Loafing in Limbo: Hibernation as a Training Aid

We are in Limbo. It’s that week between Christmas and New Year when nobody knows what day it is. Not that it matters because that’s the point of limbo. If you are in the Northern Hemisphere you are in-between storms. Entire states seem to have traded places. Some of us have ice rinks, and some are in drought areas, miserable in the snow, and praying for more. Weather is a constant reminder that we control nothing. If you are in the southern hemisphere, you’re teasing us. Winter is personal, ours is always about us like yours is about you. I’m also suffering from a bread pudding hangover.

Maybe you are resting between shoveling out the pens and feeding more hay to keep the horses warm, some of which will hit the ground and be pooped on, so you can be shoveling out again soon. Better too much than too little, both hay and poop. Weather is not small talk. Winter came early, the weather is more extreme every year. We see changes in our horses, nothing scares us more. Old-timers say things like, “Never had to blanket in December before.” Yes, the old timer is me and I’m blanketing horses who are now old-timers, too. Gasp.

We can pass time warming up between chores by reading Best Of lists which are a good reminder for horsepeople that we’re out of touch with reality. Just as we like it. But then there are the lists of famous people we lost this year. And maybe we pause and look around and call the roll. Maybe we mourn friends or family members that have walked on, that kind phrase that Indigenous people use. Loved ones are just as dead though, for all our wishing it wasn’t true. Maybe some of them are hairy and have four legs. In limbo time we count heads for a sober profit/loss statement of the herd and then give the new dog a grateful scratch.

Depending on the number of limbos you’ve had in your life, you might notice your hands are stiffer this winter, and feel good about it, considering the alternative. And you do the math and worry about the years ahead, a kind of future limbo. Who will go next? Who will outlive you? How can we make friends with the passing of loved ones as it becomes a more common part of our lives? How do we survive surviving?

How am I doing? I hope I’m forgetting the worst things.

This is the end of our third Covid year. The first one was the scariest for most people but horsepeople stayed home with the horses and coped fairly well. Having to stay home is never a good punishment for us. It was restful except if your occupation kept you running. Or if it was deemed non-essential and you were out of work. Like me. Out of work, in limbo, watching the horses eat hay.

The second year was a confusion, not sure what would be safe. It was the most limbo-est of the years because everything we thought we knew had changed a few times until we just didn’t know much. It wasn’t over, we knew that. But nothing had returned to normal either. By this time, I started an online school and it was thriving. The zoom meetings brought us closer together and people shared their stories of loss. It was a bittersweet year.

This last year, we got out more but it was the world that had changed. We weren’t sure how, but a change had happened. It might not be more change than usual for three years, it’s just that a pandemic gave us dates to remember. Now that I think about it, the pandemic is its own kind of big fat limbo, still suspending us in weird uncomfortable ways even now.

We tried to perk ourselves up recently at Solstice, cheering the longer days ahead. But it’s still dark and cold. “Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.” That’s a quote by Rabindranath Tagore that’s been on my wall for at least fifty years now. When I’m in limbo, I aspire to be a bird but I’m living on cough drops and tea. No songs come to mind.

Recently I found out there is such a thing as Cumulative Stress Disorder. Horse people are not generally hypochondriacs; usually we’re tough as old boots. We’d rather see an undertaker than a doctor. But… I might have it. I’m not the only one, either. I want to think I have Cumulative Stress Disorder because then the long-term pandemic limbo stitched together with the usual dark-winter limbo, with the added Christmas/New Year limbo would seem to be a valid reason. I say this while checking the clock to make sure it’s still ticking. It’s a new habit, I notice.

Then early one morning, a friend sent me a link to a YouTube Livestream of a water hole in the Namib Desert. She’d been staring at it for a while by then and it is highly contagious because I’ve been stuck on it for several days now. I especially like watching it when it’s nighttime and dark there. Because of hyenas and swimming owls. I will spare you the full list of species, but it’s a calming signal cornucopia.

That’s when I remembered the winter that I watched a Livestream of a bear hibernating. I’m a horse trainer, used to watching paint-drying minutiae, but this was truly spellbinding. Sometimes I dozed off watching her sleep. It felt so right. It was a sweet winter and when she woke up, I had a whole new energy. What if bears are right?

