Not a Minute to Spare Over the Weekend

The blue flags can only mean one thing!

I did a lot of horsey things over the weekend, and also some family things (because Mother’s Day, duh). I didn’t do a great job of documenting any of it, mostly because I stayed on the move constantly all weekend. I think it’s a balance to the desk job taking up a little too much time lately — I fit as much fun stuff in as I can on the weekends without trying to wear myself out completely.

sunset from patentlybay on Vimeo.

Horses all day Saturday, and horses all day Sunday. But that’s what everyone does, right? It’s nothing to pat myself on the back about, especially because it significantly benefits my mental health. Why wouldn’t you live this way if you love horses? I would do it seven days a week if I could. (Except that with preexisting conditions, employer-sponsored health insurance gets REAL important.)

The well-seasoned horse show families bring shade and beverages.

Do you fill up your spare time exclusively with horses? Would you ever consider a horse-related professional position?

Never Ask

I read some equestrian news yesterday that Sinead Halpin retired one of her top mounts, and she quoted her husband, Tik Maynard, as saying, “A great horse would jump through fire for you if you asked, and a great horseman would never ask.”

I can think about this for hours. It might be one of my favorite lines I have ever read about horses, and one of the truest things I have ever read about riders.

Don’t ask horses unfair questions. A great horse will do anything for you because you haven’t ever asked an unfair question.

Don’t ask horses to do more than you would expect of yourself. If you want to work your horse hard on a regular basis, be in the right shape to keep up with his fitness.

Don’t ask a horse to take care of himself until you have taught him to and given him the confidence to follow through with getting both horse and rider out of a jam. If you point a horse at a fence he’s never seen before and he goes, it’s because you have allowed him to practice over many kinds of jumps until he got good at it and now he has the confidence in himself to know that he can jump this new jump, too. If you point a horse at a fence he’s never seen before and he stops, it’s because you have failed at your job of giving him the confidence to succeed over any fence you want to point him at.

trot interrupted from patentlybay on Vimeo.

(perfectly boring trot video for no reason)

Don’t ask a horse to take care of you until you have committed all of your necessary resources to taking care of him. He can’t take care of you until you give him the best possible life available. He won’t take care of you unless he trusts you. You are responsible for earning that trust and never betraying it.

Riding with Uncertainty

A more accurate title of this post would be “riding whilst uncertain about something outside of riding that could affect my riding.” But that’s too long. I’m going for a little practicality here.

Anyone getting on a horse is probably comfortable with a moderate amount of uncertainty (or just stupid, either way) because of the nature of horses. Is he going to spook at that pile of poles the ninth time we trot past, after trotting past eight other times without incident? Is he going to step on a rock and come up lame from a stone bruise that later abscesses? Am I going to see a stupid distance and fail to make a decision so that my horse stops and I end up picking splinters out of my teeth?

We of course also ride with uncertainty about our own skills and abilities. Is my horse not getting his leads because I suck at it? Or is it because he hurts? Or maybe he doesn’t care even if I am asking correctly? Or maybe it’s Tuesday?

We even all experience a little bit of daily uncertainty about whether we will be able to afford this sport for much longer or at all. We sometimes question whether the time we put in is worth the stress these animals can cause us. We spend too much on vet bills, we try to fit square pegs into round holes, we try to get better every day even in the face of setbacks in communication, health, finances, the wrong tack, daylight savings, or footing.

The view may change but the perspective will not

Personally, I have already worked through a lot of this uncertainty — I am comfortable with my shortcomings as a rider, knowing that I try to improve every time I get on my horse (plus he keeps improving, too, so that helps). I am comfortable with horses being unpredictable. I accept that my wallet is not a good match for equine pursuits but I will pursue regardless. The uncertainty I am not comfortable with, that I am facing now, has to do with my health. Specifically, my vision. I’m losing it, apparently. And not in an “I just need a stronger prescription for eyeglasses” way. Totally annoying.

