This really cool thing happened the other day; my horse got a hoof abscess. It was a beautiful day. Sunshine. Birds. I had a bit of time. I frolicked up to the paddock to feed out with big plans to do a training session together shortly after. My motivation level is usually pretty high, but in this instance I was overflowing with the good stuff. I was still riding the back of post-clinic awesomeness and ready to get out there and put into practice everything I had learned. I was the world champion of my own lunch box.
So you would think that given all of the above, seeing my horse limp gingerly up the paddock on three legs would have changed my theme song from Walking on Sunshine to…. well, a sadder less sunshiny one about lost dreams and someone who ends up alone with the company of a stray cat who really only hangs out with them to be fed. I feel you. I would have thought so too- in fact, not so long ago, you wouldn’t have been far off the mark.
Seeing my horse shuffling around (bless his heart) would have completely thrown me off course. I would have felt worried for him and allowed a series of worst case scenarios flash through my mind. I would have felt frustrated that we had to halt our training plans- again- and possibly indulged some unhelpful words from the Itty Bitty Shitty Committee about how it wasn’t fair and why does this always happen. Potentially, if I hadn’t managed to get a hold of myself, I would have allowed these crappy feelings to infect the entire rest of my day.
Not so now. On this day, I looked at him, quickly assessed that it was definitely an abscess, poulticed his hoof, made him as comfortable as possible and got on with my day. And you know what I attribute this total shift in mindset to? Why I could accept an unwanted hitch in my plans as simply a bump in the road that I was happy to ride out as opposed to a big fat, mental brick wall? I’ve let go of the perceived pressure that I need to be somewhere else, doing something else at a set time in the future. And so now, if the unexpected (and let’s face it still unwanted) comes up, I just tell myself, it’s cool. We have time. Because it’s true.
Let me explain what I mean. When I first entertained the idea of starting my own horse, I picked a date that seemed a reasonable time frame in which to have him under saddle. If I’m honest, I also had a time in mind that I felt that I “should” be out competing by. Although I didn’t consciously realise this at the time, both of these time frames were based on what I believed was expected of me; in other words, I had made an assessment based on how long it took “other people” to start their horses and get them out competing, and what I thought I should (there’s that word again) be doing in order to seem to be doing a good job of it.
Add to this, the decision to document the entire process for JoyRide (my membership club), the “public-ness” of the process led to an internal and completely self-manufactured pressure that I needed to be achieving certain things and progressing towards those markers within a certain time.
For us this year, winter has brought its own set of challenges. It’s been unusually and overwhelmingly wet. My littlest boy has been unwell on and off requiring a lot of my attention. Things have been extraordinarily busy at work. In a nutshell, time has been tight. Life sometimes got in the way of my carefully constructed training schedule and my mind got busy with the should, coulds and what ifs.
Come October, I had a clinic looming on the horizon and I wasn’t near the place that I expected to be coming into it. And that’s when I had my epiphany. You see the thing is, I have horses because I love it. I love working together with them. I get lost in the process. I love the partnership, the joy they bring to my life. I am in for the marathon not the sprint.
In my early days of riding, I was very motivated by competition. Now I am motivated by connection. I used to be inspired, blown away by elite level riders in the arena or pounding round the course. I wanted that for myself. And now I see trainers, so well known, some not showing incredibly displays of horsemanship, of understanding and of partnership that sees everything else fade away and my heart sing out, I want that. That there, that’s what I want.
Competition is still on my radar but I want my competitive experiences to be ones of expression, not for validation.
And with those thoughts, an entire layer of perceived pressure melted away. The switch literally clicked over. If my primary goal is for connection and partnership with my horse, then adhering to external time frames no longer becomes relevant. Sure, I still have goals. I have big goals. Huge goals! But they are goals that are driven by the values I aspire to and the desire to better myself as a horsewoman and person. And whilst I have big goals, I also have flexibility; to roll with the punches, to readjust, reconfigure and resume.
Seeing Dee limping up the paddock, I brought him into the yards. Bandaged his foot. Gave him his feed and hugged him.
Get better soon, I told him. But we have time. We have all the time it takes. The only race we have to run is our own.
Today was a good day.