Sometimes it’s okay to skip a ride.
One of my favorite things about being managing editor at Horse Nation is getting to read all of the great work from our awesome team of contributing writers. From the equestrian problems and funny lists to the heartfelt firsthand accounts of triumphs and struggles, I think the Horse Nation team reflects several different aspects of the horse world, from recreational owners to competitive circuit showmen to professionals to lesson riders.
My own experience is a mix of several of those facets, and I’m sure that goes for many of our readers (and writing staff!) as well: I was a dedicated, horse-obsessed lesson kid for most of my childhood, finally sharing a pony with my mother when I was in high school; I went to a college that had a great developing equestrian program and rode to the national level while working my summers on a guest ranch in Wyoming; I went on to work as a professional for the same university for four years after I graduated and then parted ways at least for the time being with the professional world to now be a recreational rider/horse owner while keeping the wheels turning at Horse Nation.
There’s plenty of carry-over from my professional days into my day-to-day horse life: I gained a ton of experience that has served me well here in my own barn, from treating injuries and sickness to being comfortable on a number of different horses. The things I carry from the professional world present in other ways too — I am just learning now after a few years that it is totally okay to not have a horse in a “program,” not be working towards a goal with a deadline, to let a beautiful puffy-cloud blue-sky afternoon be whiled away doing nothing but sitting in the grass watching my horses eat. It’s okay, in fact, to just hang out with the horses every now and then.
Meagan DeLisle hit this concept right on the head with her recent essay “How to Be the Best Adult Amateur You Can Be:”
It is perfectly fine to do things other than ride your horse. It is perfectly fine to mow your lawn and spend the afternoon enjoying being a normal human, because let’s face it — equestrians don’t always fit into that category. Spend time away from the barn. Enjoy a healthy dose of nothing for a change. You have to find a work/barn/life balance or else your passion will consume you and you will grow to resent it.
In my transition from professional, expected to be working on a given sunny afternoon, maintaining the school herd’s training or making sure lesser-used horses were getting the exercise they needed or teaching lessons, to private owner, where it is my choice if I want to go for a trail ride, a training ride or literally sit cross-legged in the grass watching my horses graze back and forth near me, has been surprisingly difficult. How could I let a gorgeous afternoon slip away while my horses did nothing but eat? Red will never get to be a better cow pony if I don’t ride him; my draft team will never stay in shape for farm chores if they never get hitched.
I realize it’s a luxury to even have to make this decision — how many readers of Horse Nation would kill to have a horse of their own, access to a horse to ride or drive, the ability to just get in the car, drive to the barn and throw my arms around the neck of one of my steeds? I think of Candace Wade, with yesterday’s excellent essay “Barnhomeless Once Again:”
The fantasy farm where I have been relishing my lessons for two months is closing. This is the second time in six months. Just when I nest and get to know everyone’s name, the saddle pad is jerked out from under me. I feel sick. The sight of white four-board fencing makes my insides crumble. Attendance to my pity party requires that you don’t house a horse on your own property or board at a facility that will never, ever shut down. You will get priority seating if you don’t own/lease a horse and that you, like I, ride and have loved a series of lesson horses.
How unfair is it of me to have six horses in a pasture just wasting away going unridden when horse lovers are dying for the opportunities that I have?
Part of the beauty of this equestrian lifestyle is that it can be both competitive and non-competitive. And when I walked away from the professional world, I knew I could always go back to being a competitive rider if I so chose. What I didn’t realize is that taming the competitive side of myself would be the hardest part of all — not the part of me that wanted to win, but the part of me that was concerned with being the best equestrian I could be.
What I’m slowly starting to learn is that being the “best equestrian” doesn’t have to mean making sure I ride my horse every day because he’s there in the pasture, or have the best-broke horse I can have even if all we’re doing is pushing cows around the farm and trail riding. Being the best equestrian means accepting my horse life in whatever shape it’s going to take and accepting that I don’t have to constantly be in the saddle to call myself a rider.
Whether I ride them or not, whether they can execute a perfect side pass or a flying change or not, my horses are happy and healthy. And isn’t that what’s most important of all?