Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I'm Losing the Thread . . .

I've been thinking for several days about how to express what I'm feeling. (You may want to get a cup of coffee or whatever else it is you're currently drinking - long post ahead.) I think life is somehow a bit like a tapestry, or a complex weaving, with many different colors of threads, with each color representing an aspect, or theme, in one's life, or a person or place or situation - job, obligations, interests, and all that. Most peoples' lives have many colors, but with certain colors predominating at some times and then not at others. Sometimes colors disappear for a while and then come back again. Sometimes colors go away for good. So far, my life has had many different colors representing people, careers and interests that have gone, come and gone again or come to stay for the present.

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 . . .

25 comments:

  1. this makes me sad bc I think taking horses away from me would be not unlike taking my sunshine. But I admire your ability to step back and look at the big picture and not be too proud to step back from something if it has lost some of the capacity for joy it once had. I'm interested as to where this will take you next. Too bad you don't live nearby, I'd be glad to keep some beautiful horses in shape for you :)

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  2. thanks for sharing this. your history has so much horse in it! i'm kind of jealous of your past, and even your present in some ways, because you have contact with so many horses, and you have your training projects that are inspiring to read about.

    i cannot figure out if your horses are at home, or nearby at a co-op.

    again, thanks for sharing that.

    ~lytha

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  3. Thank you for sharing your horse history, that was an interesting read. I really admire your fearlessness when it comes to change. I'm too afraid that I won't land on my feet and would have to give up horses!

    Those are some big questions and I'm glad you're giving yourself time to think it over.

    Only you will know what's right, obviously. Still, I can't help but wonder if getting a horse that you can simply enjoy wouldn't make a huge difference. Obviously there is something to "work on" with any horse if you are so inclined but what about a horse where that was a want-to do, not a have-to?

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  4. A long and interesting history with horses. Spring makes us quite introspective I think . All I can say is if you are done ,well you are done. Maybe a break is all you need or just some time to think it over . Whatever your choice , you have done well by your horses and as we get older and the bumps and bruises of our youth come back to bite us it is easy to see how a person would no longer want the day to day commitment. I have been there a few times in my klife , to much pain and fatugue to want to continue. For me it only lasts a short time , but I expect someday...

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  5. That is quite a heavy ponder you have been having. One thing I love about being alive is that we are constantly changing and moving. We're all like water. We don't stay in one place. One thing that remains constant for me and horses is how my horse makes me feel like I am on top of the world! I suppose with all the time and money and care she requires, all the mental energy as well as physical, that if I didn't feel like I was flying every time I am with her, that might make me feel like maybe things were shifting. And if that ever happens, that will be OK. I am curious to see what changes this year will bring for you! Maybe a lot, maybe none.

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  6. Kate--I think everyone can relate--we're multi-faceted people--not cardboard cutouts. I'm different on a given year, month, day, hour, too. Sometimes my horses and I just exist together and I don't do much of anything with them, but then I bought the kind of horses you mentioned above--for the trail. They're all jump on and go types. I even get this way with the piano--sometimes I want to play, play, play and sometimes not--but it comes and goes.

    This is our year for travel!! The travel bug really hit us hard for some reason, but next year, we may want to stay home all the time. Who knows.

    I think of life as threads, too--and sometimes you see one color end, but then it picks up again later in the tapestry. You have a heart for horses, so you'll find your balance.

    You know what I'm really sick of?!? Cleaning stalls. I am really sick of it--but I hope summer will give me a reprieve. Also, it's more enjoyable to be in the barn in summer--it's warm, the smells of the horses and their sweat...it's pleasant. Right now it's wet, stinky, cold--ugh.

