Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Enjoying Our Horses

By Laura Crum

I just got back from an idyllic ride through the redwoods with my nine year old son. We cruised up a gentle logging road in mixed shadows and bars of sunlight on our two gentle, bombproof trail horses, Henry and Sunny. A mellow summer morning made the forest calm and peaceful. My kid and I rode side by side, enjoying the sights and smells. We saw a young buck deer, and a yearling coyote, and butterflies playing in the sunshine. Baby quail scuttled into the vines along the trail as we passed. We rode by the biggest madrone tree I have ever seen, its shiny green leaves flickering in the breeze, above its red peeling bark. We rode through cool shady redwood groves and past a lone Douglas fir, standing tall and straight like a solitary sentinel by the trail. As we neared the top of the ridge, we saw the tumbled coastal mountains all around us, misty blue in the distance.

All the way up and back, our two steady mounts never put a foot wrong. They never spooked or balked or crowhopped or jigged. Their ears were up, their eyes bright, looking around, taking it all in. They seemed to enjoy the ride as much as we did. We let them stop to air up whenever they puffed a bit. When we got back home and unsaddled them, both had a light sweat under the saddle and on the neck and such, enough to show they’d gotten some exercise. Neither was truly tired. The ride took about two hours. We mostly walked. Trotted occasionally when the horses wanted to. We had a blast. My son sang or whistled for most of the ride. I daydreamed and gazed at the endlessly interesting and beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains. Sometimes we talked—about the horses, about what we were seeing, about anything and everything.

I was happy as we put the horses away. I thought how lucky we were to have this in our lives. I thought that I was enjoying my horses as much or more than I ever had. I felt truly blessed to be able to give this great experience to my son.

And then…. And then what? I can just hear you asking. Or I imagine I hear this. What awful thing happened?

Nothing, really. I came home and had a minute and sat down at the computer. I read a few horse blogs, which I haven’t done in awhile. Don’t get me wrong. I find horse blogs endlessly entertaining. But I have realized that I need to spend more time working on mystery number twelve in my Gail McCarthy series, riding my horses, finishing my remodel, and (boring but true) cleaning the house. Reading and commenting on horse blogs was taking time I needed for other things. Still, today I did it, anyway. And I learned something…about myself.

Because after half an hour of reading about what other people were doing with their horses, I felt a bit anxious. Other people were/are showing and competing and training and learning. They were/are challenging themselves…and their kids. They were/are having fun with this. All of a sudden I wondered…am I doing enough? Should I be riding a more challenging horse? Should I train young horses again? Should I compete? Should I encourage my son to compete?

Those of you who have read this blog know that I competed relentlessly at reined cowhorse, cutting, and team roping in my twenties and thirties. I worked for half a dozen professional trainers. I broke and trained upwards of fifty colts for myself and others. I hauled my horses all over the state of California (and further) virtually every weekend to compete at some event or other. I owned cattle to train my horses. It was a rare day that I did not ride (and train). I really have a very clear picture of what training and competing amounts to.

In my forties I quit riding young horses and competing. Instead I spent my time having a baby and raising him. I taught him to ride. And in my fiftieth year, he and I started riding the trails together on our two steady horses.

I am truly having as much or more fun with my horses right now than I ever had in my life. No, its not exciting in the way that some of the things I used to do were exciting. But somehow riding beside the crashing surf or along the spine of a steep ridge is exciting enough right now. And no, I feel no pull towards competing or training. I don’t miss the hauling. I don’t miss the intensity. So far, my son seems content to trail ride with me and gather the cattle for our team roping friends. We work the chutes and put the fresh cattle through. I feel connected to my horses and the natural world, and I still get to work cattle, which I enjoy. I love to watch my son have fun with his horse. It seems like enough.

Its only when I read about these much more strenuous, intense horse pursuits that other women my age are attempting that I get these niggles of doubt. Ought I somehow to manufacture a desire to compete again, to improve, to ride young horses? Am I missing something here?

Of course, I know the answer. The answer is that I am happy. My horses are happy. My kid is happy. What more can you ask? If I don’t want to compete or train any more, that’s fine. Its equally fine if others do.

After I disconnected myself from the internet, I pondered my reaction to reading those horse blogs. Why did reading them make me feel worried that I wasn’t doing enough myself? It only took a moment’s contemplation to show me that I was perfectly happy with what I was doing, and that it was great that others were happy with what they were doing. No problem there at all. But I wondered.

Am I the only one who is enjoying her horses in a low key, relaxed way after spending many years in intense training and competition? (I doubt it.) If others are also in this position, do you too fall victim to this odd angst or anxiety that you are not doing enough?

For me, the answer itself is simple. I am enjoying my horses, and what I do with them makes me (and them) happy, and that’s enough for me. Since I have no urge to push myself any more, I don’t. Its only when I compare myself to others (which we all know is a no-win deal) that I get that niggle of doubt. I would welcome hearing any insights that any one else can contribute on this subject.



