Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Looking Past the Ears

by Laura Crum

Between weather and busyness, we haven’t been riding a lot for the last month. Maybe twice a week at best. The occasional trail ride or beach ride, mostly short rides in our riding ring. The picture above was taken when we rode to the Lookout over a month ago (the view past Sunny’s ears is of Monterey Bay).Yesterday we went up to my uncle’s place to help gather the roping cattle for the first practice roping this spring. That was a blast. But overall, we haven’t been doing much. At times I feel almost guilty, as if I “ought” to be doing more with the horses. I turn them out most days to graze, and the horses seem perfectly happy. I enjoy our short relaxing rides when I get them, and both Sunny and Henry behave well and move out freely. But some sort of Puritan work ethic makes me feel bad about not doing more, or I hear about what someone else is doing with their horse and I am envious (that’s the bad thing about these horse blogs—you can always read about someone who is doing much more with their horses than you are doing with yours). I really know better than this—but I still fall into these traps. And then I got a reminder of what its really all about.

Last week we had a little boy over to visit who had never been to our place before. He’s part of my kid’s homeschool group, and a very sweet, smart, interesting child. I’ll call him Sam. Anyway, as I usually do, I offered Sam a chance to ride a horse (with his mother’s permission). Sam had never ridden a horse before and was very excited.

I have a simple protocol for this. Kids are only allowed to ride Henry, my son’s bombproof gelding. And they must wear a helmet. We all go down to the barn and I catch and saddle Henry, explaining to the kid how to “be” around a horse. No running, no shouting, don’t approach the horse from behind, listen to me and do what I tell you at all times…etc. Henry is actually proof against most anything, but I want to teach the right behavior. My kid models brushing the horse and our visitor gets to brush him, too.

Then I put my son on Henry and he rides his horse up to the riding ring and demonstrates a little walk, trot, lope. The visiting kid stays with me and I point out just what my child is doing to control Henry. If the kid seems keen, and Sam was, I put the visitor up behind my son on Henry (if they’re small enough) and let them walk around like that so they can get used to the feeling of being on a horse without thinking about anything else. And then I ask them if they want to ride by themselves.

Sam was very eager to do this. I legged him up on Henry, helped him put his feet in the stirrups (which have tapaderos—very important), and showed him how to hold the reins. I explained how to steer Henry, how to get the horse to move. I told Sam to hang on by the horn, not by the reins or his heels—under all circumstances. Sam’s face was bright, eager and attentive. And off we went—with me at the end of the long, slack leadrope, walking along beside him.

This is how I give kids their first ride. Henry has done it many times and knows what I am up to. He knows he’s supposed to obey the kid on his back—that I’m just there for backup. And this is important, because though Henry is safe, he is not above walking over to a patch of grass and putting his head down—which is way more than any first time kid rider can cope with. So I make sure this doesn’t happen.

Anyway, I’m following Sam along and I look up to see how he’s doing. And you never saw such a lit up face. He was positively incandescent with delight. “Do you like it?” I asked.

“This is so much fun! Its so cool just to be here on his back, looking past his ears. Its great!”

Well, I grinned and we went on, but his words stuck with me. Because I feel the same way. To this day, even when I’m so busy that I hardly have time to ride, when I do climb on my horse just to walk him around the ring or go for a brief trail ride, I have that exact emotion. This is so much fun. Just being on the horse’s back, looking past his ears at the world ahead. Feeling him carrying me along. Even if I do nothing but walk around my riding ring for ten minutes. I just love it. I hope I always feel this way.

And I realized (yet again), that its time to let go of comparing myself to others and worrying about what I “ought” to do, and simply take pleasure in the joy that horses bring me. If puttering around my riding ring on Sunny’s back looking at the roses on a spring day contents me, that’s great. Same for gathering the roping cattle and going on a short trail ride with my son. Not very exciting stuff by some standards, maybe, but if it brings me joy then its good for me. I need to remember this (!)

So today, in honor of Sam’s words, here are some recent photos showing the view from Sunny’s back, looking past his ears.

On a spring trail ride, along a rather overgrown trail.

Looking across the big meadow—gathering cattle at my uncle’s place.

On the beach, looking at my son on Henry and our friend, Wally, on Twister.

At the Lookout last fall. My kid is resisting having his picture taken.

Looking down at Sunny.

How about you guys? Do you love those “ear views”, too? And do you, like me, get sucked into guilt and envy in your “horse life” more often than you would like?


SunnySD said...

One of my absolutely favorite ways to see the world - I have some treasured shots of beautiful scenery taken through the years, made all the more precious to me because of how they're framed. Something about looking at the world between those two alertly pointed peaks makes everything look better and brighter, even after I get off.

Anonymous said...

I think Sunny must have some of the cutest ears ever!!! Well, except maybe for my Diego, he has very curvy pointy tipped Arabian ears. And the only time they are not cute is when they are up around my ears!!!!

Still I appreciate your position on focusing not on the guilt and envy but on what brings you joy. It's been just horrifically muddy and rainy here and my guys are more pasture pets than mounted steeds, but it still brings me joy to hear them whinny for their hay and watch them wander contentedly around their paddocks.

I think it's about finding contentment wherever you are. And right now that's a muddy mess with happy horses.

Mikey said...

