Some people do their thinking best when sitting still. Or lying down. Or being in some way immobile. I get a lot of good story ideas and plot breakthroughs in the shower, but I’m not necessarily standing still, and the water is in constant motion.
With a horse farm, I have motion forced upon me every day, several times a day: feeding, cleaning, caring for, and interacting with horses (and dogs and cats and whatever wildlife happens by during the day…and morning and evening and night).
Since I am Not A Morning Person, I do most of the gruntwork in the morning, when my brain is not yet online but my body has to be up to feed the horses (and cats and dogs). Feeding horses, cleaning and filling water barrels (we don’t do little buckets here in the desert–our climate mocks little buckets; we start with 30-gallon half-barrels and work up from there), moving horses in and out of stalls and turnouts, inspecting each one to be sure all’s well, and of course, hauling the couple of hundred pounds of manure they manage to generate overnight.
All of this takes up to a couple of hours, more if there’s an emergency or a need for extra work–clearing the hay storage for a delivery, for example. As the brain slowly catches up with the body, helped along by the sometimes strenuous exercise, I come up with some of my most productive ideas for stories and novels. I solve problems, work through issues of all sorts, and more and more these days, remember to, you know, breathe.
Breathing is a tough one for me. I forget. Which can be a problem, because we kind of need oxygen to survive. My stallion has the same issue–when I first sat on his back, he was completely immobile. Then the trainer said, “His tongue is turning blue. He’s holding his breath!”
He did that for a long, long time. He’d trot about fifty feet on one breath, stop, grunt, heave in a breath, then and do another fifty feet. I got so I was actually saying as I rode, “Breathe in. Breathe out.” Reminding both of us of that essential activity.
So in the mornings, I work on that. I work on staying alert, too, even if I’m half asleep. Otherwise I get a firm lesson. Blunt-force trauma: large hoof to the thigh. That was two weeks of evolving instruction, with ice and ibuprofen and a suitable quantity of cursing.
Horses are naturals at walking meditation, as well as at providing plenty of manure to walk around and pick up. Shovel olympics: how fast can I shovel it up, how far can I be from the cart and still pitch it all in without a spray of loose cookies, how heavy can it all be before I stop being able to heave it. And can I get it all out into the turnout for dumping before one or more of the girls tries to sneak in behind me and visit the stallion.
It’s a kind of bonding exercise with them in that they’re familiar with me moving around them, and I get to observe their interactions without overmuch observer bias. They do their thing without getting fussed about me doing mine.
Because it’s daily and constant and there’s no getting out of it, it’s become a kind of occupational therapy. A way of working through Stuff of all sorts. With bonus natural wonders–ranging from rainbows to sundogs to hunting coyotes to tutelary ravens to the very occasional gila monster.
It’s a ritual in the pure sense. A set of prescribed activities that happen on a regular basis, with a clear intent and a perceptible result. Clean barn, well-fed and -hydrated horses. Human with much reduced need for gym, personal trainer, or psychotherapist.
That works. Kind of has to. They’ll be wanting breakfast again in the morning, and needing water, and the barn will need cleaning. Every morning. Without fail.