In Defence of the Waifs and Strays

In Defence of the Waifs and Strays

I am in the process of getting ready to go back to do my final year of college and it is actually messing with my head a bit. I have spent the last year on placement, learning a trade and getting some amazing real world experience. I really enjoy my job and I am excited to keep it on part-time while I finish my degree, but my final year feels a lot like a necessary evil. But why? I have enjoyed my degree so far - the content is interesting and the people on my course are lovely. Yet I feel this overwhelming dread when I think about Monday morning and traipsing my way back to campus to start my penultimate semester.

I was in my first year of my degree when Covid started. I had just started fostering two rescue ponies; the weather was amazing, and I was glad to have the time to put into them. Their names were Heidi and Trudy and they were the best characters. I loved my routine of spending the entire day with them  - either doing groundwork or writing essays in the field as they grazed beside me. Gradually, I started to struggle more and more with getting up in the mornings and getting the motivation to go out to them. My mental health was really starting to slip. I am someone who is always busy; I worked my way through college and volunteered myself for any extra shifts I could get. I have some really great friends who I see all the time and I found it really hard to not sit in the kitchen and drink tea with them but Heidi and Trudy kept me afloat.

It all got worse when I went back to college for my second year. Everything was still entirely remote, the content was emotionally quite heavy, and I spent an insane amount of time sitting in my room, simply trying to get through the year. The course I loved, had morphed into the words that punctuated a grey winter. I now had my horse Djouce, an opinionated mare who was figuring out the world. A lot of people have told me that I did a good job with her but Djouce did more for me than anyone will realise.

My sister said today that when I get horses, I pick up the waifs and the strays and I try my best to love them. She was saying it to a friend of ours, in a joking way, but I found myself being thrown by it. I don’t think she realises what those waifs and strays have done for me over the last few years.

As much as Djouce could be opinionated and “mareish”, she was the reason I got up in the morning and was my favourite face to see looking over the door last thing at night. I loved nothing more than being her person - the one she turned to when she was under pressure or the one she felt safest around. Heidi was a former pacer, and we spent weeks out in the field lunging her over poles, taking her for walks in hand and trying to convince her that humans had some value. Trudy was the kindest soul, always there for attention, always looking to be around people and be the main character in her own movie.

Meet Djouce

I now have CJ, another horse to add to the waifs and strays collection. When I went to buy her, I walked into the stable and knew that one way or another, she was coming home with me. She was very skinny, with her spine and ribs among her most prominent features. She was all angles, but I saw something of Heidi in her…some spice being hidden behind a tired soul and I was committed to getting it out.

Everyone meet CJ

For me, these horses aren’t waifs and strays. Every single time I walk out the field and see CJ with a decent topline, some muscle rounding out her previously angular frame and a gentleness to her expression, I know that I have somewhat repaid her for the kindness she has shown me. I have helped her to become strong and feel well in herself. She has picked me up when I am down and has guided me through grief, stress and every other emotion. My little Liffey has forced me to smile and laugh on days that neither seemed like a possibility. Heidi and Trudy arrived in my life at a time when I really needed their support and Djouce guided me through one of the lowest points in my life.

Meet Heidi

I am worried about going back to college because the last semester I was there, my mental health was not in a good state. I really struggled with lockdowns and I found the sedentary nature of life in the midst of covid really getting to me. I suppose this article is a long-winded way of saying that all of our horses hold immense value in our lives. In the midst of her joke, my sister probably doesn’t realise that these horses have been here for me when I needed them.

I always knew that even on my worst days, I could go down the field and sit and talk to them. I always knew that there was a kind face, and a patient soul waiting for me. I really don’t care if other people don’t like my horses, or perhaps don’t see their value. I know what my horses have done for me, and I am eternally grateful to them.

Sarah Darker

Sarah Darker

I am on the media team with Equitas so you will see me at events and hear from me on podcasts and lives. I have CJ, a retired racehorse and Liffey, an ID x yearling and dogs called Heidi and George.