Joyce Meyer has a saying: if you keep doing the right things, eventually you will get a right result.
The right things are usually not the easy things. The right things come with resistance, struggle and doubt. But if you hang in there I believe what Joyce says is true, the right result will come.
I began this particular path to see if I could take a feral 4 year old unstarted mare and arrive someday at a successful single day 100 mile completion. She is only 1/4 Arab and not a natural choice for the easy win, but she’s also not a worst case scenario in build or mentality. I took the learning way not the easy way. Six years later with stops and starts we are still on the path together and though we haven’t made it through 100, I’ve learned more about connecting with horses than I ever dreamed. I still believe we will get there and when we do my hope is we will do it together, in strength and in a way that doesn’t disintegrate our bond and has the least amount of breakdown for her physically.
This is apparent in habit changing like weight loss, drinking excessively, financial stability, flossing perhaps? People who want to be healthy will have to make choices that put off gratification and then stick to those choices longer than is convenient or comfortable. And in the face of small steps forward and less than exciting results or frustrating plateaus keeping inching forward. For those who keep slogging through the set backs and disappointment in the short term and determine the changes are important at a deeper level, gradually something fundamental shifts inside them. It becomes a way of life.
I see parallels in working with horses.
I recently saw an old quote from a horseman regarding the death of Tom Dorrance who was inspired by the Dorrance’s way of using subtlety over force. In his opinion this way of working with horses will never be popular. I think the concept similar to being fit and healthy is not unpopular, it is the implementation where the disconnect occurs. The implementation isn’t popular because it’s a long view.
We all want results. That is a good thing, but when we use force to get a horse or a human onto our plan we chip away at the relationship instead of building it. All of us want to be the boy who would ride the black stallion on the deserted island with no saddle or halter, but none of us wants to be trapped on a lonely island for months. We have friends to meet, trails to see, ribbons to win or cut off times to beat.
Whenever we take the shortcut route we appear to be ahead at first but that process disintegrates in time. When we choose the way of cooperation, communication and relationship it always takes longer and it seems like the world around you is flying by you standing still, but this process integrates and eventually when other’s plans begin to fall apart, yours are just coming together in strength.
I’ve heard too many stories of the perfect horse being purchased along with all the excitement and dreams of the future. Usually a great first season fuels more dreams and visions of what is possible only to stumble into struggle, then real problems arise in the next or third season. Eventually an injury of the human or horse presses the unhappy situation to a junction and the horse is sold for another better perfect horse with less problems and repeat. There are many signposts along the way as the horse tries to communicate (unless the horse is already shut down) but a competition season doesn’t leave time for the deeper answers and so tools are brought in to shut down the questions and concerns the horse has in order to get to the next event.
It is the horse people who instead have made the fundamental shift that inspire me the most. These horse/human teams don’t always have the flashiest record or ribbons and they tend to blend in if you haven’t trained your eyes to spot them. They don’t always have first place (though they sometimes do) but you’ll see attributes like longer career length than usual in a sport with the same horse or the performance that takes your breath away and makes you smile at the same time. They carry a lightness and a joy. They are also really good at supporting others even at the expense of their own performance.
That is what I keep inching forward toward. That longevity, lightness and joy is what I want define the performance with my horses. Regardless if it’s trying a jumping lesson, learning some dressage, navigating a precarious trail or riding 100 miles, I want my horse to give me her all because we are in it together.
Of course I have riding goals and competitive goals but those are all long term. Goals are important to giving us a direction, benchmarks and a road to travel. When the steps are in place to achieve the goals we know what needs attention next along the path, it is the patience not to skip the steps or take short cuts while moving toward the goal that changes everything.
The mental shift that I’ve been pressing toward is to have an idea of what I want to get done and always honestly adjust depending on what I find when I greet my horse.
It helps me to look at Khaleesi who today is such a solid companion there isn’t much we can’t do together. Wyoming and I are much earlier in the journey together and still sorting out basic things. It helps encourage me because if I squint as I look back in time I can see when she didn’t walk with me on lead, the times she tried to turn me around on trail, was unreliable at loading on the trailer, sometimes evaded meeting in the field, laid down in inviting mud puddles while riding with friends, and various other questionable habits. Today she is a rock solid mare I trust with my life. She is my partner to a finite level of detail if needed and still we have many layers deeper to explore over the time we have together.
I know so many out there are trying to take on this journey as well and I want to encourage you to know it is worth it!
No matter what challenge we came to – Khaleesi and me approaching from our different directions – I did my best to work with her and she did her best to figure out what I was doing. We learned to communicate honestly. There were many setbacks and struggles and some days I thought quitting was the only wise choice. The days I questioned if I would ever get to the place I hoped where she would truly partner with me, I kept slogging through. I kept trying to do this the right way, finesse instead of force, conversation instead of control, allowing the time for mistakes and the learning process. Many around me let me know there are faster ways to move forward. This is certainly true even in the approach I envisioned – but I had to learn and I was much slower than the horse.
Today I believe that mindset and determination has paid off. What I appreciate with this kind of foundation is we are not dependent on the best circumstances. We can thrive together in ease and adversity both. Dangerous situations aside I know I can count on us having whatever conversation we need to with whatever comes our way. We can go off script. And Wyoming and I are getting there a step at a time.
I would guess the many of the riders that struggle with fears may have less anxiety if this slower foundational process was given the time to establish a truer bond of trust between horse and human. Of course it comes in time but only in time doing the right things. Just as practice doesn’t make perfect; only perfect practice makes perfect. I have seen my share of people who have spent their lives around horses and still don’t seem to see what they are doing is not developing relationship with the horses that go through their herds. If we spend the time doing counterproductive things together it will only create more fear and anxiety.
I have seen different schools of thought in endurance riding circles as well. Some say get horses up in distances as soon as possible. Don’t stay long in limited distance lengths or skip them all together. If you want to do 100 mile races get the horse a base of conditioning and then get right into it when the age limit is crossed (6 years I believe for AERC). Conversely others say wait, slow down, spend more time in lower distances and don’t consider a 100 with a horse younger than 10 years. I see success with younger and less experienced horses getting through 50-100 mile rides and some of these natural athletes thrive no matter what you do to them, but I also see damage and physical break down that is too easily accepted as ‘part of the sport’. I love the stories like the oldest horse to complete Tevis, a grueling 100 in the Western US, in her 20s, well beyond most endurance horse 100 mile careers.
I have not arrived at some horsemanship destination. This is a field where the more one learns the more one can see there is much more to learn than it seemed at first. Those are the journeys worth leaving home for. Yet I am determined to keep on slogging through the mud and setbacks and slow foundational work and learn what I need to because I believe that eventually, in time, we will soar.
And I also hope that for you!