By Samantha Carl
This story is part of the series “Clear Eyes, Sound Mind, Halt, Salute.” Focusing on equestrian mental health, these articles come from dressage riders across the country who wish to share their struggles and triumphs. With so much focus on the physical health and fitness of riders, it is important not to neglect the mental health aspect of becoming a great equestrian. We hope these stories and bits of advice assure you that you’re not alone and inspire you to push on through all challenges.
Logan came into my life when I was at my lowest. I was struggling with depression, and on the verge of being hospitalized for the second time. I had made the painful decision to euthanize my mare of 12 years due to a fracture caused by occelets in her fetlock. Drastic changes were happening in my life that I felt were out of my control. I was lost and angry, without an outlet for my mental conflict. I knew if I was incapable of finding a way to combat my demons, the outcome would not be good.
A wise and dear friend gently suggested I look into a particular rescue. She had never steered me wrong before, so one fateful night I contacted a wonderful rescue based out of Texas by the name of Evanescent Mustang Rescue and Sanctuary. I led with the grand idea that I could foster one of their mustangs as a dressage prospect. I told them what I was looking for, as I only had three requests. Something a little taller, a bay, and preferably a mare – basically, a copy of what I had lost. They sent me photos of lovely mustangs of all sizes, colors, and stages of training.
One, a five-year-old scraggly little red mustang with a kind eye, stood out.This mustang was not at all what I was looking for. He wasn’t overly flashy with his large star, two hind socks, and overgrown hooves. At first glance, he looked like any other plain chestnut, and he definitely was not a mare. “Big Red”, as the rescue called him, was anything but big. Nonetheless I found myself asking “is this the horse for me?” I was informed he was pulled from a kill pen in Oklahoma around the end of August, with no knowledge of his past other than what his tattoo told us. The sweet-eyed pony was plucked from the wild as a four-year-old in 2018. For a reason I do not know, I agreed to take in Red as my foster. However, I felt the name Big Red did not seem to fit him. He needed something different. The rescue shared my feelings and allowed me to pick a more suitable name for him. It was settled; Logan, after my favorite antihero from the X-men comics.
In October 2019 Logan made the trek from Oklahoma to Cincinnati, Ohio. He arrived in the middle of the night. Only the running lights from the horse trailer illuminated his path to the barn. Terrified but trusting, he calmly stepped off the trailer, taking in his surroundings. Not once did he spook or put a hoof wrong. From the moment I laid eyes on him in the flesh I knew he was going to be my partner. I just didn’t realize at the time he was going to heal me as well.
Our bond was rocky to develop in the beginning. I kept comparing him to my mare. I had expectations of him that he wasn’t ready to meet. Logan would test my patience in ways I did not think was possible. He was scared, flighty, and defensive. Who could blame him? To go from being a young wild bachelor stud, rounded up by the government, only to end in a kill pen is traumatic for any equine, much less one who has only known the confines of a fence for a short time. There were days I left the barn feeling like I was failing this little mustang.
The more time I spent with Logan, the more I realized his feelings were reflections of my own. This revelation made me change my approach. If I didn’t keep my emotions steady, our work would never progress. I needed to respond to him the way I wished others would have responded to my depression. I stepped back, allowed him his space, and only asked for more when he signaled that he was able. As days progressed into weeks, Logan was less guarded, becoming more comfortable with the horse he was. He started looking to me for comfort, and I to him. People made note that my depression was becoming less erratic, and my anxiety becoming easier to manage.
This horse was teaching me how to cope!
Logan’s personality grew, as did my adoration for him. I became his person, anyone else could forget trying to love on him. I took the slow and steady route, guiding him through Intro Level dressage, and now into Training Level Test One, never asking more of him than he could give, and always giving mental breaks when needed. To escape from the sandbox, on crisp sunny days we would hit the trails. Other days we would dabble with some jumping. What makes our partnership so special is that every day is different. Some days I walk into the barn not expecting anything from him and he gives me his best effort. Other days, he lollygags about in the field sunbathing while I read in the corner. Logan still struggles to understand the confines of being a domesticated mustang, as I still struggle with my depression, but each day we look to each other for strength. Each day is an improvement from the last.
Logan has been my dancing partner and shoulder to lean on for four years now. Every day I am greeted with his whinny at the barn. Whenever I am with him the constant bombardment of negativity in my mind is silenced. Logan has given me hope, strength, and more love than I could have ever asked for from a horse. I am proud to represent the mustang brand with my little rescue.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, the Suicide Prevention Resource Center offers many resources.