Horsepeople tend to be driven, a bit Type-A. Our work is never done. We eat holiday meals quickly so we can do chores. Even when we are in limbo between holidays we feel guilty about not doing enough. We have a pile of should related to tasks we haven’t gotten to, not because we’re lazy, but because we take on too much to start with. Mostly we feel bad that we aren’t getting as much done with our horses as we should in this arctic void between holidays.

Just a friendly reminder. Your horse’s memory is much better than yours. They do not forget their training. When it’s cold, they spend more energy staying warm and they don’t miss us. It’s their season to half-hibernate, standing in the morning light. They are resting deep inside. It’s a healing rest that changes them come spring. We don’t feel we have time for that kind of rest and we fight the idea we need to heal. Well, we probably do, and rest doesn’t mean we are wasting time. Horses don’t keep time, she says checking the time. Just stop. Horses. Don’t. Keep. Time.

The world will hold your place in line. Curl up in a dogpile with your head next to the dog who tilts his head far enough back that his lips part and you can see his teeth. Listen. Let a cat perch on your chest like a warm meatloaf. Let your heart soak up the juice. Let yourself feel exhausted because denying it won’t make it go away. Sometimes it’s healing to finally admit the truth.

It’s also true that we are strong and capable and have been dancing backward in muck boots long enough that we have nothing to prove. Let your scars show. Smile so big your teeth get dry. And for crying out loud, stop apologizing all the time. Finally give yourself the credit you deserve. We are here to change the world. Nothing less. But first, we nap.

A note of thanks to everyone I met this year on the road and to all who spent some coffee-time reading these essays. Mostly, thank you for sharing horses with me.

Anna Blake, Relaxed & Forward

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Affirmative training is the fine art of saying yes.

Anna Blake

54 thoughts on “Loafing in Limbo: Hibernation as a Training Aid”

  1. It is so helpful to have a context to put all the different feelings in, even if we each have our own unique recipe going on. There are many different ways to understand feelings of inadequacy, for example, but putting them in the context of weather, time, and caring for animals, makes the permission to rest (almost) completely acceptable and guilt-free. And a good thing for all of us❤️

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    • I am thrilled to hear about this watering hole live stream! I’ve been volunteering at the zoo here in NC and my project is monitoring the grizzly bear’s behavior. I’ve spent about 75 hours watching a bear this year and it hasn’t gotten old yet.
      Miss you and the whole herd! I’m off work this week and spent the last few days at the barn with the horses here while the farm owner recovers from a leg surgery. It’s been heavenly to be covered in mud and hay!

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      • So good to hear from you, Bethany. You get to watch the bear! Best volunteer job ever! We all send our greetings. Arthur wishes you were here to butt and I am starting a project soon that you’d love. Andante will be 20 soon and is beginning to show it. He is a gentleman in all things, you would love him even more if that’s possible. Hope to see you this year for a visit but know we think of you often.

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  2. I just love these essays. They have helped me so much not only as a horse owner, lover, trainer, but also as a human dealing with our never ending issues. Thank you for your insights and please keep the writing coming.

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  3. Hi Anna Thanks for writing this. It’s so appropriate & ‘spot on’. Your words, “Weather is a constant reminder that we control nothing”, is very true and should be uttered by everyone! And, horses don’t keep time-nor should they, nor should we. Time will keep going, no matter if or what we do. Loved the final pic of ‘Mr. Corgi’ peeking out the door!

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  4. So spot on!!! I have become even more of a hermit since the pandemic. Haven’t decided whether it’s a good thing or not but about the only thing that gets me out is the need for horse feed or maybe some groceries for myself. If it wasn’t for my kids, I’d probably have NO contact with the outside world. My horses, the noisy burro and the cats are my only conversations, such as they are. The burro probably has the most to say.

    Thank you,
    Leslie

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  5. This was so good to sip hot coffee with! Finding the good in the stuff I was always running from – ever since COVID I have had the opportunity to be at home on holy days and holidays. I always missed the coziness of nesting when I was running from church service to church service and so tired by the time I’d get home that there wasn’t much of me left for human nor beast. Dog and horse hair are my new vestments and I love it. ❤️

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    • Oh my heart, I do love you, Mare. We live parallel lives, our vestments match, and I will be home more in 2023. A few of us here are pretty happy about it. And we have zoom to share!

