I am not one to make a lot of New Year’s resolutions, because I don’t want to get upset with myself for not keeping them. So my “horse-olutions” are ones that can be easily be accomplished and kept in mind during the year.
Personally, this year, my holiday was wonderful in that our two older grandsons came to visit. What was not so great was that throughout their visit I had very painful sciatica. While I work with people and horses on painful physical conditions, it’s another thing when it’s happening to me and others need to make room for my disability in their life.
So my first horse-olution – for me and my horses is:
Don’t take health for granted! Take care of yourself, for your families and your horses! While I began to feel sorry for myself that this would be the first New Year’s Day in a long time that I missed a celebratory ride, I stopped myself. I am recovering slowly, and was able to pick out some hooves on New Year’s Eve! We had a lovely dinner at home, and watched a fun movie.
Our health and our horses’ health is not always something we have control over. Stuff happens. Patience with the healing process needs to be built into the New Year. I say this for people as well as horses, because too often I see people impatient with wanting their horse to get well, so they can go riding. I’m guilty of this; as soon as I feel better I want to be out there, active!
Treat yourself. Yes, giving is wonderful, but not when you give to the point of depletion. We can’t continue to give as though we’re bottomless pits, unless we fill up the pit somehow with things that nourish us.
Listen, watch, know. Bring your senses alive! What is your horse’s world like? Feel it as though you are in his skin. What does the snow feel like against his fur, does he feel it? Does he feel it against his nostrils? Watch their relationships. My mare Zuzka stands under a tree where a crow perches and caws. Her ears move back and forth, intently listening to what he has to say. What information passes between them? I may never know but love watching them commune!
Groundwork. Now I’m more reliant than ever on groundwork as I need to postpone jumping into the saddle. But fortunately I’ve spent a lot of time doing groundwork with my horses, so they look forward to what we may do together. I have some new ideas: pool noodles tied to jump standards to create a fun, challenging place to move through at liberty. While the horses might be just fine without my ideas, what I’m looking for is engagement: engaging their curiosity and wonder, and ultimately satisfaction at accomplishing an activity.
Plan to spend more time with your horses. What? You might say. More than the usual cleaning, mucking, mending, riding, etc.? The amount of time doesn’t have to be longer in terms of hours, but perhaps deeper in terms of quality. Horses love the rhythms of daily life and they love to include you in them. The time is best if it is not goal oriented (toward them), just being there, or perhaps building. Geldings particularly like it when I am around making repairs. They love being part of the action and picking up the tools.
Learn something new. I just ordered a new book, on a topic I want to share with my horses. This will help us to remain inquisitive and searching together. Classes are also a way of introducing new material. Remember, as I mentioned above in groundwork, horses are very curious beings and one of the keys to relationship building is to increase their curiosity. Because horse work is largely repetitive, it’s important to keep this aspect alive and change it up.
Bring back an old activity you haven’t engaged in for awhile. It can be for you or for the horses, or both. This depends upon if the horses can still do this. I’m not going to ask my 25-year-old mare to go on an endurance ride, for example, even though she was very good at it. But the pleasure of finding new trails still beckons, or working on some kind of suppling exercise that I had forgotten about.
Meditative walking. This activity can be done with or without your horse. Feel the edges of your feet as you walk, be conscious of moving from heel to toe, and any pain areas in there and any gait irregularities. As you walk, breathe into the areas of pain and see if they lessen. Bring this awareness to the horse as you walk, breathing as you go. Listen and watch how his footfalls might change. I have found horses love this and feel very supported by the walking. It also helps your own gait – a synergistic activity!
And last of all, have fun. Many people tell me they are so focused on the end result, they forget that the process is very rewarding and fun. If the horse feels you are all about getting something done, they feel pressured, just as you might if you were having trouble grasping a concept or found a job not to your liking. Of course, sometimes we need to ask the horse to do something, and sometimes it needs to be done quickly, but generally in the training sessions, we don’t have to do that. A goal is to make the interaction with the horse less about goals during training sessions and more about enjoying your time together.
Enjoy your new year and may it be full of promise and good things!
(c) Susan Smith, Horses at Liberty Foundation Training, Equine Body Balance (TM)
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