Winter is often the “off-season” for most horses and horse people. For me, it’s the “off-the-field season,” but in many ways, it’s my “on season” for a lot of the work I do. I’m always quite busy hosting online classes every other week, but that’s only part of it. Much of my work goes on behind the scenes.
I’ve been chipping away at little projects here and there on the website. Often it’s just one small thing that I want to change or add. While an idea may be a simple one, it often takes a few hours of research followed by even more hours of trial and error.
If you have a keen eye you can spot a few of the changes. Most, however, will go unnoticed (if I’ve done my job right!) They have more to do with how the website works, than how you see it.
It occurs to me that this is quite similar to how horse training goes. Sure, we all dream about that day when our pony does that show-stopping extended trot down the long-side of the dressage ring in an advanced level test. Or, we blister through a hazard so quickly that the timers are second-guessing their stopwatches.
But that’s not where the real work of training horses is done. It’s the day to day quiet times, well behind the scenes. It’s all about the focused work of building one movement upon the next. One sees a horse go by with a magnificent trot and can’t help imagine the joy of driving that trot all around wherever you like. You never see the hours and hours of developing the walk that created the horse’s balance and rhythm. Nor do you see the hundreds of transitions required to carry the successful walk work into that magnificent trot.
Instead, we fall into the trap of thinking “I just want to get there!”
The truth of the matter is, there is no “There” there. There is a mirage that keeps advancing along the horizon as the equestrian and horse develop. One day it’s reliable stops and for God’s sake just one straight line. As that is accomplished with a certain regularity, it morphs into better contact and accurate transitions. This pattern repeats on and on. That rider or driver with the incredible horse has their eye on another “there” they are trying to get to.
Some take that as a dismal forecast for a life of constant struggle to achieve the next level. I don’t really find that to be the case though. Finding “there” constantly leads to new discovery.
Some of my most rewarding work has been with horses, drivers, or riders that don’t compete or at least are in their offseason. Without the wonder and worry of meeting a deadline to have a certain skill ready to go for a competition, we can just work on one skill at a time. We can pick that a skill apart piece by piece, movement by movement.
Time and the world outside the ring cease to exist. It’s just the horse, the equestrian, and the skill. It’s pure and uncomplicated enjoyment of the process rather than yearning for the result.
Then again, the enjoyment of the process is what brings the results. You get to focus your attention on what actually creates the movement from the ground up. When you’re working on that level, the parts and pieces begin to fall together like a puzzle. One skill naturally leads to the next. Soon enough you’re working three or four steps beyond where you started.
You almost don’t even notice the gains until you look back. Like stepping back from the puzzle, you can see the larger picture developing. What once looked like a jumbled mess of colors and shapes begins to take form.
So next time you’re out with your horse or pony feeling frustrated because he, or you, or both of you just don’t seem to get it, just take a step back. Appreciate that “trying to get it” is actually the “it” that you are getting. You’re going to get the “it” you’re working on now, and there will be new “it” that you’ll want to get tomorrow.
If you enjoy the process, you will already have reaped the rewards regardless of the results. The results then become the bonus!