Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Taking a Break

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?


Shanster said...

How funny - I submitted a question to Mugs along a similar vein...

I'm anxious to the point of busting a gut about wanting to fix this issue I'm having...

Only, it seems like every time I plan a ride with my trainer about this issue, a ton of different things have popped up to prevent it... sub-zero temps, a death in my family, travelling, plague, locusts ... y'know everything seems to conspire against fixing this issue... possibly increasing my anxiety? rolling of eyes at myself.

My trainer is not as anxious. I figure it comes from experience and she knows things will work out. Polar opposite from the hyperventilating, spaztic, anxious me. (I hope I'm presenting a more stoic picture and only revealing a slight constipated look when yet another training session is moved)

But yeah - that whole anxious/guilt - whatever it is -sure is crazy making isn't it?

I have no suggestions other than better living thru chemistry.

Crack open that wine all around! grin

EcoLicious Equestrian said...

BIG thank you Laura for this article...

I struggle with this type of guilt constantly, the other day I took a weekend off to get my hair done and get ready for Christmas and instead of enjoying all the pampering, decorating, nice cup of tea and fresh baked cookies, I felt like the worst horse owner in the world...

for me it's not just about riding, I feel like I should spend every day of the week with my horses - ride, do groundwork, play liberty games or groom...if I don't I feel anxious and guilty...I better smarten up, we are planning to start a family in a year or so and I won't be able to spend all the time in the world in the barn and I sure don't want to drive myself crazy with the "you're not good enough"...

Anonymous said...

I like to see and be with my horses every day, but that's more important to me than riding. I ride when I can and let the rest go. Was I always that way? No, but I'm older now and I think have a better idea of what my priorities are. Thanks for your thoughtful post!

Laura Crum said...

Kate--I like to think I'm older and wiser now than my much more driven younger self, but I can still get sucked into the guilt space, as my post shows.

And Petra, you are so right about kids interfering with horses. My kid comes first these days--something I wrote about in my last three mysteries-- and the horses really do get a lot less of my time. The good side is that my kid loves to ride with me, and has been horseback with me in some form or other since he was six months old. How fun is that?

And Shanster--I feel your pain. I never use expressions like that, but I couldn't help it. I can so relate. I'm not really that driven any more, but I well remember when working on an "issue" with my horse was my number one priority and I wanted the world to hold still until I had worked through said issue. When life got in the way I became a bundle of anxious fretting nerves. What I do now is try to sit still and sort of feel into it--it helps--kind of. Today I sat in my barn for awhile and looked at my hairy, muddy little yaks, and after a short while I was just enjoying being there and not minding that I wasn't going to do anything with them. Don't know if this will help you or not, but it does help me...sometimes.

Oh, and as for chemistry, nothing beats a margarita. Or two.

Mel said...

Yep - I struggle with this. I rode exactly twice this week, and it showed in my lesson today. But it was rainy, she felt "off" to me (not lame, but not real enthusiastic) so we didn't ride much this week. I feel a bit guilty, but I also feel like both of us need a "xmas vacation" since she's been getting out 6-7 days a week for ~ 3 months now.

I try to remember that there are other things I need to do in my life besides riding - there are bunnies to knit, fiddles to practice, and my bible study. There is family to see. Horses will completely overshadow all of this, and even though I will be riding a LOT and not have guilt re: horses, I'm not really any happier than when I ride less and also do the other stuff in my life.

Mel said...

subscribing to commnets

HorsesAndTurbos said...

How appropriate!

I didn't ride tonight...again...and it's been going on two weeks. Bad weather...mud, then freezes, then mud again. Now by the time I get home it's in the 'teens - too cold. I have lights off my barn into my pastures, lights them up a bit like twilight, just enough to ride, so that is not an excuse.

Guilt Guilt Guilt!!!

At least I am catching up on house stuff!!!


Promise said...

I completely understand what you mean.

I am lucky to ride once a week. I only see Promise on the weekends because she is an hour away from me - closer to my boyfriend's house than mine. Sometimes I don't even have the motivation to go brush her...I want a quiet weekend and a couple of movies on the couch with my boyfriend because it's been a long week at work.

I feel terribly guilty when I get like this.

But I try to remind myself that she's happy and healthy and gets 12 hours with her buddies each night....and when I do ride, lo and behold, she also proves that she is a million times better than she was when I rode 7 days a week back in high school.

Her back doesn't get sore, so she isn't tense when I get on and I haven't felt that, "I'm going to buck because I'm sore and stiff" sensation in quite some time.

And, while she is what I would term "pasture fit" not "showing fit" -- she maintains enough muscle tone on her own that we can buzz around for 30 or 40 minutes and have a great ride. And hopefully soon I will be able to get her out on the trails a bit.

Does that stop the guilt? Nope.

But I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that working 8 hours a day and riding after work is not going to happen, unless she is in my backyard ...which isn't going to happen either, lol.

Laura Crum said...

Mel, Jackie and Promise, its nice to see how not alone I am. Actually, all the horse people I know are a bit like this. And I agree with you, Mel, I didn't really feel better in the days when I regularly rode seven days a week--and all the rest of my life got neglected. I just felt guilty about different stuff. And Jackie, its so true that my house is cleaner when I'm in a non-riding period.

For me, this guilt issue is something to be working on, as I said in the post. I know its not needed or helpful--I also know we can't lose our "conditioning" by snapping our fingers and saying "let it be so." Its an ongoing process of being aware of what's happening and conciously trying to let go. For me, it helps to realize (and re-realize) the point with which I ended my post. It doesn't hurt the horses to get a break--and a lot of the time it actually helps them.