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      • Yes! ❤️ Thanks for being so wonderfully adaptable and blazing holy trails in so many unique ways. Raymond and I say a big exhale and a a sincere thank you from balmy Chicago.

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  6. Anna, it’s good to know that my hibernation and hermit-ing is a better name than ‘lazy’. The holiday season is so different after three years of Covid, but in truth I like this version better. It’s good to take a breather between the end of one year and the start of another. Your essay reminds me that I, like more sensible animals, need time to lie fallow.

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    • I love the word fallow. Yes, some things are definitely better now. I’ll work on that more in 2023. Best in the New year, Audrey. Thanks.

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  7. A Happy, Healthy, Horse-Filled and Prosperous New Year, Anna.
    Thank you for all your do, say and write.

    Jack and Simon are hibernating. Tico is fun, playful, and all over the place. He’s high energy.
    Love and hugs to your horses, donkeys and dogs.

    Nuala Galbari

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  8. Wonderful column, Anna, as usual. I will always remember a certain conversation this time three years ago during a forced rest following a cardiac “event.” What more could 2020 bring besides a pandemic?? Your words and wisdom have been a balm for human hearts and grateful horses through these years of turmoil, loss, and yes, limbo. Much love to you and your herd in the coming year. Please pass the bread pudding! 🙂

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  9. Another pearl of wisdom Anna, thank you for all of them. I’ve learned so much from you and I’m grateful to have your perspective in my life. I hope you & yours are richly blessed in the year ahead.

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  10. “It’s also true that we are strong and capable and have been dancing backward in muck boots long enough that we have nothing to prove.” What a sentence – what a thought! I How I wish I could peer into your brain. You are many things to me – but it dawns on me that you may well be the first person whom I believe when she says we have nothing to prove.
    Thanks for all your insights, Sherry

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  11. Having the opportunity to ride and write with you was really the highlight of my year. Thank you for all the inspiration and wisdom…I’m grateful.

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  12. ha i think you have read my mind/heart/soul. its felt harder this year, and this puts it in some kindof global context, as well as the personal.
    thank you for all your wors, over the years an across the oceans
    “How can we make friends with the passing of loved ones as it becomes a more common part of our lives?”
    do you have an answer for that one?
    im off to watch some videos

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    • Chris, I read your current blog as I was writing this; we are definitely in similar places.
      You won’t like my answer to the question. We practice. I have lost more than most perhaps.
      But we have a watering hole and a new year.

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  13. Oh do I love this essay. I got the flu for Christmas along with snow, bitter cold and an ice storm and since I’m the ONE who takes care of the horses I kept going as though I was some kind of super hero and now I’m a fingernails width away from being hospitalized with pneumonia. I’m having to let people help me. I’m having to rest. I’m having to let the stalls and arena and everything else not be perfect. It’s so hard and I’m fighting depression because I just can’t seem to stop and rest. Bless you Anna for your wisdom and timelines and amazing gift of writing.

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    • Oh, Kim. No kidding, asking for help and then letting them? Damn that’s hard. When I had foot surgery I thought the herd would die. No, we are all fine. Read a good book. Take care of you for the horses. And I can’t help but smile a little tiny bit because I recognize the challenge. Thanks for commenting.

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    • You’re welcome, Kim. These are both old photos, my Grandfather Horse sleeping on his nose and Preacher a few years back. But none of the dogs come out in snow.

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  14. Hum. I bought your Riding with a Neck Ring (well, I became a Barnie, so I get that “free”). Then, my Luke horse came down with what may be (probably is?) a hoof abscess, but Luke never read the Merck manual, and it is not behaving like a “normal” abscess, (I’ll skip the long story of his symptoms and the history…) and for two weeks now I’ve been giving him twice daily epsom salt/betadine soaks, plus a poltice during the day. So lame! So so lame, some bute, some omeprazole, complicated treatment…

    But! meanwhile, I have this mystery pain in my (SI joint, hip, femur) pick one, it moves around, it is extraordinarily painful, and then it is pain free for a few hours. Lots of ice pack, heating pad, ibuprofen, chiropractor, body work lady. So treating Luke’s foot is a pain! literally. Luckily he is an excellent patient, probably due to the delightful relationship we’ve built over the past 2 years. I can treat him with no halter on, what a good boy. He is VERY mouthy, would love to play young gelding bitey-face, loves to nibble whatever he can reach, and yet, and yet! he does not nibble me while I treat his hoof. What a good boy.

