I’ve talked elsewhere about finding balance these days between the writer and the horse person (especially the rider). This is its own challenge, and one I’ve been working on as steadily as life allows.
One thing that’s come out of it, or that’s made it more of a challenge than it might otherwise be, has been a fair amount of fretting about goals, dreams, and failures (whether perceived or actual).
The past month has seen a pair of significant birthdays. Mine, one of those with a zero on it that leads to musing, brooding, and assessing of the way behind and the one that’s still ahead. And my main-man horse’s–no zero there, but he’ll well up in his teens now, who just yesterday was a little brown foal. And neither of us is where I envisioned we’d be, or hoped we’d be.
He was going to be my upper-level horse. The one I really went all the way with. And he was going to be a breeding stallion, with a thriving book of mares and a slew of foals.
He’s done some breeding. He has some beautiful babies on the ground. But it’s been a while, and we had this little affair of a recession that killed the market for foals of this rare and idiosyncratic breed; and selling the trained four-to-six-year-olds that the market wants is a massive investment in time and training that doesn’t begin to earn itself out. And when I think about breeding him again for just a foal or two to keep if need be, the bottom falls out of things. Kind of a message there.
The riding hasn’t gone where I hoped, either. We’ve hit the ceiling over and over, usually for injury, sometimes for Life Crap(tm). We’re stalled out. This year we’ll try again to get somewhere, anywhere, and right this moment he looks better than he has since he entered his teens; he’s the self he was before the major injury that twisted his back and most of the rest of his body and laid him up for two years, then slowed things down for more years still.
And yet, if past patterns hold, there’s that bloody damned ceiling again. We’ll find a way to hit it, as we always do. Plus, at his age, he’s getting really short on time to do what I’d hoped we could do. His breed is long-lived and he’s in good shape. But nonetheless.
We could despair. Won’t be the first time.
Or we could change the way we think about this thing.
After the big career crash, I found my writing self again in good part through Book View Cafe and the new publishing landscape, in which we’re no longer dependent on a handful of agents and publishers to get our work out to readers. I changed how I approached the idea of publishing, and fought through a crippling block and got the joy back. I’m far slower than I used to be, but I can write again. That part of me is mostly whole.
The riding part has to take the same route, I think. The rider I thought I wanted to be needs a level of concentration and daily application, as well as investment in funds and time, that I have to realize I don’t have. Not with this writing gig plus the editing and teaching and other-kinds-of-writing gigs that support it, plus running an eight-horse barn (currently without help of any kind–it’s been almost six months since I had a day off), plus needing to, you know, sleep once in a while.
I’d have to be half the age and make several times the income plus have farm and horse help to do what I thought I wanted to do. Strictly logistically speaking, it’s not happening.
And yet, is this a failure?
For a long time I thought it was. I still do, much of the time. It’s hard to let a dream go.
So what do I have?
Eight healthy, emotionally stable, mostly sound horses, some of considerable age. They’re well fed. They’re amazingly clean most of the time. They earn their keep running Horse Camp for Writers and teaching horse yoga and sometimes just being there for their international band of fans.
Do they care if they’re not fulfilling their potential? As far as a horse knows, it’s all about living in the herd, eating well, and playing when you feel like it. If you get to dance with the human, that’s nice. But most of life is just being a horse.
These are the great dancers of the horse world. Their cousins are famous for doing it under riders, in exhibitions and in royal palaces. They do it for the pure fun of it, because it feels good and it’s what they are.
And that’s lovely and fine and good, but what about me?
Aside from the fact that it’s not really about me, there’s more to horses than the riding of circles. As great as the art of those circles may be, they can still become, too often, a hamster wheel.
We can still aim to ride the perfect circle, but the time for that being all we aimed to do is over. It moved itself out of play, through years of life intervening. What’s left is something that got lost between the eager horse kid and the very tired older lady with too many horses and not enough sleep.
Simple pleasure. Being With, says the yoga teacher. Appreciating what’s there, in front of me, instead of what I want to have a year or five or ten years down the line. Just standing there, with the horse, breathing with her. Letting be.
Campers at Horse Camp come here for this. Somehow I managed to miss the clue for myself.
It’s not just the tao of the hay cart, either. There’s Doing Stuff to be had, and plenty of it, if I just stop riding that wheel and start riding (or groundworking or bodyworking or long-lining or just generally working with) the horse. I’m most myself when I’m on a horse, and there’s quite a bit to me when I’m around them, period.
We start appreciating the small victories. The dangerously difficult horse who is now a rock-solid partner. The one who’s on the autism spectrum, who comes and asks for interaction that used to overwhelm her. The stallion rampant who wouldn’t tolerate his saddle without protest for a year, who finally finds his old joy in it again, and remembers when riding used to feel like a back massage.
Maybe not so small, at that. Considering how much tincture of time went into all of these things. And how much focus and attention it takes to realize what’s happening.
So maybe that’s what I’m for. I’m a grand champion at missing clues.
Next step: Ride more. Not on the wheel, but because it’s a good thing and I need it in my life. Not try to be perfect. Just try to be. And pay attention. And see what comes of it.
It’s already given me a gift: the horse I never really enjoyed riding because we never clicked, who was always so crooked and had such issues with balance, was an actual pleasure to ride. Because Difficult Mare whom I do love riding (because we click, even if she did try to kill me more than once, back along) needs to be ridden in balance, and straight, and quiet, and that’s taught me how to ride the older horse. It’s a kind of perfection, really, but not one I pushed for. It’s just there.
It’s not what I thought I wanted. It’s not necessarily better, and it’s by no means worse. It’s just different. It’s a path to take, like the writing path and the publishing path and all the other paths I find myself on.