Trust in kids to break it down to the simple, unvarnished truth. He's right.
I get antsy if I'm not doing something with the horses. Even if it's not much, they need to get out and interact. What drives me bonkers is going past my neighbors place. Horses with no shade, haven't been out of their 12x20 pen in YEARS (and they're good working horses) and their big $50k LQ trailer that hasn't moved in at least 2 yrs. Why have them if you're not going to do something with them?

Laura Crum said...

Sunny SD--Isn't it funny how much those ears make a photo of scenery more special and memorable. My girlfriend and I were just commenting about that the other day.

Lynn--I think Sunny's ears are cute, too. But then, I would think that, wouldn't I? And I agree. When I can't ride much due to weather, I try to focus on the joy I feel just turning the horses out to graze. Horses bring me lots of joy even when its not about riding.

Laura Crum said...

Mikey--I couldn't agree more. Its one thing to have horses that are pasture pets--if you keep them turned out in a pasture. But to leave horses cooped up in small stalls or pens and never get them out (and without shade--in Arizona no less), is downright cruel. I guess the point of my post is that even if you only get them out for short rides or to graze--or they have plenty of space--you can enjoy the simple pleasures of life with horses. Without worrying that you're not doing fifty mile rides, or taking lessons, or gathering cattle by moonlight (!) At least I'm still looking past the ears once in awhile.

Anonymous said...

Love your thoughts - the fundamental joy of horses is just that, looking through the ears. I love it how every horse has different ears - I could identify them by the ears alone.

Great photos!

Laura Crum said...

Thanks Kate. I very much enjoyed your post today on softness (On "A Year With Horses--listed on sidebar). Sunny has gotten much "softer" since I've owned him--my friend/boarder, Wally commented on this yesterday. Since I don't train on Sunny to speak of, its not that I've so much worked on this. I think Sunny is just more relaxed and responsive and softer everywhere (including on the ground) because his attitude is better. More cooperative, less resistant. So I appreciated your thoughts about softness having a lot to do with attitude--both in the horse and rider.

Grey Horse Matters said...

The best view in the world is through a horses ears. Loved your pictures and description of Sam's first ride. We had the same scenario this past weekend with my granddaughter on the lead rope, she had a great time.

I'm with you I find myself asking how it's possible to ride every day or for that matter get a post done. I'm so busy between the farm, house, grandkids etc. I can only fit in two maybe three rides a week if I'm lucky. There's just not enough hours or energy in a day to get it all done for me. And I do feel guilty no matter which way I go, riding the horses and leaving other commitments hanging or vice versa.

Laura Crum said...

Grey Horse--Its the guilt that's a bummer. I know from your blog that your horses have happy lives with plenty of freedom to exercise themselves--like mine, they are fine if not ridden every day. But I, too, cannot help feeling guilty if I don't ride as much as I think I "should". And I, like you, also feel guilty if I let riding interfere with other priorities. Damned if you do, damned if you don't (!) Thus my post. Just trying to remind myself that the truth is I don't need to entertain this silly guilt trip. I can relax and be happy with what I have (and its a pretty darn nice life with horses).

Thanks for the insightful comment.

Mrs. Mom said...

EARCAM!!! Loved loved loved the photos Laura- thank you for sharing them! (And lots of them too!) You sure have some beautiful country to ride through.

As to the rest of the post- I can only say AMEN to it ;)

Big rubs to Sunny and Henry from us, and I'll smooch on Lutin from you too.

Laura Crum said...

Mrs Mom--Earcam (!) Now how come I didn't think of that for a title?

I've loved every photo you've posted of Lutin, am still just so tickled that you guys found your dream pony.

Glad you liked the photos. I'll have to take more "ear shots". Some of them were taken as we walked along, and I've got to tell you, looking through the camera while riding makes me kind of dizzy. Why I don't take so many photos horseback.

Tansy said...

I also have that feeling of guilt if I haven't been out riding much. But even those minutes of every day when I'm feeding out or picking the poo out of the paddock make me pretty happy. Sliding cold fingers into warm fuzzy horse armpits and burying my face in his neck for a minute...

Owning my horse is a huge commitment, of time and money and giving up other pleasures to be with him.

But even if I only see him for ten minutes a day, owning my horse is the most worth while thing I have ever done. He makes me happy, and really, that's all I need.

Laura Crum said...

Well said, Tansy. That's exactly the attitude that I want to hold onto. Its so easy to forget that I am quite content with what I am doing and get sucked into the guilt/envy thing. As I said, this is the downside of the delights of reading about others and their horses on blogs.

Funder said...

The best views always have ears in them.

The thing is, no matter what or how much you do with your horse, if you start comparing yourself to others you're always going to fall short. I can ride Dixie 50 miles, but I can't cue a canter in an arena! Much less pick her gait anywhere, sidepass, move cattle, jump, etc... And that's just from the list of things I'd like to try one day with her. You gotta do things that make you happy and be happy doing them.

Laura Crum said...

Thank you Funder--You are one of those I was in envy of. Btu it is true what you said. You do have to do what makes you happy and be happy doing it. Thanks--L

horsegenes said...

You know how a movie director holds up his hands to "frame the shot" That is kind of the way I see the world only instead of hands I have a pair of ears. :)

Laura Crum said...

Kel--I love looking past the ears, but I have a hard time photographing those "ear views". Sunny carries his head low and I have to slouch awkwardly back in the saddle, squinting into the camera, to get his ears in the photos(!)