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  7. Kate - These are big life changes that you are pondering. It helps to know the history of your life with horses to understand what you're saying. I too grew up with horses and stepped away from them for a few decades. And my daughter brought me back to them. I also discovered Mark Rashid and a different way of relating to horses that makes me much happier. (The horses like it better too!) A while ago, I realized that as much as riding and being involved with my girls in traditional equestrian ways, there was a spiritual relationship that I developed with SIlk which really fulfilled some need that I had never acknowledged before. This is what bonds me to these two animals when I face horrible weather, mud, hoof abscesses and all the other pain in the butt activities that caring for horses often involves. The riding is fun, but not really important. Being with Silk feels like I'm doing something good for me, even if we just stand next to each other for ten minutes. It's what I love about Carolyn Resnick's "Waterhole Ritual" where you sit in the pasture and read a book and are with your horses without doing anything. At first, it felt sort of silly to do it, but now I realize that my horses are a part of me that can't be ignored, denied or left behind without losing something. They are in my soul, and I'm empty without them. Sorry to go on for so long here. I truly do understand what you're saying and if your tapestry changes again, I know that it will happen from a place of consideration, care and love for your animals. Who knows what the future will bring?

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  8. I felt very much like this when I realized that Kinsey was not the calm cool cucumber I thought she would be. I wanted to say screw it, because it was all getting difficult and not much fun. This was also in the middle of that long winter.
    Then I found a trainer to help me learn to drive and I am really excited about that. I am sort of in a limbo right now. Taking a confidence (riding) lesson one week, and driving the next. I don't know what I am going to be doing with any of my crew right now, whether I should try to get Kinsey going or get more into driving. I know I want to stay with horses in some way though.

    Only you can decide if you want to let all those years with horses just be happy memories or find a new way to have horses in your life. It isn't easy though and I really feel for you was you wade through this part of your journey.

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  9. Ah Kate, I read and identified with much of your post. Those of us the other side of forty who have been around horses for what seems like forever, will have similar feelings I'm sure (especially after the long winter). Fate will often deal it's hand and very likely by making some changes you will reap rewards...I look forward to reading about your rewards in time ;-) follow your gut instincts!

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  10. I think every horseperson feels this way from time to time...a little like they are losing the thread. I'd bet you still have the passion, just need a nudge in another direction.

    That's when it's time to do something different...something new. A lot of horse lovers of your age bracket change what they do to enjoy the horses. I know an woman in our area, approaching 70, who took up competitive driving. My mother (who is 50+) used to show hunters a LOT when she was younger and well into her 30s, has switched gears and now does week-long (or longer!) camping trips with the horses and has even learned to pack mules for super wilderness camping.

    It is all about what YOU want to do in the end, but perhaps a change of scenery may be in order.

    It should definitely be a pleasure..not a chore. Which is why I never got into horses professionally...I wanted to continue to enjoy my passion, not feel overwhelmed and under-satisfied by it.

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  11. Having and caring for horses is a lot of work. Sometimes it feels like it just gets to be too much. I think that you need a vacation AWAY from the farm and horses for a week or two and a change of scenery will do you good. Only you know what's right for you good luck in any decision you make.

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  12. Kate, I can certainly understand what you are saying, especially getting tired of always having to train and coach. But I do have to say that should you decide to get out of it, the horse world will be losing a wonderful, patient, and insightful horse owner. You have been an inspiration to me and I for one hope that you are able to find a way to rekindle your interest in horses.

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  13. I think you wrote that for yourself. To test the waters; see what you were really feeling. And there is nothing wrong with that. Another thing you might want to consider is "if you could have just one", is there one you would choose? Could that horse be what you want it to be with little effort and could keep your heart full?

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  14. You are -very- involved with your horses, and it's probably a good idea to take a step back and see where you want to be. Think carefully before you do anything too drastic (I'm sure you would without me telling you), but who knows? Maybe time away would make you miss it and maybe you'd just enjoy having some time to yourself.

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  15. I've taken breaks from horses a few times in my life. I came back every time because it felt like there was a hole in my life. But those breaks helped me solidify in my mind what it was I wanted out of my relationship with horses.

    I think it's good to step back every once in a while and really think about what we're doing and what we want. And change is always good. My relationship with horses has changed numerous times over the years. Those changes have kept the relationship fresh and alive.

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  16. I have been in this same situation that you are writing about. I think you are very brave to write honestly about this because I think more horse people go through this then ever post about it.

    ((hugs))

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  17. I'm having a bit of trouble getting back into the swing of things as well. I do need to work my Boys, but I'm kind of tired right now and just don't have the inspiration.

    So, here's a sympathetic ear. I know exactly what you are feeling...and I am just going on the far side of 60, so I too understand that part too.

