HORSE AT HARVARD

Legally Blonde’s Elle Woods had her Chihuahua called Bruiser. I have a young Hanoverian gelding named Donovan. So when Harvard Law School accepted me into it’s fall 2002 entering class, I never questioned whether Donovan would go with me.

As a college student at the small town, agricultural Univerity of California at Davis, I always had a horse with me, always rode every day, always competed during the school year. Except, that is , for my first quarter, which, not coincidentally, was the least-happy term of an otherwise enjoyable undergraduate career. So I was no stranger to juggling competitions with term papers, veterinary emergencies with final exams and training with daily reading. I had always done this, I though, what could be so different?

Turns out, a lot of people thought it would be different. When I told friends and acquaintances, even other students I rode with at Davis, that I planned to take my horse with me to law school, their reaction was invariably, “You’re crazy!” “It won’t last!” “You can’t possibly ride every day while in law school, and especially not at Harvard!” The other law students at Harvard, many of them from big cities, were equally disbelieving. “A horse,” they would say in surprise, “How cool! Do you have time to see him most weekends?” “No,” I’d say, “I’m at the barn six days a week!” Then I would try very hard not to leave a trail of mud from my paddock boots in the dorm hallways and I always removed the horsehair from the washing machines after laundering saddle pads and polo wraps.

But as the semester progressed, I began wondering if everyone was right. Life was so busy! The owner of the barn said she was taking bets on when I was going to collapse. Was I really crazy to try to do this? Then I began to realize that it didn’t matter. My friends at the law school would get burned out from the daily pressure of endless reading and paper writing. And I would too. I’d despair that there was no way I could ever do all this work and come out alive. Then I’d go to the barn. Donovan would be there, waiting for me with a look that seemed to say, “What took you so long? I’ve missed you! Do you have any sugar cubes for me?” I’d groom him, and as I curried his shiny black coat, law school would seem farther and farther away. Then I’d lead him to the mounting block and law school would vanish from my thoughts altogether.

For an hours each day, Donovan and I are the only ones in the world. We ride a supple shoulder-in, a floating medium trot, find that perfect distance to a square oxer or hack through the woods. Promissory estoppel, res ipsa loquitur, in rem jurisdiction—who’s worried about any of that? All I know is that I am calm, focused and at peace. I am whole.

And each day, upon return to my dorm in Cambridge, the work I had left to do always seems far less daunting, much more doable, even more engaging. I come home every day with renewed serenity and zest for my studies that many law students around me sadly never find. 

All during that first semester, widely thought to be the most difficult of three years of law school, I continued to see Donovan nearly every day of the week. His training continued to progress.  Twice we met our Los Angeles-based trainer six hours away in New Jersey for a weekend of concentrated instruction. I even drove Donovan by myself, twelve hours each way, to Virginia to compete in a year-end championship. And we finished reserve champion, a mere fraction of a percentage away from the champion. Much to everyone’s surprise, I did all of this while keeping up with my daily reading, finishing all my assignments on time, going to class religiously and giving respectable answers when called on by professors using the dreaded Socratic method.

Now that I’m finished with the first semester, I realize that I didn’t make it through my first term at Harvard Law in spite of having a horse. I made it through because of having a horse. Unlike my peers, I have a daily opporutninty to escape the stress of school and city life. I have  something that relaxes and rejuvenates me and makes me excited to get out of bed in the morning. For this, I realize I am very fortunate. Thankyou , Donovan. Thankyou for helping me thrive at Harvard Law School. 

Jennifer Chong “Chicken Soup for the Horselover’s Soul” jack Canfield (et.al) 2003, Health Communications Inc. Deerfield, FL

Po© Sue Cook 2015