We’re pleased to be bringing you the first entries of our International Equestrian Blogging Contest. Remember, you can still enter as long as all three of your blogs are submitted by September 30. You can find full rules here.

Bringing the Horses Home: The Leap, by Paige Cerulli

Dreams come a size too big so that we can grow into them.

When my OTTB mare had to be unexpectedly retired at age 16, I knew it was time for a change. I’d known it for a while, but I suppose that Whisper’s retirement was the final shift I needed to push me into action. I’d been boarding Whisper at a local barn and she wasn’t doing well. In fact, she was wasting away. Her attitude was sour, her body was betraying her, and she couldn’t hold weight, despite my buying my own feed and ensuring she was fed three times a day.

To tell the truth, I wasn’t happy in my living situation, either. Despite having a wonderful landlady, I wanted something more stable than my life of renting and moving from apartment to apartment. I wanted a house, and I wanted Whisper to be able to come home with me.

But there was one more factor complicating life: I had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia three years earlier. The condition leaves me in constant pain, drains me of energy, and feels like constantly fighting an uphill battle. Having my own barn has been a dream of mine since I was a child, and if I wanted to make that dream come true, I knew I needed to do it while I was still physically able.

I started exploring real estate listings, Googling mortgage requirements, and referring to Zillow’s mortgage calculator to try to determine what was practical. I got on the phone with mortgage companies, talked to realtors, and called about any number of houses with small barns for sale, but nothing was right.

Until it was. I found a house about an hour from mine, contacted a great real estate agent, and we were off to the races.

I’d always anticipated falling in love with the barn more than I’d fall in love with a house, but with this property, I found I adored them both equally. The four-stall barn would leave me plenty of room for more horses (priorities, people!), and it had run-in stalls, a major plus for Whisper’s physical issues.

To make a long story short, it took about six months, but I closed on the house nearly a year to the day. I was in shock, and had three days to get the barn into shape and move myself into the house before Whisper would come home.

I should mention here that I took all of this on on my own. I didn’t have help, but stocked my truck with tools, headed to the nearest Tractor Supply, and got what I needed to make the barn livable for Whisper. The barn had been standing empty, and had been previously used for ponies, so it was a challenge. I bought and hung gates, moved feeders, figured out how to turn the barn’s water system on, and put up a temporary electric fence – none of the field’s fencing was above three feet tall.

The moving truck came the next day, and then Whisper was here. In the backyard of the house I owned. It’s not a situation that I’d ever have imagined finding myself in, let alone before I turned 30. I work for a nonprofit and have worked my butt off building a writing business on the side. It paid off, and my childhood dream? I’m living it.

When you bring home your horse, your life changes. A lot of it’s great – I found myself standing outside with Whisper in the quiet of the morning, just taking in the fact that I had a horse (though I’ve had her for 10 years, it still strikes me as amazing), and that I had a barn. No more boarding! Now I could make decisions that were best for my horse.

And then there are moments when the terror takes over. Yes, I now make all of those decisions for Whisper’s care – but if anything happens, I’m the one who has to handle it. I worried constantly that Whisper would colic or founder, or that she’d find a safety issue that I’d overlooked. I stressed about running out of grain, or about missing some symptom of a health issue that would require immediate attention. But with time, it got easier.

With horses at home, your schedule changes. You have to be around at feeding times, and horses can change your plans in an instant. You can also go through money like water, though I suppose that’s true of boarding horses, too. I spent nearly a week installing new fencing that cost thousands of dollars just to purchase, and found myself on the constant hunt for a quality, affordable hay supplier. And then there are the little expenses – wheelbarrows, water troughs, hoses, grain bins – that may be small, but which add up dramatically quickly.

Still, I wouldn’t change it for anything. The past year has been a whirlwind, but I am delighted to say that Whisper is absolutely thriving. I know she’s here on borrowed time due to her physical issues, but I treasure the fact that I can glance out my window and see her and her herd mates (more about them in future blog posts). I spend time with them all multiple times a day, slipping out to the barn between conference calls.

But my favorite part of the day? It’s night check, when I head out around midnight. I give Whisper a treat and admire her refined head, her sculpted neck, her kind eye in the glow of the barn light against the night. I feel like I did when I was 15 and would say goodnight to my favorite pony each night before leaving the barn and heading home to do homework. During those days, I dreamed of the day when the pony and the barn would be mine.

How lucky we are that some dreams come true.