Happy New Year. It’s my ninth year of writing this blog about riding. Thank you for reading along, and I had a thought…
I was digging through my office supplies looking for a small notebook in a messy bookshelf; files of old receipts, fliers for tack I’ll never buy, a box of snapshots from way back when we took snapshots. I buy office supplies like other women buy makeup or shoes. I will never be without a pen, the kind I like with a medium roller ball point. The fine points are just too stingy with the ink.
Finally, in a basket on the bottom shelf, I see a spiral binding hiding underneath the bag of antique supplies from the 1990s. I’m that kind of organized. I pull the notebook out and I can’t remember buying it, but that’s my handwriting scribbled through the front few pages.
And I’m shot back in time. These are notes I wrote after being a demo rider in a Jane Savoie clinic. Reading the definition of being “in front of the leg” brought a smile back. It was a life-changing weekend for me. I was so new to dressage that I still called the arena a “pen.” I was riding a hot young horse who was an ex-reiner, just like me. He has since grown old and died, but these notes are as good as gold. Now I give clinics, and people take notes. At first, it was strangely unnerving, seeing that scribbling on paper, but that’s just silly. The notes are about something much more interesting and important than me. They’re a way that we learn about horses.
Maybe as a kid, you had a pink diary with a key, kept hidden from your sister. It was the first book of your secrets. As life got more complicated, it became a journal with a black leather cover, your inner-therapist helping you sort your thoughts. Maybe later you kept a gratitude journal. Some days were so dark that the only thing you could think of to be grateful for was making it to the end of the day entry. Have you written your way through hard times?
Journaling is home-made mindfulness, a way of keeping our place in time, but I think we underestimate its value as a learning tool. What if writing is just a different kind of riding?
As riders, we study how horses learn and we might pay attention to how we learn, too. What horses do in a split second, interpreting the environment with their senses, takes us longer.
The best human learning happens when we use our range of senses. It’s one reason that clinics can be such great experiences; they provide learning opportunities with varied input, in one place. We hear about it, see demos, take notes. We watch others learn. We feel compassion when they make mistakes we might make. We also see people like us get it right and we’re encouraged. We think about it, then try it, get coaching, and try again. Maybe we get overwhelmed, and then the smell of manure brings us back to reality. Our senses have a workout listening, seeing, touching, smelling, experiencing, writing, sharing, and that’s just the first day.
And in the quiet clinic afterglow, we try to keep the memory alive. Writing is not the same, but putting words on paper is taking a snapshot of the day and explaining what you saw and did, as a way of deepening the learning. Maybe after the next ride, you write that down, too, and take more of the clinic into your daily work. Look, you’re journaling without a net!
But it isn’t the dark ages. You might think technology is the devil, but maybe you need to tame it to your purposes. Don’t like to write or type? That’s fine, voice-to-word apps abound. You can dictate your journal into existence.
Then go online and sign up for a blog. I suggest Wordpress, but any will do. I know this is scary. Don’t hyperventilate, don’t get bucked off before you start.
When is a blog not a blog? When we re-task it to suit our journaling needs. Think of a blog as a word processing program that also has a search feature and comes in a tidy, attractive package. You can categorize your thoughts/posts in a more organized way than a spiral notebook. A blog can be as private as a diary, and rather than having word docs and emails drifting around the internet and loitering in other computers, or lost for decades, your words are contained in a private place but at your fingertips. And blogs are free.
So now that you have the blog, you trick it out like a clubhouse. Post all the best photos. Tell the story of how you met your horse and fall in love all over again. On a day when the weather won’t let you ride, write a ride. Describe how your body moves and repeat every bit of trainer advice you ever got. Teach yourself something. Affirm what you know. That’s always a good ride.
Then save for the next rainy day and begin a quote collection. Cut and paste inspiration to your journal-blog.
You can import your vet records and make a category for that. A category is a way to sort, so five years from now when memory fades, you can find that previous incident with your previous vet. Add information about supplements that you don’t need yet. Keep links to bitless bridles and a record of saddle fitting sessions. All the boring things that you’ll wish you had later.
Keep a record of riding lessons and clinics you attend. Writing them out is like getting two for the price of one. Add a list of goals for the season, and the year. Define your vision and map a path ahead. You might add a photo of your trainer, she never forgets you. Write about trail rides and show experiences. Post photos of your friends and their horses. These are precious times, more valuable in hindsight.
Finally, most importantly, that dorky gratitude journal. Take a moment at the end of the day and say thank you. How would it impact the relationship you have with your horse in the saddle, if this was how you ended your day?
Since beginning to give writing workshops to riders as an add-on to clinics, I’m been so inspired by the writing people share. I am convinced our words matter, now more than ever.
There’s a reason teachers used to have students copy a sentence a hundred times on the chalkboard. All these years later, I think I have learned almost as much from this blog as I have from horses. The practice of writing has deepened my understanding profoundly.
Besides, it’s how you and I met.
I’m not suggesting a New Year resolution or that you ever need to go public. I’m just saying that a word at a time, month after month, is a way to be in the barn with your horse when you aren’t. It’s another expression of the passion that drives us all, and you can store that up for a time you need it, an investment of the best kind.
All horse stories are the same. We get the wrong horse. We find a way to build a relationship in the old-fashioned way, a little bit at a time. Then in a blink, years have passed and that hot young thing is an old campaigner. You aren’t who you were either. You’re much better, in ways you never imagined. When the only really bad day with your horse comes and you have to say goodbye, you have the best keepsake. You’ve written the legend of your horse. Forever yours.
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