In the end, it came down to a choice between my mental health and the love of my life.
Those who know me will know that 2011 was a Bad year all around for me. I fell in love for the first time…and then was unceremoniously thrown out of it. My parents finally admitted that they needed to separate, ending a 30-year marriage. Exam results the previous year which had been a lot worse than anticipated meant I was in danger of not passing my A-Levels; not to the standard required for uni anyway. My depression kicked itself into high gear, partly as a result of this but also partly because it had been stewing for two years; eventually that sort of thing boils over and sticks the pan to the stovetop. It’s not pretty.
In the end, had it not been for Josh, that attempt on my own life might have been successful.
A lot of people mistake Josh for my boyfriend when I first tell them about him. He isn’t – he’s my horse. Specifically, a bay hunter-type, 17.1hh mountain of pure attitude. I’ve had him since I was 15. After we lost one horse to early retirement and another to a jumping accident, I wasn’t sure I was ready; a month with Josh and I was positive I was!
In the end it was a simple leap of faith.
The thing about owning a horse is the routine; horses love it. We give them an ultimately unnatural life. We keep them in a stable or a field with a finite amount of grazing and no way of travelling on to another when the grass gets too low. We ask them to do things with themselves that would never occur to a horse living and running wild. We ask them to trust us totally and as a result they are fairly dependent on us. The horse is a magnificent creature of more brain than you might think. But giving them a routine helps them to relax in this life that we give them, which means we, as their owners and carers, must stick to this routine. Having this responsibility means that I couldn’t simply give up and curl up into a ball under my covers and stay there for ever, as I wanted to. It meant I couldn’t kill myself when I wanted to. When there was nothing left, there was Josh; my responsibility. My anchor to the real world.
In the end, Josh saved my life.
When I first went to university back in 2011, I wanted to take Josh with me. A quick check of my finances showed this to be impossible. Keeping a horse with a full time job is difficult enough, let alone at university with no car, no money and even less time.
I almost didn’t leave.
Sheffield is a long way from where I grew up. But where I grew up was now a toxic environment for me. And the only thing to do in a toxic environment is; get out. (I can see some people reading this and rolling their eyes, saying ‘it’s not that simple.’ No, it’s not, but that doesn’t mean you should stay regardless).
In the end, my mental health came first.
I missed Josh like someone had physically taken one of my ribs, shoved it into my heart and left it there. For years, I felt guilty about that choice. Questioning if it was the right one. Abandoning my responsibilities is not something I’m ever comfortable with. But I knew I could no longer live at home, not safely. By the point I moved away I was in therapy, but entering therapy does not mean automatically all your problems are solved. And really, there was no future for me in Essex. So I left him, and I hated myself for it. I was scared; so scared he’d forget me, or hate me for leaving, or suffer missing me.
Five years on, there is not one iota of me that regrets the decision.
In the end, it was the right choice.
Josh is still around; he’s happy. My Dad and his new partner (who is as horse-mad as I am, if not more so) do a marvellous job of taking care of him – and their three other horses. He’ll never be alone or unhappy. He has his ‘herd.’ He has a routine, a relaxing life in his old age. I see him every time I have the chance to go down. He’s never forgotten me; everyone from my father to the lady who runs the livery yard tells me when I’m around he acts like a completely different horse (yes, ego boost alert, hush). Simply because I have my own life now doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten about him. Even my partner has met him, and had a ride.
(He confessed afterwards he was more nervous about meeting Josh than meeting my parents. Mad children that we are).
Some things change as we grow. I am not the person I was in 2011 when I first left home, and whoever is up there looking after me, I thank you every day for it. My connection to Josh, and a love of horses in general, however, is something that will always be a part of me.
In the end, I found myself, and never lost him in the process.
And in the words of Taylor Swift; “Somehow that was everything”