by Laura Crum
Yes, I once used to be a pretty handy cowgirl. And my good horse, Gunner, would really watch a cow. Looking through my old albums yesterday, I came upon these photos. They made me smile, remembering.
Gunner and I cutting cattle at the family ranch. Do we look determined or what?
Roping on Gunner at my uncle Todd’s arena.
Gunner winning the cutting at the county fair.
But these photos were taken maybe twenty years ago. Today Gunner is grazing peacefully on the lawn, as I rub his neck and scratch his withers. And we’re both happy in our has been status.
Gunner at 32 years.
Gunner put in ten solid years as a competitive horse. I broke and trained him myself. I’m pretty proud of what we accomplished together. But what does it mean now?
When I talk to my various horse friends, both in real life and on the internet, they are mostly pushing towards some goal. A competition they want to enter, a clinic they want to take…etc. Whether it be dressage, endurance, cowhorse, roping or just horse training skills, they want to progress as horsemen. And me? I don’t.
Alone, it sometimes seems to me, among the horse people I know, I am content to putter down the trail on my solid horse, riding with my kid, knowing that my skills are, oh, about one-tenth what they were back in the days when I was training and competing. I still have the thoughts and opinions I developed over those years, and my ability to read a horse is as good as it ever was, but my ability to execute—not so much.
I don’t train horses any more. I don’t even ride young, green horses any more. I don’t compete. I don’t cut cattle or rope cattle these days (though I still gather cattle and move them from here to there on horseback). I only ride solid horses. I am, in fact, quite happy to ride what my friends teasingly call my “plug.” And Sunny is, in fact, a laid back little plug of a trail horse. Guess what? I like it like that.
I enjoy the relaxed tranquility of my horse life today. I delight in the freedom from anxiety and pressure, in the peace of it all. I ride two or three days a week and enjoy it very much, but if I had to choose my favorite aspect of horses now, it would be having them with me here at home, taking care of them, seeing them many times a day, turning them out to graze. Just what I do with my retired horses. The sight of a horse’s pricked ears at dawn means as much to me as anything.
Don’t get me wrong—I love my trail rides on Sunny, riding along with my son on Henry. But my absolute favorite thing is just living with horses. And I take endless pleasure in the fact that I don’t feel any pressure or anxiety surrounding the horses any more, something that I wasn’t aware that I once felt until after it was gone. I still remember the day, not so many years ago, when it dawned on me that an inevitable tension, that had always accompanied my interactions with horses, had disappeared. After some thought, I realized that the tension had been a product of underlying anxiety. No matter how much I loved what I was doing, there was a basic anxiety composed of the stress of training unpredictable young horses, and the desire to do well at various events. With that removed, I found a whole new level of peace and joy with horses.
Nowadays I ride without goals, other than to enjoy the ride. I don’t put much pressure on myself or my horse—we’re both relaxed. And it makes me happy. I think my horse is happy, too. Just looking at the beauty of nature from a horse’s back is more than enough for me.
Sometimes I can’t help comparing myself to others and I always laugh ruefully. I’m the has-been. I’m not accomplishing much of anything. Then I think back to the twenty-plus years in which I trained and competed relentlessly, and I shrug. Been there, done that. Got the T-shirt, or rather, belt buckle. I’m happy I spent those years achieving my goals. It leaves me free. If I hadn’t done all that, I think I would always wonder what if? What if I had pursued my goals?
But I did pursue those goals, and achieved the things I set out to do. And now I don’t need to do those things any more.
I’m not sure how this appears to others. At some level, I don’t really care. I’m doing what I want to do and it makes me happy. Maybe it seems as if a has-been shouldn’t be giving advice about horses (of course, when I do, you are all free to ignore it). Maybe I seem as if I’ve given up, or am just lazy. That I ought to try harder. Some have said that my life seems enviable, though I don’t mean to cause envy. In fact, my life with horses would be pretty boring for many of my friends.
And there are days when I do question myself. I wonder WHY I don’t want to do more with horses now. I have many friends my age and older who are still competing. And some days I feel a bit lonely and isolated, disconnected from my horse friends who are still caught up in the passionate striving to improve as horsemen—whether it be for competition or for its own sake. I can no longer share in that camaraderie to any great degree.
So, I sometimes wonder…are there other horsemen like me? People who have accomplished a fair amount with horses in their life, and are now content just to enjoy a relaxed ride from here on out. Or am I some sort of aberration? The truth is I don’t much worry over this—I’m happy with my life as it is. And I am very grateful to have (so far) survived a life spent very much on horseback with no serious injuries…and a continued joy in riding and horses. Not to mention the immense delight of sharing my horseback time with my son for about eleven and a half years now (yes, his first ride was at six months old, in front of me on my great old horse, Flanigan). So I’m Ok with being a has-been in the eyes of others (and for that matter, myself). But I am curious. Any other lazy has-been horsemen out there? Anybody else happy to just putter down the trail?