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Be on "Horse Time"

A few months after I started riding and the "horse disease" completely overtook my common sense and decision making, I started realizing that I most enjoyed horses when I placed no time limits on my activities at the barn or when riding. Prior to that, I was often trying to "squeeze" a lesson or some riding into a time slot — this wasn't working very well. I always expected horses to give me a break, a real respite from the pressures of life. It was supposed to be "my escape". Instead, I would rush to the barn and my stress level went even higher when traffic slowed my trip getting there, or my favorite horse was in a far paddock, or needed extra grooming because he felt rolling in the mud was a great idea that day. I found myself caught in the ironic position that my passion was now causing me even more stress when it was supposed to be my catharsis — what the heck happened?

Horse Time
A Peaceful Time

In retrospect, it's easy to see my ignorance about the matter. I was somehow expecting everything to be ready or work according to plan. But half the time, I couldn't find the saddle, bridle, grooming tools, or something else because it had been misplaced, broken, lost, or some such. Or as mentioned above, the horse was muddy, had been through briars, had ticks to be removed, or for some reason needed more attention, care, or grooming — it was driving me crazy! It was clear that the horse was not on my time schedule! He wasn't ready when I had scheduled to be there! Didn't anyone tell him? Didn't he get the memo???

That's when it occurred to me that the horse couldn't care less about my stupid schedule and stress levels. In fact, it was even worse than that — he didn't even know about them. I told him several times, but it seemed like it went in one ear and out the other. The next time I arrived, he acted like he hadn't even heard me the previous time when I explained it to him. Or maybe he just didn't care. BUT, he did sense my higher stress levels and it made him jittery and anxious — it's not much fun as a new rider to be riding an uneasy and distressed horse, especially while having limited control over the massive beast — the word "scary" comes to mind.

Somewhere along this time, I had an epiphany: HORSES ARE NOT ON MY TIME, or the time of anyone else. Instead, they're on some other time schedule, perhaps an unpredictable time domain from another dimension with completely different laws of physics. That's when reality hit me and I coined the phrase "horse time".

"Horse time" doesn't care about human time. It doesn't care about my schedule, my pressures of the day, the demanding client, or the fact that I've got lots of other things to do. "Horse time" is not affected by anything that humans chase crazily through life about. But more importantly, it's really good just the way it is, because it shouldn't care about those things. So, instead of trying to change horses, I changed myself, and it has made a wonderful difference.

I no longer try to put horses on my schedule. I don't try to squeeze riding or even just grooming into a time slot. I don't get worked up about slow traffic on the way to the barn, or whether or not my horse needs more attention. Instead, I put myself on "horse time". I do that by allocating much more time for anything to do with horses — it's a high priority of mine. This has resulted in several advantages that I'd not originally anticipated:

  • Both the horse and I are now much more relaxed. As a result, I enjoy my time with him much more and I can tell he's happier and easy going.
  • When I get to the barn, it doesn't matter if my horse is in his stall or out in the farthest paddock; I've got the time to find and get him.
  • If he needs extra time because of mud rolling, mane or tail detangling, tick removal, or anything else, I've got all the time in the world.
  • If I'm riding at some other barn and borrowing a horse, the horse and I have time to get to know one another and build some trust.
  • I insist on both grooming and tacking up any horse I ride, especially if the horse and I have never before met. This gives us time to get to know one another and to build the aforementioned trust, and also allows me to assess his personality and his physical condition.
  • I refuse to ride with people who are on a "tight schedule" — if they're going to ride with me, we're not going to rush.
  • On the trail, I'm completely open to taking it more slowly if a fellow rider is having trouble with their horse. Or perhaps one or more of the other riders want to explore a new area or go further than we originally planned — that works for me, I've got all the time in the world because I'm on "horse time!"
Since adopting this philosophy, I return home feeling energized, yet relaxed. In fact, I usually feel great for the rest of the day. This is what I'd always dreamed that riding would be like. Sometimes, I just join my horse and his buddies in the grazing field, find a rock or some soft grass in a shady spot to sit on, and do nothing more than watch them. I've also learned a lot about horse behavior by watching how the alpha interacts with the herd. Using that same behavior with the horses with which I interact has made controlling horses a lot easier (no, I've not yet found a need to pin my ears back, bite, or kick; but correcting bad behavior quickly and consistently has served me well).

Lazy Day
A quick afternoon nap...

So, you're probably wondering how someone can get onto "horse time". It's not hard, but it does require two things many of us don't like to do: prioritize and compromise. For me, my "horse time" is a high priority to do it right. In fact, if I can't go to the barn relaxed, I'd rather not go at all. There's nothing to be gained for either of us if I'm stressed, in a hurry, and sharing that attitude with my horse. We'll both be happier if I don't put us through that. Yes, I have to work like most everyone, but I want allocate lots of my free time to my horse and riding when I go. Essentially, I only go riding when I can allocate at least three or more hours, preferably more. Many times, I go to the barn in the morning and am prepared to stay the whole day if I should desire. Even when the ride doesn't require it, this view has resulted in me spending more time with fellow riders, often enjoying lunch, dinner, or an ice cream with them. I get to know them better and enjoy their company, and I treasure these friendships and our shared love of horses!

Another thing that has helped me enjoy my own horse is that I now board him close to my home, even though the trails aren't as good. That has necessitated a trailer, but it lets me see him more frequently. Sometimes, that's only 20 minutes to check on him and spend a little time. At other times, I groom him, spend some time with him while he grazes, talk to him (he's an exceptionally good listener and rarely interrupts), or just trot beside him (good cardio for me), something he seems to really enjoy. Of course, this prioritization does mean that I have to be more flexible about some other things I like to do, like play guitar. But it's usually easier to squeeze those other activities into the remaining time. For example, my guitar is usually where I last placed it and doesn't wander about on its own; it never has briars or ticks (not yet, anyway), and the strings never get tangled, so its availability is more predictable.

Since accepting "horse time" on its own terms, I find myself "living in the moment" when around horses. I especially enjoy being with or riding my own horse — it's our special time. I return refreshed and feel alive and relaxed (though sometimes a little sore on multi-hour rides when I'm not in adequate condition — who knew?) It has brought to me the wonderment of horses that I had always dreamed it would be.

If you've never had this experience, you should try accepting "horse time". It just might enrich your life as much as it has mine!

Besides being an avid trail rider, Jerry Tardif is a technology consultant and a horse and nature photographer in SE Connecticut — see his work at: www.jerrytardif.com. He is also co-founder and President of QueryHorse.

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