Greetings from snowy Sweden! I’m enjoying a few quiet days with my family before heading north to teach clinics this coming week. I hope 2013 has started well for all of you.
The beginning of each new year can bring forth a mixture of feelings – excitement and apprehension for what is to come, of course, but maybe also sadness for things which have passed or ambitions not yet achieved. If it seems that we’ve been stuck in a routine or maybe not made the progress we had hoped to make, it’s a luxury to look back over a full year and see that in fact the many little steps and experiences along the way have added up to much more than it previously seemed.
For many of us, horses play a central role – whether consciously or unconsciously – in how we feel about where we are in our lives and the sorts of people we want to be. Some of us have a simple goal to canter across fields in a state of unbridled freedom; many create a social life and important friendships around their horses; some may seek a philosophy of how we should train and ride which becomes a whole way of life in many ways.
When we have invested so much of ourselves into our relationship with our horses, it is all too easy to become frustrated or disillusioned with the progress we perceive we are – or perhaps are not – making. And it’s very easy to put our focus on the horse at these times. There is a huge industry dedicated to telling us how best to correct our horse’s faults and ensure we achieve our goals. But of course the ambitions we have and our failure to achieve them are of our own making – our horses are just being themselves. In my view it’s very important to reflect on our own personal development and to try to understand our motivations for the goals we set ourselves.
It’s not easy to do this. When our horses seem to want to do the opposite of what we know is good for them, it’s hard to take a breath and reflect on exactly why we’re getting so annoyed about it! But it’s a worthwhile thing to do – it helps us to understand what we really want from the relationship, what simple pleasure it brings and where our own mental and physical boundaries (and possibilities) lie.
Of course frustration is not wholly a bad thing – it shows we care. It shows that we strive to do more than our mind and body allow us to at any given time. Or perhaps that limitations of weather, work commitments, finances and so on are holding us back.
For some of my dear friends and clients, 2012 brought big life changes. Some became horse owners. Some took the leap to import a horse from Portugal. Some even became horse owners for the first time. Of course there are huge practical implications of taking such a step – not least the commitment of our finances and time – and many people are put off by the obstacles, even though it is their dream. But for those who make the leap, there is romance and excitement and fear, because… perhaps… they will be able to grasp the opportunities that this horse will bring to their lives.
And when we invest so much of ourselves, we can also learn a great deal about ourselves. It’s as easy as falling off a horse to feel crushed by the realisation that we might never be the next Charlotte Dujardin, or even the rider we thought we were.
Horse ownership can magnify these feelings. Everything can seem so much more significant when we are responsible for the horse we ride. But it is important to see our horsemanship as a journey. And the journey is made up of many small steps. Each individual step is of little consequence, but small steps add up to make surprising progress over time.
For those who have taken steps into horse ownership, it’s important to bear in mind that it’s a big change for your horse too. Changes in culture, climate, environment, routine and so on take some getting used to. Along the way you will inevitably question at times whether it is all worth it. But there will be those glimpses of what you had dreamed of too. And at those times – whether you’re lying face-down in the dirt, or taking off your boots after a beautiful ride across the hills – pause for a while to think about how far horses have helped you to come, rather than how far away you still are.