hens mysterious disappeared. The fox’s defense? They tasted, well, like chicken.

I live in an equestrian community, so my neighbors see nothing strange about my living arrangements. Most of my time is spent with horse people, whom I suspect are just as crazy as I am, but in various stages of denial. If you are lucky enough to have money, you can use the term eccentric, but I’m not in that tax bracket.

I’m thinking about all of this as I sit in the lobby of an upscale animal clinic located at least 25 miles from the nearest barn. It’s not easy to find a veterinary surgeon board-certified in exotics, even in a circus town like my hometown of Sarasota, FL. Socrates, wrapped in a bright blue beach towel, is perched on my lap. He is staring intently at a large flat-screen TV, tuned to HGTV. We are here for his post-op appointment.

To my left and trying hard not to look at me is an immaculately dressed woman carrying a small fluffy dog in a designer handbag that perfectly matches her outfit. She smells clean and fresh and floral. Her hair is styled, her makeup is perfect, and her nails are recently manicured.

I, on the other hand, smell like sunscreen, sweat, and fly spray. I can’t remember whether I’ve brushed my hair today. As always, it’s pulled back in a messy ponytail accessorized by several random strands of hay. The skin on my hands is dyed green and purple from Kopertox and gentian violet. I don’t have any nails to manicure.

Still, by my standards, I’m relatively clean. I’m dressed in a oncewhite t-shirt bearing the name of an equine-transport company. There are carrot-slobber stains on one shoulder and unidentified stains on the front. The pockets of my riding pants bulge with horse treats. I have on two different size shoes, a result of being stepped on not once but twice by a twelve-hundred-pound gelding, which left me with a couple of broken toes. The swelling has already gone down dramatically, so I’m hoping this is just a temporary wardrobe malfunction.

“Ms. Abbattista?” The receptionist steps out from behind her desk and motions for me to follow her. I stand up, lift Socrates, and catch the eye of the designer lady with the designer dog.

”I have horses,” I say by way of explanation for my appearance.

She smiles and nods knowingly.

By horse standards, I’m perfectly OK.

Karen Abbattista is a dressage trainer and instructor in Sarasota, FL. She is a USDF bronze and silver medalist, a USDF bronze and silver freestyle-bar recipient, and a graduate with distinction of the USDF L program. Her website is karenabbattistadressage.com.

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