Your Turn: The difference between horses and microwave dinners

In a world where attention spans run short and instant gratification reigns supreme, Rachael Walker espouses the virtues of that lost virtue, patience.

From Rachael:

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard it: Training a horse doesn’t happen in a day. Or a month. Or a year…

In today’s world of instant gratification, where an entire lunch can be nuked in less than 60 seconds and the television spews a picture that is changing nonstop, the idea of taking hours upon hours, which build into days and weeks and months, to accomplish a goal that is ever evolving, seems antiquated and tiresome. Not only are there days when progress is limited, there are also days and weeks where things go backwards.

On our farm, things sometimes seem somewhat antiquated. We use draft horses in lieu of a tractor, we have no television, no newspaper, and limited cell reception. Life on this farm moves at a slower pace. But I will admit that there are many times I wish training a horse was a little easier, a little quicker, or a little more linear. In spite of my disgust with the fast pace of our society, there are times I would like to jump on the crazy train and see some fast results.

The horse in this particular case is a five year old TB cross, an overgrown filly with her own specific world view. She adores speed, gets an adrenaline high out of cantering fast, and will jump just about anything in her way. In short, she is living cross country in her head all the time. Being an eventer, this suits me just fine; I would just like to add a modicum of control to the scenario.

Enter dressage (“boring!” says the young horse). Dressage is all about control. Control of the back end, control of the front end, control of the middle end. I like having control, the filly somewhat resents the idea of it. Certain days we wrestle with the concept of a half-halt meaning slow down, rather than ‘run-through-my-hand-faster-to-get-away’. Some days we work on paying attention to the rider, rather than the tires stashed along the arena wall (hey, we’re eventers – we jump it all!). And always we work on stretching through the back and into the rein contact.

In training, it is the overall picture that counts. Certainly, there will be good and bad rides. Hopefully, we can always end on a somewhat positive note. If there are more good days than bad, if things improve in the general lens, then we are most likely heading somewhere.

Last night the young horse did half an hour of crazy trot, moving around the arena at the speed of light with reckless abandon and little regard for my rein aids, seat aids, leg aids, voice aids, or pleading aids. After a little frustration on both parts, the two of us we managed to arrive at a place that seemed OK. Not great, but OK. Good enough to end on, I thought. But after a break I decided to give it one more go, and she produced a lovely, swinging, relaxed trot. Eureka! We did loops, we did figure eights, we did circles and the trot stayed the same.

Today we came in to the arena and started where we left last night. Within ten minutes she was trotting and swinging, snorting with pleasure, and responding well to my half halts. It was a great ride, and we both left the arena confident and happy and very relaxed. Many treats were had by all. In the grand picture, it is only one ride. Last night was only one ride. But we are picking our way through, gaining confidence and skills slowly, proving that although our culture worships at the altar of instant gratification, there is much joy to be found in taking the long road.

About Rachel:

My name is Rachael Walker, and I am an eventer in the frozen northern land of Wisconsin. I have been riding since I was a small child, and bought my first horse in my early teens. I fell in love with english riding early, despite belonging to a 4-H club that was big on western gaming. After high school I went on to attain a college degree in Equine Science and a minor in Creative Writing. My husband and I now own and operate a boarding and lesson stable, where I teach dressage and jumping to people and horses alike. My husband is a farrier. We do our farm work with two teams of Belgian mares, and no longer even own a tractor (no, we are not Amish–I do love my running water and electric lights!).

I compete in Novice level eventing at the moment with my older horse, but have a lovely youngster (she is 5 this year) who I am very excited to bring along through the levels. Both of my competition horses are rescues, as are a few of my lesson horses. Between training, teaching, competing, and tagging along on farrier escapades with the hubby, I see many sides of this crazy equine world in which we exist. To keep it interesting, we also raise sheep, chickens and hogs, have a small herd of laying hens and their male escort roosters (trust me, this thing is not a flock of chickens, it is a herd), the requisite small army of barn cats, two useless but very cute goats, and a pair of Corgis who are convinced they run the show.

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