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  18. Dear Kate! I am going to be 67 and have taken care of horses for 30 years. What I learned a long time ago is that it is not necessary for me to justify how much or little I do with them. I love what Victoria said and feel the same way. When I get a horse, it has a forever home. Of course I now realize that I should not get any more...but the 4 I have will be with me no matter what. I sure understand about doing chores. It seems that job sharing and phasing out of the work would not be a half bad idea. You can still be with them, but on your own time schedule. You are lucky to be in a position to live near them.

    Horses are a big part of my life. They are well taken care or and spoiled rotten. I can't imagine you ever going cold turkey. Learn to enjoy without obligation. Let it be a pleasure, not a job. Actually, you will do the right thing...it is up to you. Whatever works.

    Please know that you set a fine example for the rest of us.

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  19. Kate,

    First I just want to say that your life with horses has truly been amazing - especially the brush with Secretariat. YOU TOUCHED HIS SHOULDER!??! That is something that not many people could say, I am sure. And, all the years with horses, all the life lessons.

    None of that will lessen or be gone if you move in new directions now. I took 7 years off from horses when Maizie was 2-9 years old and now that I am back it feels like this time is forever. As you say, though, we never really know what will fill our days with joy.
    That is all you can do really. It sounds so hackneyed, but finding your daily joy is what it is all about and if joy is missing in your horse world than it may be time to move on. As you say, though, some days are just less joyful than others because of the light and the weather and the temperatures so give yourself time to figure it all out. If possible, try to find a balance. Horses seem to be 100% which is a real shame. I am so sad that people haven't learned to share horses. One horse honestly needs at least three caretakers or more. I spent some time riding horses for busy horse owners and I can honestly say they were my happiest horse days ever because we all shared the work and shared the rewards and were able to still have time for our families.
    Good thoughts your way coming! Try not to feel sad, but rather excited and hopeful. It is all good!

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  20. Kate ~ No matter where your thoughtful self-examination takes you, the thing I'm struck by is the simple, patient directness of the meditation. The irony is, that's something that suits you wonderfully to horses. It means that almost always (never say never, right?), you think before you act. Horses need exactly that from their handlers.

    You may not be losing the thread; it might be that it's simply time to pass it through another needle.

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  21. I would like to read your blog, but i could but so slowly because of my bad english! Can you put on your blog a translate gadget?
    Thank you.

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  22. Life as a tapestry...wonderful images...so many threads and colors to experience.

    I have also faced similar thoughts, and days when my horse habit was more work than pleasure. Stepping back for awhile will give you a better perspective. I hope it's only a short break from horses, but you'll have to see where it leads.

    I do wonder if a different horse might change things for you. Your horses might enjoy the "old" lifestyle as well, and be happy competing again (with someone else).

    I am also an older rider, and am dealing with a challenging (to me) prospect. Your blog has helped me find different approaches and to continue making slow progress. I am thankful that our "threads" traveled together for awhile.

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  23. So, for me, the horse habit/hobby/sickness is all about balance. I have to balance my time between other activities to make sure I continue to enjoy the horses.

    I went through a time, some years ago, where the horses did turn into an obligation. I ended up taking a good year long break, and reevaluated what I wanted. I sure didn't want the chores for 4 or 6 horses, and I didn't want the time commitment either.

    I think I've found a balance that works really well for me. I've got two horses at home, and the amount of chores isn't overwhelming, even after a long day at the office. I've also got a great pasture setup that allows me to leave the horses out while my husband and I participate in other activities like hunting, fishing, camping, etc.

    For me, one weekend away from my horses is enough to give me a break, and to make me appreciate that they are there when I get back. I simply cannot do "all horse, all the time"... Maybe you'll find something similar about yourself.

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  24. Big thoughts, and it is good you have been able to put them down here. I hope the process of doing so has helped you. I must say that I have really appreciated your write ups of Mark Rashid clinics, by the way. Good luck with all your thoughts. Your energy will tell you where to go.

    Máire

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  25. Kate your honesty and insight into what horse ownership really is make for valid and valuable commentary.

    This last year has been tough, first with Steve's injuries, and now with mine, so I totally hear you on the "too much" aspect.

    You will make the right choices for you and for the horses, I'm sure.

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