Anonymous said...

I think there are different periods in our horse lives, just as in the rest of our lives. I did the competitive thing for a while and I'm done with that now - oh, I might go to a show once in a while as a training exercise for my horses or just to have some fun, but that's all.

You are lucky to have the horses you have right now - I have two very excitable, forward horses, left over from our showing days - one a TB and the other a TB/WB cross - both of which take a lot of work and aren't so much fun to ride some times. But they're the horses I have and I'll deal with it. What I'd really like right now is a horse just like the ones you have - calm, alert and happy to go on trails.

Just because others feel like competing, or training up their horses to do various things, doesn't mean we have to feel like that's what we should do. I have to work with my two riding horses pretty intensively, at least for now, as I don't want to get killed, but that's where I am right now. Maybe later on I'll be somewhere else - I hope so!

Laura Crum said...

Kate--I am really grateful for Sunny and Henry, and I, too, once rode horses that were more challenging and had moments of wishing that I had a mount that I could just relax on. Now that I have one, I love him. I love the whole experience of being free to daydream and enjoy the ride, instead of having to focus intently on my horse. So, I hear what you are saying. And I totally agree about there being different times in our horse lives. I don't in the least regret the years I spent training and competing. I don't look down on those who are into doing that. I just feel that phase of my horse life is over. I'm in a more contemplative space with my horses now. Though one never knows what the future holds. If my kid decides he needs to compete, I may find myself back at those horseshows (!)

Anonymous said...

I am 24 years old, never competed, probably never will... I'm happy with my horse, she is only 3.5 years old, not old enough to compete anyways. All I do is trail ride and a whole lot of training... I train my horses for myself, I'm very satisfied with the results. I do feel this angst that maybe I should compete, maybe I should show my horse, am I missing something?? I spend a lot of time debating the pros and cons of competing... and I think, over the long run, the cons win... With a full time job, I don't have time to train my horse enough to compete, I only have some time to ride on trails and continue the training whilst doing so. After one year of training, my horse leg yields, neck reins and can rollback and spin (to a certain extent). I only ride her once a week sometimes a little more and there is no hard work for her, since she is still young.

I think I am happy with the way my life with horses has taken its route, just playing around a field with my friends on horseback is great fun, I don't get to feel the stress and anxiety of the competition and I have more time to cuddle and spoil my mare. I love my horse and she loves me. I enjoy every minute I spend with her and I don't think anything else will make it more rewarding... getting to see new scenery sure beats seeing the inside of different arenas, they all look the same. I get to see creeks and mountains and fall leaves while riding my horse, not worrying about how I look (although I do try to keep a good seat and posture). I get to see deer, wild turkey, bears, coyotes, ducks, geese, foxes and all of the little things you'd never notice if you weren't sitting on the back of a horse, it sure is quiet up there... I think haven isn't as far up as we think.

HorseOfCourse said...

"I'm in a more contemplative space with my horses now"
That means more and more to me too.
The silent, just "being together" time, tuning into each other.
Which is why I mostly ride out on trails by myself. I am not alone, I am together with my horse.
Enjoying the wildlife and the scenery.
I would like to ride together with my daughter, but as she is 14 now she doesn't want to ride with mum anymore *sigh*
So enjoy it while you can, Laura!
And I am happy that Henry recovered so well. Good horses for children are rare.

But I am a training nerd too.
Still, training dressage is introvert compared to jumping or (I assume) team roping and cutting.
So there too, I try to tune in to my horse. And to me it is a kind of mental cleansing; everything else just disappears, it is all about my horse and me.

I find that I need more calm "time-outs" from everything else, to balance the stress in other areas.

But all in all, I suppose it comes down to what you said, Laura.
Whatever gives us and our horses joy.

Laura Crum said...

Thanks HOC and Anon. Its nice to feel that I'm not alone in enjoying my trail rides, both solo and with my kid. I am very grateful that Henry recovered from his colic surgery and is doing so well. And I do indeed realize that when my kid is a teenager he may no longer want to ride with me. I try to enjoy every moment together.

HOC, I finally got to your blog (my computer is cranky) and was tickled to see the photos of you showing Fame bareback. You are brave...and a much better rider than I am, as I can see. I can still ride bareback, but I don't look that pretty doing it. You, on the other hand, looked perfectly poised, and even won a ribbon. Good for you.

Laura Crum said...

HOC--I just read your comment on my previous post. How do you deal with the winters? Do you ride inside under lights? I know you trail ride in the snow...I saw your photos last winter. And why is the worst part before the snow? I live in a part of California where it virtually never snows. I cope with rain and mud, but we have lots of sunny, warm, dry days in winter, too. I can ride outside (off and on) all winter long. I simply can't imagine coping with a Scandinavian winter. I would love to hear your take on it.

