A totally bizarre phenomenon happened to me while riding tonight. Next door, there was a ton of activity, so Q was feeling like the pony express. Let there please be yelling and sounds of “yipee-kai-yay”-ing all the time please. So much more forward, so I did not have to play the jockey.
Cowboy yipping aside, I made a realization tonight, while riding in a plain t-shirt sans jacket.
I had never ridden next to Christmas lights.
In my colder climate homes, it was far too cold to ride outside productively in the time near to Christmas. Most days of riding, it was not even really safe to be driving out to the barn. (Which is how I became an expert and driving through immense snow piles in a two-wheel drive bug).
Sure, I’d admire Christmas lights on route to get to the barn, but never did I get to ride with them in view.
On the plane back to home, I was dreaming up interesting topics to ponder on this blogspace.
As a kid, I would have happily lived at the barn for free. Of course, this was before the acknowledgment that all my food, clothing, and time costs money. I still might live at the barn, but I would also need to be able to afford toilet paper, pringles… the necessities.
This train of thought, what I would and would not be willing to do as an adult, pushed me into thinking, is there any paying job related to horses I had no interest in due to the nature of the work?
I am a flexible and amiable person enough to see merit in most horse-related jobs. Farriers have a deep importance, vets are a trusted resource, massage therapists encounter dedicated horse owners, barn managers care deeply for their herd, show officials create these fabulous events….
The one I was actually stumped on was a trainer.
To me, nothing sounds better than riding horses and getting to teach interested students. That aspect of the job creates community, and positions you to watch progression. Notwithstanding difficult clients (of which, there are a number in this industry), I could jive with this part of the job.
What I think would be hard is selling horses for profit. It carries a lot of risk – financial and reputational. The people you are selling to are often your competitors (fellow trainers). It’s a people business, but also one that feeds on gossip.
I think the stress of pushing horses out the door would get to me, as I am a softie that builds connections with each of these animals.
I will be the first to recognize many trainers look out for their sale horses welfare in such a way that commands deep admiration. But, to do this requires extra effort and honesty. And you have to be, at times, willing and capable of taking a loss.
What do you think is the least desirable job in the horse industry?
There can be real frustration in riding so many horses over your lifetime. Sure, it is really wonderful and valuable to sit on a lot of different types and get to refine the asks.
But, sometimes there is not a sequential progression as a rider. I step into bad habits on specific horses and jump to another before I fully resolve them.
Because of that, I feel as though I am a library of slightly-aggressive, make-it-work methods. In fact, my recent solo hacks has been really restorative for me to focus once again on the fundamentals.
In my collegiate and early adult riding, much of the focus has fallen on the needs of whatever horse I was riding, and you can see the evidence of that in my weaknesses.
A dirty stopper encouraged me to drive with my tailbone.
A heavy mouth gave me broken wrists and open fingers.
A speedy, flat jumper gave me quick, over-active shoulders.
All of my mishaps originate from poorly-executed attempts of correcting a behavior or dealing with a quirk.
I’ve become this patchwork of the past horses I’ve ridden. In turn, this has made me cautious, skeptical, and untrusting.
I need to become a better partner in the future, because they do not deserve to be haunted by the horses of my past.
I continue to struggle with linear growth as someone who, by the nature of my circumstances, will always be hopping from horse to horse. I can ride almost anything, but I want to excel and really communicate better with the animals that I sit on.
I do think I am getting more opportunities for specificity now, and I am hoping that when I one day own my own horse, all my tools and tips will help that horse as a well-rounded rider that can handle curveballs.
So many of us equestrians have been in conversations with a skeptical and bombastic uncle that assures us that “horses do all the work”. I don’t even engage these people anymore as most of them introduce the topic with a smile on their lips and watch for a theatrical reaction (nice try, you are talking to the person who after hours on hold with customer support will still use “sir”, “ma’am”, and “please”).
It does bring into the forefront why we treat horseback riding as a sport, and also why it even matters how it is defined.
There are two main ingredients to the definition of sport – skill and physical exertion. Skill is less arguable. Because my general practice is to keep my passion for horseback riding quiet around new acquaintances, I’ve managed to shy away from stories of disastrous trial rides on family vacations. But most are willing to acknowledge that they could not imagine taking the quarter horse they rode in the Rocky Mountains over a course of 1.60m jumps. Skill brings tact, and both are necessary inputs.
Skill is undeniable. But physical exertion remains a question mark.
I don’t know about you guys, but a day spent at the barn leaves me feeling tired. When I owned my horse, I did everything myself. Turnout, tack, cleaning, grooming, feeding, picking stalls, etc. The work does not stop there, once you swing your leg over the saddle, it is pressure, release, softness while strong. Most people recognize the effort involved in dancing with a 1,000 lbs+ animal.
Playing devil’s advocate, when watching a cross-country course for instance, the horses physical feats are very clear to an uneducated eye. Foaming, sweat, leaping over obstacles. What is not present to these new observers is the rider’s fitness. Let me say, their stamina is no joke.
Not shockingly, I claim we check boxes of skill and physical exertion (and danger, which may bump it up from a hobby level as well).
Why does it matter? Who cares if it is not a sport? Whether we qualify horseback riding as a sport may be phrased as whether what we do is worth-while.
Often my “is horseback riding a sport” or “does it belong it the Olympics” will eventually boil down to us explaining why we our commitment meets the minimum threshold of worthiness in the eyes of others. Equestrians dedicate hours to bettering ourselves and advancing in our passion, and it invalidates our time by dismissing what we do as “not even a sport”.
There is a lot of sleep to be lost if you worry about the opinions of naysayers. I don’t allow those dissenting thoughts to affect what I love and how I spend my time, but as we advance this sport, it may be a valuable to consider the barriers we face in the general audiences.
Why do you categorize horseback riding as a sport? Or, better yet, why do you not?
I forgot Smileworthy this week (I am the worst) but I wanted to introduce a new feature which I hope to be a regular theme on the blog.
Crystallizing moment. It could be as simple as wearing yoga pants to Thanksgiving dinner (BLESS) or as complex as synthetic aperture radar (ask for my personal blog for an explanation of that one).
With horses, I have a lot of these. As my over-analytical mind likes to assess each and every action, lightning-rod moments occasionally strike my brain and make everything clearer. I am thankful when my excessive reflection occasionally amounts to a productive perspective, because that is not always the case.
This time though, I was riding the big guy (who, by the way, is still for sale). Riding a simple course of outside-angle-outside, I realized I was constantly agonizing about the next jump.
Not innately a bad thing, but I had been completely letting everything slip into a meh description while I desperately worried about finding a distance to a jump 25 strides away.
This realization I had – which I have been told before by countless trainers – is that jumping is flatwork. You cannot have a good course without having good flatwork, which is a saying I will tattoo on my back one day (kidding, probably would get a tasteful neon butterfly).
After realizing, huh, maybe this whole between the jumps thing is the part I need to be focusing on, I did the course again. This time, I corrected our balance, turns, consistency of pace, and watered-down my two-point.
And to the surprise of no one at all, the course was more refined and, dare I say, quite good.
My mantra the last two lessons has been ride your canter, focus on basics. By and large, the jumps have come up way better as a result of that.