Today we hear from my Equestrian Pulse co-host Heather Wallace AKA The Timid Rider, who is from New Jersey in the USA.
As a typical introvert I have dreamed of a time when I didn’t have to leave my house, that I could read books and snuggle up with my dogs to my heart’s content. The dream is always better than the reality. Like a popular meme says, “No, I don’t want to leave my house but I’d at least like the option.”
Truthfully, I am very lucky. My husband and children are all working hard from home. While I mostly stay in with them I work in the animal wellness industry and am still considered “essential” so I do venture out periodically into the fresh air and sunshine. Well, I provide bodywork so I guess it’s a bit of a gray area. I do work with a lot of senior animals and have regular clients but our appointments and our clients’ checkbooks are limited.
Many barns in my area closed for several weeks to all non-essential personnel, my own barn included. While I am able to join the world for brief snippets of barn time, I have not have the opportunity to ride my own pony. The pony who I was just getting back into amazing condition I might add.
For me, the lack of riding is a two fold punch to the gut. As a Sports Massage Therapist I know how quickly muscle can atrophy. Conditioning a horse to peak physical condition can take almost a year. That’s right, a full year of proper building of ligaments and muscles so they can be at their best potential. Yet, this is something we can go back and achieve again.
No, for me the biggest punch is lacking the therapeutic relief I receive only from spending time with my horse. It’s not just about riding for me. It’s a mental break from work, family, stressors, and overthinking. In a time where the world is in chaos and possibly forever changed, I need my natural medication more than ever. I am grounded when I am with him, spending time with him, or training him and myself. I don’t only lose time in training but I lose my own sense of calm. Horses are a physical and mental respite from the stimuli of the outside world.
My biggest worry now is not about my family’s health, I know we are taking precautions and safe at home. My biggest concern is for my horse and our lack of connection taking its toll on both of us.
While I know he is well cared for and loves living without forced exercise I can’t help the feeling he feels I abandoned him. We are so incredibly connected, I have to wonder will that connection be severed?
After several weeks away from him, my barn owner reached out privately and asked me to come visit him in the paddock. Her words were, “You need him and he needs you.” I burst into tears with relief.
I was incredibly excited the evening before that I barely slept. When I arrived I had visions of my pony whinnying in greeting and galloping across the paddock to me like he has done in the past. Not so. In fact, the reaction was quite the opposite. He IGNORED me. I walked up to him and he would walk off, turning away from me. Never aggressive but pointed.
It’s hard not to anthropomorphize our animals and assign human characteristics. Yet my pony exhibits some of the same personality traits I do. I tried to put myself in his shoes. Here he was in his paddock with his herdmates, grazing and loving spring. He hadn’t seen me in weeks nor had any exercise. I just didn’t exist at that moment to him.
While I cringed, I chose to hang out in the paddock spending quiet time together without physical interaction. I must have remained about an hour before I said good-bye and walked away.
He watched me go.
A few days later I came back and suddenly, there was my pony walking over to me directly to greet me like no time had passed. He’s never been affectionate but I was able to groom him in the paddock and spend some more time. I was so incredibly happy to just be there with him.
Since then I have taken advantage and scheduled to come at designated times with PPE. I haven’t ridden him yet as he is quite weak from lack of work. But I have groomed him a number of times, lunged him, played with some clicker training, and given him bodywork. I’ve never put my focus solely on riding but this is a great reminder that riding is only a small percentage of horsemanship.
So remember this when you return to your horse. We all thrive on routine which has been upset. Start a new routine and appreciate the time you have with them whether in the paddock or at work.
And please, remember to get them back into condition slowly and steadily. Don’t rush because you are excited. We’re all out of shape. Lockdown ain’t fun on our hips.
Be sure to check out the other blogs from the series