It’s the second big freeze here on the farm and it isn’t even Halloween. Much too early for such polar cold. No autumn colors. The leaves froze to a green-black and high winds stripped the trees in a day. No color at all on this flat windy prairie. The horses don’t care. They have what matters: Free-choice hay, room to roam, and good equine company. They are hairy and muddy and frisky, and the horses definitely aren’t whining about the upcoming time change. They don’t lose an hour because they don’t believe in hours.
Meanwhile, you’re layered and zipped, your toes are cold, and there are holes in last year’s gloves. After work there’s less light, weekend days are shorter, and whatever tolerance to frigid temperatures you gained last winter has been lost. Now an easy breeze gives you an ice cream headache and you can’t remember the name for that lack of light malady, but you think you probably have it. The final insult is losing that crucial hour.
For all we have in common with horses, this must be the biggest disconnect. We worship a thing they don’t acknowledge. We get frantic about a situation that doesn’t exist for them. We spend the best riding hours at work, where we get paid by the hour, then there’s the commute, hours lost to traffic. Then we need to ride for an hour, but we are in a rush. Grooming takes longer and so does cooling out with all that hair. It feels like you’re late before you even start.
How did an hour become the measure? Hours can’t be added to the day, but somehow light can subtract hours? If your horse cared where you went all day, he’d have no sympathy. He thinks you’ll come home with hay and he’s right. Now you’re making up angry ranting lyrics to Christmas carols and calculating how many hours of work go into buying new snow tires.
Finally, you arrive at the driveway to the barn. The car thermometer tells you just how far the temps have dropped but there is an apricot hue over the pasture and the horses are running. Snow sprays as hooves churn through drifts, every tail is flagged and their necks are arched like fairy tale steeds, manes flying silver and gold. Even the old gelding is running. The herd sees you and takes another lap, just for the sheer joy of feeling the glory of being what they are. And in each galloping stride, your breath catches in your throat and time stands still.
Silly to think that we could be late for a timeless love.
What good comes from fighting time? All your horse knows is that you’re anxious and he should be wary. When did any of us think that quantity was better than quality? Rather than trying to squeeze horses into hour time slots, maybe we could gain something from evolving ourselves to horse time. Rather than feeling guilty we don’t ride longer and more often, we could forgive time and ourselves. We could turn rushed moments into precious memories. These are the good old days right now.
I’m a trainer. I live in the gap between horses and humans. I tell the time in liters of stomach acid, two liters an hour; let him eat. In lessons that last an hour, I watch the big picture, where the two of you started and where you’re wanting to go, and then I make suggestions. I am frugal and want you to get your money’s worth. I’m paid by the hour, meaningless to a horse. I’ve taught myself to say, “You don’t buy an hour of my time, you buy a positive change in your horse.” In a perfect moment, I can see your horse try to get it right, become confident he’s understanding it, and then beam with success. I can see you want more, enthusiastic and thrilled, but not certain you can do it again. I check my worthless watch, buying time to say what I dread as much as you. “Jump down, you’re done.” We step away and give him the last word. He releases, gives calming signals, maybe has a serotonin moment if we’re lucky. I do it for your horse, but I feel guilty for cheating you out of saddle time. I stay late and talk theory with you to try to make up for your horse’s brilliance cutting the ride short. Because he comes first, and you’ll get a better horse from less time.
Less primping and fussing. Less drilling and nagging. Less standing around trying to think of what to do. Less conflict. Less self-criticism.
More awareness in the moment. More understanding of the horse’s perceptions. More trust than fear. More breathing time to a stop. More gratitude.
Rather than being a moody repetitive stress-pot, you could prove to your horse that you’re not that kind of person. You could be interesting and mysterious:
- Halter him and take him for a roll in the arena sand. Put him back out with his friends.
- Bring out a pile of hay and get out your favorite rubber curry combs. Curry until your shoulders are soft and his skin is warm.
- When your horse walks to the mounting block and quietly stands, you lead him back to the barn sometimes.
- You gently mount and walk five steps, dismount, and go for a graze. Later climb on again for 10 minutes, two good rides on one day.
- Crank up the music. Let your horse pick the playlist. Ride like nobody’s watching.
- Have a normal ride, meaning a systematic, energetic twenty-minute warm-up on a neckring. Leave his face alone.
- Remember that you can’t focus on a thought for long and are more easily distracted than a horse. Let that be okay.
- Feel him soften, stride up, and feel strong. Then feel good about yourself. You’ve won.
- Be unpredictable; laugh out loud. Ride with passion. Train complicated things for fun.
- Ride with such sweet forward ground-covering movement that contact feels good to your horse.
- Always get off before you want to. Always stop before your horse has had enough.
- Thank him profoundly for his generous lesson because he has even less time than you do.
- Smile and wave to the railbirds after you put your horse up. Forgive yourself again, in plain sight.
Do you hear voices asking if you’ve gone soft? I hope you have. Do the voices accuse you of training like a girl? Don’t take the bait. Train this way because of a knowledge of equine brain science and biomechanics. Train this way because it feels good to your horse. Train this way because there isn’t enough time in a whole lifetime, so be glad time makes you focus on quality. Always want more but stop too soon. Stay hungry.
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
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Working with riders of any discipline and horses of any breed, Anna believes affirmative dressage training principals build a relaxed & forward foundation that crosses over all riding disciplines in the same way that the understanding Calming Signals benefits all equine communication.