I've often been someone who is willing to turn away from a career or an activity that no longer provides satisfaction, without real regrets. I like taking on new challenges and activities, and really enjoy learning new things. I have all sorts of interests. I haven't been much of a traveller, but love to read, think and write. I love the aesthetics of all of the things that go into my activities - the colors and textures of vegetables in cooking, the seeds and plants in gardening, the music and beautiful instruments in my recorder playing and the beautiful yarns I get to work with in knitting. I think sometimes that I love the objects in themselves as much or sometimes more than the activities that involve them - I think I'd rather look at and admire a beautiful red pepper than cut it up and cook it! (Maybe that means I'm just a tad lazy, who knows?)
With horses, I think it was the same from the first. I've always been attracted since I was a child by the look of horses - their various colors and markings and specific personalities and behaviors. When I was a kidlet - say from the age of 6 or 7 up to late teens - I was completely fearless and rode anything and everything with abandon. I liked to show off and I liked to go fast and prove myself. I was the original wild child - pretty much unsupervised, living out in the country, and getting into all sorts of things including the ponies in the field across the street. I had my own horses until I was about 16, and did all sorts of things.
Then when I got to college, I had the chance to take real riding lessons (I'd never had any before) - although I was a capable rider I had lots of things that needed correcting and improving. I also got to compete, and that fitted right in with my natural tendency to want to show off and win - I was intensely competitive. I rode a lot in college - it was part of who I was and how I defined myself. I'd had a pretty serious back injury in my pre-college years, and it gave me some trouble that got worse just before I graduated.
Then I went to law school and stopped riding completely - in fact I didn't get on a horse again for almost 20 years. And here's the odd thing - I don't think I missed it at all. I made no efforts to ride or even be around horses. The only horse activity I noticed was horse racing - I watched on television and even got to attend a Triple Crown race with a college friend who remembered that I used to like horses - I was at the Belmont in 1978 when Affirmed beat Alydar for the last Triple Crown in an amazing stretch drive.
The only other horse occurrence of (substantial) note during this time occurred when I was pregnant with my older daughter. My husband and I were on a driving vacation and made a big detour to visit Secretariat at Claiborne Farms - they actually brought him out of his paddock and I got to pet him on the shoulder. I had watched every race he was in on television, and it was a big highlight to see and actually touch this beautiful, gracious horse. He died shortly after that due to laminitis and I was grateful that I was able to make the visit.
My older daughter was fascinated and delighted by horses from the time she was a toddler. When she and her sister were about 8 and 7, they started taking riding lessons and seemed to really enjoy it. After a bit, I started taking some lessons myself, why not? I could still ride pretty well, and had some fun with jumping. Then I got Noble - I was spending a lot of time at the barn anyway and he just suited me. Although he was very responsive and forward, he was also a Very Good Boy at all times - my (non-horsey) husband could handle, groom and even lunge him. I had fun riding him (when I was home - my job at the time involved a lot of travel, including international), including on the trail.
Then my daughters got a horse (a little TB called Dawson) and pony (Norman) to show in hunters. They showed a lot, and I was spending a lot of time at horse shows, so I got a horse to show - Promise. We showed a lot, won a lot of ribbons and awards, and had a pretty good time for a while. Then Promise fractured her leg and I got Lily. My older daughter wanted to do jumpers at that point, and Lily turned out to be the perfect horse for that. Dawn and Maisie joined the herd, again with the objective of showing. But we were increasingly troubled by some of the things we were seeing in the show world - lame horses, mistreatment and even outright abuse of horses, and the ribbons-are-the-only-point attitude of many of the competitors. Standing around in bad weather waiting to go in the ring began to be a bit tiresome too.
Then an incident occurred involving our trainer at the time and Dawn, involving training methods we found unacceptable (I should have found things unacceptable before that time but I was a slow learner and too complaisant) and we immediately took all of our horses out of training and moved them to the barn we're at now, which has no trainer and no indoor arena. We were a bit at loose ends, and not sure where to take our horse lives. Then we happened to attend a clinic with Mark Rashid on the recommendation of a friend, and a lot of things changed. We had to completely rethink how we were riding and interacting with our horses. And it was very hard - it required a lot more attention and care. We rode in a number of Mark's clinics, including two week-longs in Colorado, and learned a lot which we worked to apply with our horses.
One thing I think that's difficult about using Mark's approach to working with horses is that there is no formula, no program - first you do A, then B, then C, etc. The work with each horse uses the same basic principles and ideas, but it's specific to the horse and requires an enormous amount of attention and care from the rider. That makes it hard. In the early days, I had trouble seeing where I was going and learning how to listen and respond to what the horse was telling me. In the old days I would have just gotten on and ridden and coerced the horse into doing what I wanted if necessary while making it look good at the same time. That was, oddly enough, a lot easier, but it was also wrong in a moral sense to me.
And we still have our legacy horses, who were intended for the lunge-down before riding, gear-up and ride approach we used in our show days. I would never have gotten either Dawn or Maisie (or especially Lily) if I'd intended to keep horses at home and just have fun on the trail. That's not to say they couldn't become good trail horses someday, somehow - I'm just not sure that I'm the one to do it. And I'm a lot older now - when I was the age of my daughters I was fearless enough and physically capable enough to ride just about anything (using whatever gear it took and riding through anything that happened, including rearing, bucking, bolting, you name it). I'm approaching 60, and my reflexes aren't what they used to be and I have a number of physical limitations, including a damaged back and arthritis and bursitis in various spots, that can make riding uncomfortable. I also am not longer happy taking the personal risks I used to take.
This is a long way of saying that the horse threads in my life may be petering out, or perhaps changing color. I'm not sure where this is taking me. I know a lot about horses and horsekeeping - maybe too much and too little at the same time, if you get what I mean. I know how, or mostly how, to work with a horse to make progress and improve things, but sometimes I feel as if it's just All Too Much Work. Maisie has been a very frustrating horse to work with - I still appreciate her beauty and sweetness (there's that aesthetic thing again - I got her in the first place because of her beauty and the sweetness was an added bonus), but she's a tad excitable and hard to teach (at least for me). Our ability to go on the trail just isn't there - oddly enough it used to be but she's more herd-bound and excitable now, probably due to some things I've been doing in my work - I just don't seem to have the will or gumption to take the time and effort to work things through with her. Dawn is an amazing horse - athletic, brave and exciting, but I've pretty much decided that I no longer have what it takes to ride her or even work with her much. I'll keep her here for my younger daughter over the next several years while my daughter is in college, and then we'll see what comes next. I don't think my younger daughter would ever consider selling Dawn, but perhaps she could keep her near wherever she's living at the time.
I'm seriously thinking about giving up my morning horse job - Scout's owner will probably job-share with me over the summer and the barn could hire a new person to start in the fall. I could still have significant influence over how the horses were fed and handled, and could see them every day if I wished. I'd love to have a life that was less governed by the daily routine of having to take care of and ride the horses - it's starting to feel like an obligation instead of a pleasure. Maybe some travel, maybe time for some other activities that I enjoy. My older daughter might be willing to take Maisie on as a training project, and perhaps even sell her for me as a lower-level hunter. If that doesn't work out, then I may just retire her and look at her in the pasture.
Or maybe these feelings will recede as the weather improves. Or maybe I'm just achy and sore today. Or maybe I'll get my gumption and desire to work with the horses and ride back again. Or maybe not. No decisions have to be made today, but I may be losing the thread . . .