By Laura Crum
I mentioned in a post awhile ago about “finding balance” that I have a really hard time feeling Ok about not riding four or five days a week. Today I want to explain why I feel this way, and ask if any of you struggle with this “guilt issue”. I know that for me, it can really take the pleasure out of having horses and I am always working on finding the right balance in my life and not obsessing on riding. So, how did I get to be this way?
Well, I was raised to be a bit of a zealot about riding my horses regularly. My tough old team roper uncle, who was my first and main teacher, felt that you should ride your competition horses (and practice horses for that matter) virtually every day to keep them legged up. The horse trainers I worked for in my twenties espoused a similar ethic (though they didn’t always practice it). During the ten years Gunner was my main mount it was a rare day that I didn’t ride that poor horse. I bought him as a coming three year old and retired him at fourteen, due to various arthritic issues. I firmly believe those issues were caused by early and fairly intense training, and just an awful lot of miles.
By the time I was riding Flanigan and Plumber, my ideas had changed. My team roping partner was a more relaxed guy, and though he liked to ride and did ride regularly, if the weather was bad, and/or there was some other reason, he was perfectly happy to let a horse stand for a few weeks and then go roping on him. And lo and behold, nothing bad happened. The horse wasn’t too fresh; the horse didn’t get hurt. The horse didn’t even lose that much condition. This went on for years.
I learned something. You don’t have to ride a broke horse into the ground all the time to keep him going. It’s a fallacy.
I began riding my horses when I felt like riding. Sometimes that would be four or five days a week. Sometimes it would be once a week. The horses did fine. Plumber and Flanigan both stayed sound and competitive until they were twenty—far longer than Gunner had done.
Now, I grant you this won’t work on every horse. I’m not arguing that point. But on our fairly easy going mature QH team roping horses, it actually worked better than riding every day. The horses felt better, seemed happier, had less lameness and overall just did better.
I should add into this equation that I keep our horses in large (100 by 100 on average) corrals where they can run around and play if they feel like it, so they are not stuck standing in a stall or small pen when we don’t ride.
So, anyway, hey, sounds great, right? I’m riding when I want to, the horses are happy, no problem.
Well, there is one slight problem. I was raised by my zealot uncle (in the horse biz, anyway). I’m a Catholic school girl. The problem, in a nutshell, is guilt. I feel guilty if I don’t ride five days a week. At some deep level I still believe I’m “supposed” to. That the horses need this.
Fast forward to the present. I spend my riding time trail riding and riding with my son. Our mature easy going horses do just fine whether I ride them once a week or five times a week. They’re reasonably fit and I never demand too much of them. A long trail ride is a three hour ride. If they start to puff, we rest and let them air up. They are never ridden to the point of being really tired.
So wouldn’t you think I could let go of my guilt issue and just enjoy these horses?
Well, sometimes I can. And sometimes I get sucked right back into my old way of thinking. This fall we rode a lot. The weather was good—my son and I went riding three or four days a week. Week before last we rode six times. And then the weather got cold and wet. Suddenly I’m back to riding one day a week if I’m lucky. And I start to feel guilty.
Oh, and lets not forget the mud. I live in a part of California where we get a lot of pleasant weather all year round. It virtually never snows—it doesn’t get real hot or real cold. But in the winter we get these long rainy spells. And during these rainy spells the horse corrals get muddy. Even big corrals get muddy in heavily used areas. And I look at my horses, squelching through the mud and feel guilty. Never mind that none of these particular horses have ever had one mud related problem in their lives (if any of them had a tendency to develop abcesses, I’d be more concerned). But there is nothing like muddy corrals to ratchet up the guilt factor.
It took a conversation with a friend, another recovering “ride em every day” horseman, to show me what I was doing to myself. Between work and such, she is lucky to ride one day a week sometimes, just like me. Her corrals are muddy, too. And, as she pointed out to me, her horses are thriving. They are both sounder than they were when she rode more often. She reminded me of what I already knew, but had forgotten. Its Ok to take a break. Its Ok to ride when you can. Its Ok not to push too hard. Both our horses and ourselves benefit.
Now I’m taking a break, while the rain rattles on my tin roof. My horses are dozing in their sheds, taking a break, also. And we’ll all enjoy a trail ride on the next sunny (non-muddy) day—guilt-free. Or that’s my goal, anyway.
Anyone else have this issue? How do you cope with it? Any suggestions?