    Plus my mare has a uterine infection, to be treated as soon as the correct antibiotics arrive.

    Maybe we all have Cumulative Stress Disorder…

    Interesting how my goals and aspirations change during this. Generally I just work the horses all winter if it gets warm enough (I have a covered arena). Luke and I would like to work up the levels in dressage, and he LOVES liberty work with a passion. Regine was just getting the idea of flying changes. Now my only goal is to get us all healthy. Rest and soothing treatment is the “activity” we are pursuing. Relax the brain, Think calm healing thoughts. Watch all of Anna’s Calming Signals videos. Give myself my own calming signals. Accept hugs from Luke when he offers (which is often). Accept sharing breath quietly with Regine. Let winter be winter, and enjoy the horses and dogs and husband as we all are now.

    Riding with a Neck Ring can be pursued another time.

    Thanks, Anna.

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    • Oh Amber, I’m sorry your life seems to have turned into a weird contest… At some point, all you can do is smile and surrender. I will say this; I’ve made more progress with horses by doctoring them than anything else. They get it, it isn’t wasted time. And yes. Neckrings last. Celebrate the New Year, things have to get better. Hurry spring.

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    • Susan!! You are so right! And Happy New Year to you and your herd. I can send greetings to your ghost herd, too, because we’ve known each other that long!

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  15. For crying out loud! How did I miss this one? Certainly not from all the social activity – I’m still sort of suffering from 3rd year of covid! No – I was very lucky – didnt get covid – so far – and no flu – so far. But reading some of these comments makes me realize just how fortunate I am.
    Nothing really interesting to say – just sorry I never saw this blog AND comments till now.
    Actually after the last week of political hoo haas – may never look at news again!
    Hope you, Anna, and everyone here have a great new year – maybe even better?

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  16. Wow, I don’t know how I missed this one either. I needed to hear this so badly! One of my friend’s friends posted this on her Facebook page and she shared it. I thought it was right on point right now and wonderfully written, still not knowing who wrote it–thought maybe it was the friend of my friend. I got down to the end and sure enough–she gave you credit. I thought, “yep, that’s Anna’s way of writing” and in perfect time. Since before Thanksgiving with all the shopping and planning and eating and going and coming, plus during Christmas with all the goings on, and missing so much play time with my horses, I just wanted to tuck away someplace with a good book with my pupper dog at my feet and lap cat on my lap. But then I was also feeling stressed about not doing much productive activities with my fun, fat ponies.. The “have to’s” are always there and done; feeding, picking stalls and corrals, picking feet; and always the delicate untying of fairy knots in my older mare’s long lovely mane. The “could do’s” and “should do’s” have taken some steps down a peg or two.
    Taking the guilt away, (felt like getting a hall pass in school to escape for a while) and practicing to be mindful, and just sitting out with all the nature, quietly watching and listening to the sounds, What really grounds me is sitting on my old wooden park bench out by the pond, accompanied by my cat and a cup of tea or nice wine, watching the horses grazing near the pond, and admiring their reflections in the water. I felt perfectly at ease relaxing out there without anything pressing my guilt button. I started watching live steam Bald Eagle cams; one in Southwest Florida where there are two new born eaglets, and the other in Big Bear CA where that pair has just mated so we’re on egg watch. Watching the eagle parents make the nest perfectly ready for the eggs is so fun to watch. Such personalities.

    So…thanks for reminding us to take it easy on ourselves and enjoy the gray cold rainy/snowy days as R&R days. Our horses will remember and be all the more engaging. Cheers and here’s to a lovely year ahead.

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    • Great comment, Joyce, thank you. I’ve watched those eagle nests, too and what birds they are. Close up in the nest or high in the air… they take my breath away. My pond dried up, our drought is bad, so I’ll imagine yours from here. And thanks for recognizing my writing!

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