The first thing that comes to mind is always the worst case scenario and I don’t think that’s me. Not yet. I can still see, I just have a blind spot that will probably never go away. I don’t know how much or if this will change over time. The vision loss I have experienced thus far was not even obvious to me until I went in for my regular annual eye exam and once the eye patch was over my right eye during the visual field exam I noticed that there was something very, very wrong with my left eye. “Like, whoa, that is fucked up” was my first thought. I didn’t think much about it after that and just let my eye doctor tell me about the possibilities and request more diagnostic exams for me and prescribe me some eye drops.

And then I got to the barn. It kind of hit me then. What will the barn be like if I can’t see? What will riding be like? No, I will not give up riding no matter how much my vision dwindles over time. It may not even get all that much worse with treatment. But if I ever lose so much vision that I have to change how I ride or which horses I ride–what will that be like? How much vision loss is enough to say “no more jumping”? I even think that if I could, I’d trade my hearing to get my vision back. Which is a selfish and childish thing to think, but really, I don’t need to hear anything else ever again. However, I need to see.

perspective from patentlybay on Vimeo.

This isn’t even that much of an issue yet, but the uncertainty about how long my vision will last makes me consider the future in a much different light. There are plenty of people with far worse conditions who ride in the face of disabilities and adversity no matter what. Seeing them do it — I know I can, too. Not riding is not on the table.

What uncertainties related to riding have you grappled with?

A Mental Health Day

Self care. We have all heard or read this phrase. We’ve encountered it in the layers of Facebook pop-psych click-bait, also in more clinical settings, and even casually dropped from the lips of a suit in line at the Starbucks around the corner from the office. We are all under societal pressures: we’re Americans, and we do anxiety like no other nation. Self care comes in when you need a day to yourself away from all the anxiety, or even an hour, indulging in hot cocoa, or a pedicure, or a trip to the dollar store for stupid pet costumes. Self care in America, to a certain extent, means consumerism. It means drink more artesian water. It means take a hot yoga class at the studio that just opened. It means gather ye rosebuds from Home Depot. It means spend money. Why? I don’t know.

I am not going to say I have found a new path of self care that involves spending no money, because my self care involves horses, and horses eat gold bullion and crown jewels. They sleep on platinum pharmaceutical patents. We tack them up in rare earth tax returns.

I am going to say, self care sometimes means taking care of something else because doing THAT makes you feel better. Taking care of my horse makes ME feel better, and I would rather this than have a stranger shred my feet with hot bubbling water, emery boards, and orange sticks. My me time is Eli time. He gets apples, grooming, exercise, and a good roll and I feel recharged.

What do you do for self care? Are horses or any animals a part of it?

Concentration

Have you noticed I like to overthink things about horses on Thursdays and Fridays lately? Here’s the next installment of me being a headcase …

One thing crucial to riding horses competitively is a rider’s ability to concentrate. Zeroing in on what needs to be done in the saddle takes a body awareness, focus, and connection to the animal that no other sport requires. Developing and maintaining a high level of concentration while in the saddle takes years of practice, but sometimes a rider has a natural focus, an instinctive aptitude for being present in the moment while riding such that every other care, from job stress and taxes to what to eat for dinner, falls away.

I have tried to develop this aptitude over the years. It starts with learning and internalizing the basics, strengthening the leg, developing an independent seat. Develop a sense of comfort in the saddle regardless of what the horse may do. Beyond that, it takes mental acuity and focus, and ability to independently control every single body part, down to the pinky fingers. Once all that is established (which in me is still a work in progress) then a rider can focus on the horse: developing gaits, moderating pace, strengthening, conditioning, and training. Often, horse and rider are learning at the same time. The rider’s brain and the horse’s brain have to be in concert to make progress in any of these things. Short of being an “animal communicator” or psychic (*cough*), this trait takes a lifetime to develop, so feeling inadequate is second nature to many riders. But the good stuff has to become second nature, too.

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Here, I am concentrating on staring at my hands.