HorseOfCourse said...

Well, I did not post the photo where I am doing extended canter, it did not look as "poised", lol!

Yes, I envy you your climate, Laura.
Still, it is not the snow or the cold that bothers me, it is the darkness. I feel it steals my energy. Everything is so much easier during summertime, and you need less sleep.
I would much like to shorten the winter period for a month or two more of summer, but I am not sure I would swap that for a milder winter where you get rain, fog and wind instead of snow...

We have no indoor arena at the yard, but the outdoor arenas are lit and used the whole year. The worst months are October, November and December where the ground is frozen and uneven, and it is pitch dark when you get home from job.
You cannot work the horses on hard and uneven ground, whether in the arenas or out on trail.
One of the arenas is salted, and that helps a bit as you get an unfrozen layer of sand at the top, but as the ground under is frozen you have no spring? elasticity? in it, so you still cannot work the horses as normal.
We have limited acess to a neighbouring indoor arena; either very late in the evenings, or early mornings in the weekend - you know at the times no-one else wants to ride!
But once the snow comes, all that changes. Snow is a very good surface to work the horses on, and it lightens up. I go out trail riding in the dark as long as it is snow. It is a bit like riding in the twilight. You cannot see clearly, but you see enough to get by - and the horses see better than yourself.
And if I get a clear, starry night with moonlight - that's the best!
It is so beautiful; the glittering in the snow, the sharp shadows and the stillness.
You know, thinking of it almost makes me long for the winter - and it cannot be too bad then, can it?

Laura Crum said...

HOC--You almost make we want to move. Those snowy moonlit rides sound very magical. Here we have mud, which can be no fun. But we also (sometimes) get weeks at a time of sunny, seventy degree weather--all through the winter. Its unpredictable. During the nice spells, I am so grateful to live where I do, because we have wonderful rides. During the weeks of non-stop rain I often long for snow, which at least is pretty. When everything is muddy, I sometimes ride on the beach, and that can be very pleasant in the winter.

Even where I live, the shorter days of winter bring me down a little. But how much daytime do you get in Nov--Jan? My husband grew up north of here, and he said it was dark by four oclock, mid-winter. I would find that hard.

But all horse keeping locales have challenges. Talk to me when the mud in my corrals is knee deep, and I would certainly be willing to swap with just about anyone.

HorseOfCourse said...

Laura - hours of daylight is depending on which part of the country you live in.
For us in southern Norway the sun is up approx between 9 am and 3 pm during the darkest month, so it is dark when you go to work and dark when you get home.
In the northern part the sun disappears totally – but on the other hand it doesn’t go down at all at midsummer time!
We also have some villages in deep valleys in the south where the light disappears during winter because the sun is set low and the high mountains shade the village. They have old traditions of sun feasts when the sun returns.
Oslo is situated at about the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska but we have milder climate due to the Gulf stream.

Terri Rocovich said...

Laura I loved your post, sounds like where you ride is absolutely heavenly. I think it is all good no matter how we choose to spend time with our horses. Compete, train, trail ride or just have pasture pets, it is all about the pleasure it brings us and the time we get to spend around the horses we love. I do think that horse people, by nature, are a bunch of over achievers who love to drive and set goals for ourselves and our horses. I am certainly guilty of that. But at the end of the day, all the competition and training in world can not top that gentle nuzzle or little nicker when we walk into the barn. And nothing beats a long lazy trail ride on a beautiful day.

I count my blessings every day because I get to spend my days and make my living in the company of horses. Because I seem to attract loads of type A kids as students (including Michele's daughter) by barn has an official moto that the kids are constantly reminded of, especially when they are stressing themselves out at horse shows. The barn moto is "It is all about fun!"

Laura, your horses Henry and Sunny sound incredible and what a priceless gift you give your son - riding in nature with a great horse and an even greater Mom. I don't think anything gets better than that!

Laura Crum said...

Terri--Thanks so much for the nice response. Its very cheering to realize that someone who is achieving as much with her horses as you are can also validate the very laid back lifestyle I have with mine. You're so right--its all about the pleasure they give us, and there are many ways to experience this. I've been privileged to have tried a few, and "its all good" rings a bell. Thanks again.

Shanster said...

Yes - I feel this way a lot of times. I should always be doing more. And then I stop myself - I'm on no timeline and I will never be a professional....just relax.

I'm really in it to simply learn and have some soul feeding horse driven happiness...

I AM learning tho' with a youngster who is testing me and it can be scary and I HATE that... the scary part - which probably wouldn't be to someone like you with your experience but I gots to learn somehow... and osmosis just doesn't cut it!

I'll get through it. But yeah, I think humans compare as a rule and we always want more or feel discontent when we compare... I think it's something unflattering about our species.

What you do is so great and so cool and you are happy. It's enough.