Playing ‘Would You Rather’ In My Horse Life

As if finding that magical work/life/barn balance wasn’t already hard enough, Kristen has to budget her time between her riding horse and her draft team. She tries to figure out which discipline she likes better (spoiler: she fails to do so).

Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

I am lucky enough in my horse life to have access to both riding horses and a draft driving team, which opens plenty of doors of equine opportunity on any given day. I realize I’m not unique in this — I know plenty of folks with both riding horses and driving horses (some of those are even the same horse!) or multiple horses across several disciplines to play with on a daily basis. I just try to remind myself on days I’m feeling a little pinched for time that I’m really very, very lucky, and having to make the choice to ride or drive on a given day is truly a first world problem.

Even on the longest of summer days, it’s hard to both ride and drive — sure, on paper, you’d think you could fit in the time to groom, tack, ride, cool down, groom again (twice), harness (twice), hook, drive and cool down into about four hours in the evening, but as we all know barn time is some mysterious black hole of chronological wizardry, and what usually ends up happening is that I bring in Red, start to groom, get distracted by reorganizing the way the saddle pads are stacked in the tack room, get tacked up, go count cows and find one missing, go searching for the missing calf, have to dismount and dismantle part of a fence to return said cow to the proper pasture, decide to still try to fit in the full training ride I intended to do in the first place and suddenly by the time we turn back to the barn the sun is going down. C’est la vie.

Sometimes, I perform a thought experiment as I’m grooming either my cow pony Red or the draft team Rocky and Randy in preparation for whichever discipline I’ve chosen to work on that day — if I were forced to choose between riding or driving, which would I pick?

I mean, as far as I’m concerned, that’s like those silly questions “would you give up wine, chocolate or cheese?” None of the above, thank you very much. The best I can do here is make a semi-logical list and try to suss this one out based on reason.

Unanticipated: between the ears shots with Rocky and Randy usually includes a lot of draft horse booty. Photo by Kristen Kovatch

Exercise: I’m tempted to say that riding is better exercise than driving, at least if you’d ask me for my gut instinct. We all know the physical benefits of riding, from leg and core strength to balance to endurance. On the other hand, prepping a draft team versus grooming and saddling a single small horse is a much bigger physical endeavor — the horses are big, they usually require quite a bit of elbow grease, and the harness and various trappings are heavier than my saddle. And while it might look like I’m just sitting happily on the driver’s bench like a sack of potatoes, I’m using my core, upper body and legs quite a bit at the lines.

Usefulness: I’m a fairly practical person, and I take a lot of pride in the fact that I ride and drive partially for fun and partially to actually complete some chores and tasks around the farm. With Red, I can check cattle, scout fencelines and help move the herd from pasture to pasture. On the other hand, with the draft team I can spread manure, drag yards and pastures and move equipment and supplies around the farm. At the end of the day, I find all of these tasks to be fulfilling and satisfying, and both riding and driving for the sake of the farm give me a great sense of accomplishment. I’ll call this one a draw.

Emotion: How can anything compete with the cadence of hooves and the surge of power you can feel through the tack as you and your horse gallop down a section of trail, the sun on your backs and the wind in your faces? Nothing, you might argue, until you find yourself sitting high above your team of horses, feeling the steady clip-clop of their trotting feet taking you down the road like a heartbeat in your chest. If I were to relegate myself only to the saddle I’d find myself missing that on-top-of-the-world feeling; if I were to turn in my riding helmet and only hold the lines in my hands my heart would ache for that unity you only feel sitting astride.

Enjoyment: When I think about riding in the summer, I think about meandering slowly back to the barn at dusk, the sun long gone as night falls on the farm, Red on a long rein, that sensation of peace and happiness we all know and love as equestrians. But that’s the same sensation I get when we’ve dropped the forecart or wagon in the driveway and line-drive the team back into the brightly-illuminated barn, the stars just starting to pop out in the blueblack sky above and the crickets serenading us down by the creek. Both are perfect pictures of summertime joy to me.

Individual horses: For as much as I love to complain about my little gelding and all four of his brain cells that I think he must have floating around in his noggin (prior to Red, I had only ever owned overly-intelligent crafty mares who were constantly trying to find new ways to kill me) I will fight anyone who says a bad word about him. (Only I can make fun of him. That’s a rule.) Sometimes he is so cute I just might have a little baby tear in my eye.

OMG stop. Shedding hair and all. Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

On the other hand, you may recall that for a short period of time I legitimately referred to myself as the Mother of Draft Horses and I swear I can feel my heart physically swell when I think about Rocky and Randy. How lucky am I to have three such special equines in my life?

So in answer to that question of which I’d choose between riding and driving… there’s no way to choose. Both disciplines are too important to my horse life, and I hope I’m never in a position where choice is necessary.

Compromise: carve out some riding space, drag it with the draft team, ride in it with Red. Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

Go riding, go driving, and go both if you can.

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