When I am on a horse, I am pretty much focused on the horse. It is one of the few times I have no issues staying mentally present. I think it’s true for many riders–while mounted, the rest of the world disappears. But harnessing that focus to accomplish what I want while riding? That is significantly harder to tack down.

Last night, I rode Eli after he had 3 days off and a few days without turnout. He had an excess of energy even though the day had been warm and he still had a little mud on him from turnout exploits (you know … bitey-face, the pawing game, rolling). I could tell he was in a good, receptive mood–the tenor of his grumpiness fluctuates from truly grumpy to playfully irritable and last night he contented himself with halfhearted nips and lazy tail swishes while I groomed him and tacked him up. These are good signs.

Under saddle, he displayed a boisterousness but nothing too unmanageable. This is where the concentration part comes in. When Eli gets energetic, staying focused on the horse is more about survival than accomplishing particular exercises or working on the quality of his gaits. I have no problem staying in the moment under these circumstances. I ride according to Eli’s body movements and adjust my own, reactively. There is very little that is proactive about what I am doing to ride Eli–it’s more like convincing him not to buck the entire time, and most of the time he doesn’t. My concentration is spent trying to get him to concentrate. I basically end on a note of relaxation and obedience to reinforce that’s what he’s supposed to do.

But what about when Eli comes out of the stall relaxed and obedient, and I am not spending the ride working to get there? First, this is the horse I hope to have in my lessons, and on those days both my focus and Eli’s centers on what the lesson is about. When I have this horse, but not inΒ  a lesson, this is where the holes in my concentration feel exacerbatingly cavernous. Like, shit, I actually don’t have that much focus when tasked with moving Eli’s training forward with exercises, movements, and developing his gaits. The solution is more practice, and the longer Eli and I work together, the better I get at concentrating on riding and training the horse, not just keeping the horse from being unruly. I try to think of how my body is responding to Eli’s manner of going. I try to create a suspension in his gaits that is a step beyond natural. I teach myself patience by taking trot jumps. I reward Eli for listening and trying, and make a huge deal out of him when he does what I have asked, which enhances our communication over all.

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How many things am I doing to make this happen, yet also some of which may be incorrect? How many things is the horse doing (none of which would be incorrect because the horse is never wrong)?

My shortcomings are clear to me, and I know how I can not just mitigate them, but foster skills to overcome and even rid myself of these shortcomings. The brainpower this takes, for me however, is immense. I recognize that the same is most likely true for Eli. So we take small steps during the rides when we are both receptive to hearing each other, and try not to undermine progress by letting emotions cloud our judgment. Reflecting on all this, I see that my concentration is inconsistent, but not stagnant. Will I ever get to a level of concentration where not only am I in the moment, but every move is precise and effortless? Uh, no, probably not. I think very few people ever do. But trying to get there keeps me motivated like nothing else.

To What End

Do the ends justify the means? Well … my guess is that many of you readers are relatively well-educated and literate, so you probably had access to a good library and maybe even read a few dystopian sci-fi novels — the moral of most being that, no, the means are most definitely not justified by the ends. If you want a rigorously well-ordered society you have to oppress people. Oppressing people is morally reprehensible; the oppressed inevitably resist. The ordered society falls apart as a result of the means. Let’s all rejoice, then, in freedom and chaos; be wary of tyranny and security, and balk especially at the broad chasm of uncertainty that blackens the space between security and freedom (where most of us live today).

Ah, but this is not a blog about dystopian fiction. Or American politics. This is a blog about my pony.

notconfo

dis chunky monkey who is not chunkiest

When I first started riding Eli, I had plenty of leeway to ride him around as I saw fit, but I didn’t own him and didn’t realize I’d be buying him later, so I stuck to trying things that would get him to go in the job for which he had been marketed. I usually rode him in a standing martingale, once or twice in draw reins clipped to a breastplate and pretty much slack–at the wishes of the trainers, which I didn’t question (honestly still don’t). I worked primarily on trying to hack him out as a hunter–go straight, go quiet, go forward. This did not come easily for Eli (except the forward part) but I didn’t try to stuff him into a hunter mode all at once. I did as little as possible. He started to get better.

