This is a God awful time of the year in the northern part of the country. Snow falls and stays Christmas card pretty for about two hours. Any longer and it turns into ice or slush or a black flecked mess studded with airborne crud. Football season is winding down. The playoff games have either made you suicidal, or launched you onto a manic, but short lived high. Even John’s fantasy football picks are as dead as Tom Brady’s original hair follicles. The world news is horrendous – floods in Australia, earthquakes in Haiti, the seemingly unstoppable mischief of Wikileaks, a Congresswoman fighting for her life following a shooting by a pathetic, deranged young man. It goes on and on.
Unless you are lucky enough to be traveling south with your equine companion, (and with the bizarre weather down there this year, I’m not sure that’s even much of a treat!), the riding picture is pretty yukky. Your horse is hairy, smelly, out of shape, and unmotivated. You’re bank account is dangerously slim. Your hands and feet are either freezing or numb. Your damn nose just wont stop running, and there’s not enough Chap Stick in the world to make your lips kissable. There are only a handful of events to follow on line, and obsessing about the choice of Team coach gets old in a hurry. (In fact, given the real crises in the world, seeing the aforementioned selection as a big deal is pretty damn stupid!)
How to counteract “The Northern Blues,” the kind of depression that hits in January because the only thing you have to look forward to is February and more of the same? Ugh. A daunting task at best! I think the answer lies in the “Creative Thinking” category, and in fact, maybe brings up something that we all need a dose of no matter what the climate may be.
HAVING FUN. Two simple words, but an all important concept. A great many members of our eventing community pursue their sport as an addendum to doing other things in life – having a family, working at a “real” job or jobs, having friends and doing the other “stuff” that makes up the fabric of day to day life. They are busy people who work hard for the privilege of partaking in a sport FOR THE FUN OF IT.
Are these busy people having fun riding, and if, after some honest self evaluation, the answer comes up on the negative side, what can be done about it? Are they perhaps putting such high expectations on themselves for whatever reason that the ensuing stress starts to erode the simple joy of sitting on the back of a horse? Is all the hard work, fatigue, and “not enough hours in the day” syndrome becoming a wasted effort? Is riding becoming a chore rather than an escape from the stressful realities of life?
When I was pondering these questions, my mind kept returning to things I used to do with my horse when I was a kid – back before bodily parts hurt in the mornings and before life taught me that bad things sometimes do happen to good people. I remember on mornings following an overnight snowstorm hopping on my horse bareback and galloping through the woods like a stripe assed ape jumping logs that because of the snow on top of them looked twice as high as they actually were. I remember organizing impromptu “horse shows” with friends – (yes, organizing even back then!) – which by the way I always won because I made up and changed the rules to suit. Hard hats? I don’t think we ever wore them unless we had to! I remember sneaking out of the house at night and sitting on my horse in the pasture for hours just wandering around until the poor guy would get bored and scrape me off on his stall door. I remember teaching one of my Appaloosas to fetch and return thrown sticks. He got really good at it! I remember when I was seriously competing my hunter at the indoors and later doing the midwestern eventing “circuit” having my horse’s shoes pulled and giving him six weeks off. Does anyone do that anymore? It was great for him. Better for me! All my competition horses in whatever discipline I was doing at the time fox hunted. They were expected to be multipurpose animals – and they were.
I had fun doing all this stuff. I think if I’d only been limited to doing one thing – riding in a ring, taking lessons, competing – I wouldn’t have lasted very long doing horses. Boredom would have driven me out. I also found that exclusively doing just competing turned me into somebody I didn’t like very much – somebody overly focused on winning the next competition to the exclusion of everything else.
I was talking about the winter blahs with an instructor at a local stable and asked her what she does with her riders to keep them fresh. She said she digs deep for new things to keep their interest – musical drills, broom polo, impromptu “Grand Prix” jumper classes, even horseless horse shows – and as much hacking through the snow drifts as possible.
I love EN’s “View From My Horse” photos. They epitomize to me having those wonderful fun moments of communication between a person and a horse that make it all worthwhile, moments that I fear have become all too rare as riders chase after this or that goal. Maybe after all the value of the northern winter is forcing us to slow down and smell the roses for a while before the rat race starts all over again!