Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Horses Then and Now

                                                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.


Mrs Shoes said...

I love the thought of you 2 sitting atop of 'Gunner's Rock'; I bet he would too.
When our last little housedog died in 2011 I insisted that she be buried under my 'twin trees' where she used to lay & watch the horses at pasture. She never once crossed into the danger zone, she was content just to watch.

With no heavy equipment to call upon, it took 4 nephews, 2 BILs, & 1 son to get & set the huge pink quartz stone that I insisted be placed atop her final resting place. I sit there on a bench between the trees & I read; sometimes I just watch the horses at pasture, just like Tori used to do.

Mrs Shoes said...

Got off track, you were more interested in horse interest gaps...
I spent 15 years without a horse of my own (or the $ to take lessons) while going to college then getting hitched & having babies.
I think I was often just too tired/broke to think about it very often. But going home to the farm the first thing I wanted (after family hugs) was a trip out to the pasture. I think it was the smell of them - I've always loved that horsey smell.

These days there are 5 horses in my pasture; I ride 3 of them regularly & pull out the old mare for visitors and the occasional quickie. I used to feel guilty if I didn't ride daily - as if I were wasting their talents. I think I know better now, because they have a pretty sweet life & their talents are no more squandered than my own.
In nice weather I ride 4-5/wk, sometimes 2 & sometimes even 3 horses in a day. The older I get the less I like cold weather so I didn't ride often last winter, & over this last winter, I didn't ride at all from Nov - Feb... & I didn't feel a bit guilty nor did the horses seem to miss it.

As you do, I spend time daily with my horses, feeding, grooming, just watching them - whether while sitting in the tree swing pretending to read or through any window in my house (every single angle has a view of horse accessible areas), I never get tired of the sight of them.

I plan & I hope that I'll never have to leave my home & that I'll always have horses - but riding is not the be all & end all of the pleasure I take in them.

Laura Crum said...

Mrs Shoes--I used to feel really guilty if I didn't ride at least every other day--even during my trail riding years. During my competition years, like you, I felt guilty if I didn't ride daily. I don't miss that guilt at all. It sure didn't enhance my life. I also think horses benefit from time off, having observed many horses over the years.

Linda said...

I'm with you. My trajectory has gone much the same way. Horses don't care a wit if you ride them or not. They love to just be with their herd and humans doing what horses do naturally. Did you ever see the documentary, The Path of the Horse? You can watch it on YouTube. I do still ride the trails pretty often, but I don't feel guilty when I don't. We also have many other interests that keep us busy--that's life. :)

Val said...

Harley and I ride much less than we used to (about once a week now) due to life changes (being a Mommy!) and his health (allergies). However, it seems to be working out just fine. I don't have the time to ride many hours a week and semi-retirement seems to suit Harley (he is doing really well at 17 now). A friend told me it was good timing and I replied with "he is still the perfect horse for me".

Laura Crum said...

i rode today--just quietly at home--and you know, Val, it didn't change anything much. I love the horses and that's what counts. I think that's what you're saying too.

David said...

lovely blog
"Horses Then and Now"
nice to hear about your experience will change my vision over horses now ,and would like to have a companion