By Laura Crum
No, I’m not talking about the sort of balance we need to stay aboard these horses and not end up on the ground at their feet. I’m talking about a different sort of balance…the sort we need in our lives. Terri wrote in a recent post that she needed help finding a balance between writing and riding. I don’t know that I’m in a position to offer much help, but now that it’s the rainy season here in coastal California, and I’m not riding as much as I was, I’ve started to think more about finding balance in my life.
This “balance” is, I think, going to be different for every person. For myself, I am balancing my son’s needs and wishes, our needs as a family, my horses, my writing and my garden. All of these things take up a lot of time. And I totally sympathise with Terri’s point that it seems like there are just not enough hours in the day. For sure, one thing or another is going to be somewhat neglected.
So, I’m going to start out with a funny statement. In my case, balance involves not prioritizing riding too much. And due to my past, that’s hard for me to do. It’s a long story, which I’ll tell in a future post, but I have a huge tendency to feel guilty if I don’t ride my horses five or more days a week. And right now I am actively choosing to prioritize my family’s needs and my kid’s needs. He will only be young once. I want to be there for him and also to enjoy this experience of raising a child to the fullest. So, in a way, you could say that both my riding and my writing have suffered since I had a child.
The funny thing is, I don’t even want to go back to the way I was pre-child. I prioritized riding and writing to a huge degree—to the degree that I felt trapped by my obsessive need to pursue these two things. I have to tell you, the truth is I prioritized riding and training my horses to such an inordinate degree in my twenties and thirties that, well, I’m not gonna say this ruined my first marriage, but I will say it contributed.
So, Ok, I have come to believe that over-prioritizing riding doesn’t work for me. Not just in the sense that it doesn’t work for my family, but also that it doesn’t work for me as a person. Sometimes I actively don’t want to ride. I want to work in my garden or go on a hike, or do some sort of expedition with my family. I want to be able to feel good about this. And because of my tendency to feel guilty when I don’t ride (because of my background with horses), I sometimes have a hard time feeling content when I don’t ride a lot.
This reached a crisis in my life about ten years ago. I had been riding, training and competing obsessively for twenty years. I felt guilty if I didn’t go to a competition every weekend, or didn’t practice several times a week. At the same time I had a property that I loved and I really wanted to spend long, lazy days working in the garden. The two desires were a huge conflict for me. And in a fit of pique I gave up competing.
Well, it wasn’t exactly a fit of pique. I had grown sick to death of the nasty things people do to themselves, their horses and others in order to win. I had ceased to see winning as desirable. I was sick of feeling like I “needed” to go compete every weekend. So I quit.
(I am not intending to criticize all those who like competition, mind you. Not everyone is nasty in the interests of winning. Nonetheless, I saw a great many horses crippled—and subsequently thrown away like broken sporting equipment-- and a great many people were less than kind to others and miserable themselves—all because they so needed to “win”.)
Anyway, I quit competing. I kept my horses. I still rode. I had a young horse I was training. But I didn’t let competition, and the need to train for competition, dominate my life any more. I worked in the garden a lot. I was happier.
Then I got pregnant. I gave up riding. I still had my horses, but my old team roping friends rode them for me (these were good rope horses and my friends were glad to borrow them). I had my baby. And it wasn’t until my little guy was six months old that I got back on a horse again (with my baby in front of me in the saddle). Over a year without being on the back of a horse.
And it felt just fine, actually. I was in no hurry to get back into riding again. I got on a horse once every month or two…until my kid turned three and began actively lobbying to ride. So then I began to ride a couple of days a week…but every ride was with my son. We walked, trotted and loped in sedate circles, that was it. This went on for a couple of years. And I was still perfectly content.
I learned something. I still loved my horses. I fed them morning and evening. I enjoyed them. I did not give one of them up. But I did not need to be obsessive about riding and training. Things went along just fine when I wasn’t obsessing.
I should add into this story that I keep my horses either turned out in large pastures or in big corrals (100 feet by 100 feet on average) where they can run and play if they are not ridden. They are never confined in small pens or stalls unless they need this due to injury…etc. And in the years when I rode very seldom, as I said, my friends did ride the using horses regularly.
So, fast forward to the present. After several years in which my son rode in front of me, I had a year of hand walking, longeing and ponying Toby the pony (with my kid aboard) and a year of riding alongside my kid and Toby in the arena. All pretty sedate. And then when Toby died two years ago, I bought Henry for my son, and Sunny for me (our two “bombproof” trail horses), and my kid and I began to go out on the trails.
For the first time in ten years, I had a horse that was solely my horse again—nobody rode him but me. And guess what? I began to obsess on getting him ridden. I also had a new event. I fell back in love with trail riding, the passion of my teenage years, which took a backseat to various sorts of cowhorse-type competitions in my twenties and thirties. Suddenly I wasn’t happy if I wasn’t out on the trails at least four days a week.
And you know what? This did not work to my advantage. Obsessing on riding and being unhappy when I couldn’t get it done made me, well, less happy. It took the major setback of Henry’s colic to get me to revaluate my priorities and start trying to find that balance again.
So now, once again, I’m back to riding when it works out and relaxing about it when it doesn’t. In my life, realistically, this means riding about twice a week, more often in the dry season, less often in the rainy season. The horses seem perfectly happy with this. Once again, I’m happy, too. I’m finding out that balance for me, means not prioritizing riding too much.
I don’t say this would necessarily be true for others. In fact, I’m hoping some of you will explain how you get balance in your own lives. Perhaps for some it means riding more often, and cutting back on other activities.
OK—I see I haven’t even touched on the issue of how I balance the writing into the equation. But this post is getting too long and I need to go feed my horses. So, a future post on how I fit writing into my life will be forthcoming.
Also, for those of you who write to me in the comments that you have posted something on your blog that I might be interested in, I do try to go to your blogs and read. But my computer is old and cranky (I mean seriously old and cranky—it is twelve years old, uses Windows 95, and has a dial up connection) and I frequently can’t view blogs. And it takes forever to get the comments to come up, so I don’t try to post comments on other blogs any more. I did make it to Kate’s blog and got to read about her horses. And Jackie of Horses and Turbos, I tried to get to your blog to read about your trail rides with Starlette, but I just couldn’t get it to come up on my screen.