Circumstances changed drastically within a few years, and I realized I wanted total control over Eli’s fate, so I bought him. And I thought about what I wanted to do with him.

Should I keep trying to pour him into a hunter jello mold? He has the gaits and jumping form. He has a lot of other issues, most of which have now been addressed but not entirely. I’d be mushing myself into a hunter jello mold, too. The issues are not Eli’s alone, but also turn on my shortcomings as a rider. I have a certain level of confidence in my riding, though, obviously. I know I am pretty good with the young horses, and thoroughbreds, and most comfortable in the jumper ring. Eli’s personality wouldn’t present too many issues in the jumper ring, either. This could work.

yupitworks

Proof of concept. SGLPhoto.

I made this decision easily, and thought about it for maaayybee half a minute. But what if I hadn’t?

What if I had kept trying to get a hunter out of a horse that simply isn’t well-suited to it mentally? What battles would we have fought? How many times would he hit the standing in the corners? How would we ever figure out lead changes with that kind of pressure? What if I had tried to force my horse into a career that caused us both much more grief than joy? What would the end result have been? I cringe when I think of the adversarial and difficult relationship Eli and I could have developed had I tried to make him into what he had been marketed as. Imagine even that if we could have accomplished a way of going in the ring that would be fitting for a hunter round … at what cost to get there?

This is not to say that I have taken no missteps with Eli, because I am sure I have. But, I have the luxury of asking these questions without having to answer them. I even have the luxury now of being tempted to play in the hunter ring at schooling shows, having accomplished a few decent rounds in the jumper ring. Merely tempted–still planning on jumper classes for the foreseeable future. My horse and I can have fun because we have a harmonious and goofy relationship, built on apples, “forced” cuddling, and trust. Horses are roulette, anyway. There are no guarantees. Their lives are too short to squander on the wrong job, folded into a box of superficial compliance only to collapse. It does not matter what the end result is: it isn’t worth it.

It is not worth it.

If the time you have with horses is almost nothing but struggle, fear, acrimony, and tears, change it. If you don’t know how, get help, or walk away. Imagine how the horse feels. If you want to get thoughtful, think about why the horse resists you. No outcome justifies a broken soul, yours or the horse’s.

Gaslight

Have you seen the movie? The one where a husband gradually wears down his wife’s sanity by telling her small lies and convincing her she’s just hearing and seeing things that aren’t there? If not, watch it. If so, then perhaps you can appreciate this: You can’t gaslight me on fence height. Hillary’s post on developing an eye for fence height got me thinking–there are definitely people with no eye for judging fence height, and perhaps they assume that people will just go along with their assessment of how high they think they are jumping their horses.

twosix

This wall is 2’6″. The standards are 5′. Not difficult to gauge.

Perhaps when I was younger a little lying worked on me, because I wanted it to. I wanted to think I was just jumping 3′ even if I jumped higher. It kept me focused on the ride rather then the fence height, this at a time when social media didn’t exist. Flash forward to today, and I see a whole lot of Internet wishful-thinkers posting about how high they are jumping, accompanied with pictures that most certainly are not of a fence that is the height they say it is.

Why? I don’t get it. What does anyone gain from lying in such a way that is so demonstrably and immediately false? Why do people think they can convince others of falsehoods simply by saying them? Do they subscribe to the notion that if they repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it? They will believe it themselves? (What does that remind you of?)

Fence height is a fact that can be either confirmed or proven false easily. So what is the obsession with it? Other than to know you are schooling at or above the height you compete, why is it so important to people to broadcast it repeatedly on social media? I am all for setting goals and sharing accomplishments online–we all do it and quite frankly we all get a lot of support for doing so.Β  But tacking a number on something that isn’t true is not an accomplishment I’d be sharing with the world. I am so confused by this phenomenon. Help me understand.