by Laura Crum
For me, horses now are not about riding. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the most typical one—fear/anxiety—isn’t the cause. I have had fear/anxiety before and I know its face. What is happening for me now is that my interest lies elsewhere. And this has happened to me before and I recognize it also.
I spent my thirties obsessively competing on horseback. First at cutting, then at team roping. I trained young horses to do these events, I practiced several times a week, and I competed every weekend. This was my life for over ten straight years. For awhile I loved it. And then I burned out on it.
There were a lot of reasons. The abuse that I saw in the name of competition was one. The lack of any real meaning in “winning” an event was another. Getting tired of hauling all those miles was yet another. I saw a lot of horses get hurt; I saw a lot of horses have stress related injuries and illness that were completely avoidable—I got really sick of seeing that. Maybe a lot of it was “been there, done that.” I also began to see that sort of camaraderie I had enjoyed at these events really didn’t translate into meaningful friendship. For all these reasons and others, at forty years of age I just didn’t care about competing at horse events any more. And I found myself drawn to something else. Tending the garden—with horses as part of my garden.
I still loved my horses. I enjoyed their company. I liked to see them grazing along the driveway, I liked to feed them and interact with them. I liked to see them watching me as I worked in my garden. And I particularly liked being peaceful and solitary on my own small property, planting and tending and caring for plants and critters, including the horses, and watching the wild things. The last thing I wanted was to go out into the busy world and do something stressful with my horses in order to prove something to myself or others. This did not seem “fun” to me in the slightest.
During this period of my life I got together with my husband, Andy, and we shared many happy hours doing things together here on the property, and also doing things that were not horse related (biking, hiking, camping, traveling). We had a child and we both put raising him first. I thought that growing up with horses would be a good thing for my son (see my post “Growing Up With Horses”) and eventually I took up riding regularly again (trail riding, not competing), so my boy and I could share this pastime. And Andy often hiked with us, along with our dogs. It was a good life.
But as my boy grew older and became a teenager and lost interest in riding, and his horse grew older and lost the desire to climb steep hills, I found that my own interest in trail riding was also growing weaker. My husband got sick and all I wanted was to spend time with him. After Andy died I realized that I had once again come full circle to the place I had been in when we got together. I just wanted to stay home and tend my garden—with horses as part of the garden.
In real life, of course, I can’t stay home. I haul my teenage son from one thing to another. Lessons, golf, music, computer design class…etc. I must buy the groceries and run the necessary errands. My life is plenty busy. But when I can choose, I choose to stay home. Planting veggie seedlings, turning the horses out to graze, just sitting in the barn watching the horses eat hay, watching the light change in the sky, watching the reflections on the pond, lying in the hammock that hangs from the big oak tree. These things make me happy. Or as happy as I can be right now.
Last weekend my son and I planted romaine lettuce seedlings in Andy’s aquaponics project in the greenhouse. We have been eating Ceasar salad (my son’s favorite) from this project two or three times a week for the last few months. And we planted seeds to germinate in the greenhouse and become squash and bean plants that will grow in the veggie garden, carefully pressing the seeds that Andy bought last year into the soil. I know Andy is happy to see we are carrying on his work—and doing it together.
My neighbor helped us with his backhoe the next day, and we placed a large stone on Gunner’s grave, which is in the barnyard. And my boy raked the ground and seeded new grass to grow. We sprinkled the grass seed to get it started. The horses watched us from their corrals and nickered occasionally, telling us it was lunchtime. When we were done we gave them some hay and sat down on Gunner’s rock to survey our work. And again, I felt Andy smiling. We are tending the garden that Andy and I created together. Our little life as a family goes on. And horses are a part of it.
This is what horses are to me now. I know that many of you have gone through similar cycles with riding/not riding, and I would be interested to hear your insights on this subject.