They say everyone has one book in them. Maybe that is true, but how do you know if you have more than one? I will freely admit that since completing the book Dressage The Cowboy Way, I have been very remiss in the creation of any piece of written word. As I begin to start planning the next book project (projects, if I am honest) I realize that the writing muscle is just like any other muscle and goes soft when allowed to sit fallow for too long. So, dear reader, if you can bear with me, I think it's time to get back to the ol' keyboard. Welcome to the first blog of 2021.
I suppose the other reason that I have had more trouble than usual writing about the topic of horsemanship is that it has always been my struggles that have dictated my horsemanship musings. The written word is often how I delve into the mental process of understanding how the horse's mind works. It's how I come to grip with my huge blunders, small accomplishments and big concepts understood (or misunderstood). Since my horses have grown up a bit and I have been able to make slow but steady progress I have been less mired in the breakdown of horsemanship minutia in order to try to understand what goes on in those equine brains. And let's face it, 2020 was unconventional. It's pretty hard to say anything earth shattering on the greater topic of horsemanship when the entire globe is a dumpster fire of TP hording, murder hornets and plaque!
So, we look to 2021 and back on the lessons of 2020 with a grateful heart just to be here and an open mind and appreciation for every minute that we get to spend in the saddle. It is that grateful quiet heart that has been the greatest gift of this past year.
When COVID hit early in 2020 and the world started to shut down, Idaho was slow to follow. We watched what was happening in the rest of the world wondering how it would affect us here in N. Idaho. Surely we would just stay in for a couple of weeks and then things would get back to normal. I think we are all beginning to realize that normal will never be the same normal again. The shut down occurred for us as we were packing and preparing to head to California for our annual horsemanship school. We spend a week every spring with our second family down in Grass Valley, California. Under the watchful eye of Eitan Beth-Halachmy we hone our skills, check our progress and chart our course for the work we will do with our horses for the rest of the year. I can't understate how important that week of school is for us. When we lost that benchmark followed closely by the loss of our live shows I think we all felt adrift. All of the goals I had sketched out on my vision board for 2020 suddenly seemed trite, narcissistic and purposeless.
I have always been a big goal setter. I think having a road map for my progress is essential to success. I've been setting lofty goals for myself for as long as I can remember then working diligently towards that goal until I can check that box and then as soon as it is checked set an other goal even loftier and more difficult to achieve. It has served me well for goal reaching and box checking if not for smelling the roses and appreciating the moment. When 2020 removed all of my goals and structure and left me with an open ended flight plan, I had to learn how to embrace the moment. It may have been the biggest benefit of 2020.
As social distancing became the way of the world I took to the mountains and saw more back country than I have seen in my 16 years in this amazing county. I found a renewed love for the high mountains that I had really missed since my riding time got carved into smaller pieces often happening while I was teaching someone. Instead of spending every minute of my time in the arena attempting to tune my horse for the next show or to reach the next goal I remembered what it felt like to play and to hop on bareback and prance down to the lake at sunset or race around the arena just because. I remembered that sometimes just sitting on your horse in the middle of the arena watching the clouds roll over head is the most beautiful piece of training you can do. I was reminded of the joy of leisurely brushing my horse's tail in the sunshine instead of obsessing about keeping it clean and long and white for the next show.
The virtual show format was also a gift. Instead of the hours traveling, setting up, nervously getting your horse acclimated to the new venue then rushing about to get to your class only to wait around sweating by the in gate, we were able to ride right here at home. While there are definitely very good things that come from traveling and showing our horse, the stress free environment of the virtual show allowed us to just ride and remove the stress that comes with showing.
I didn't win any big awards in 2020. I didn't check any big goals off my vision board. I didn't set the Cowboy Dressage world on fire with any of my spectacular performances. But the rewards that I did receive were enormous and priceless and irreplaceable. Partnership, harmony, and an inner peace that is hard to obtain in any other way than in the quiet spaces of time when it is just you and your horse and the peace of a stolen moment.
I still take my horsemanship very seriously. I still work hard every single time I am in the arena. But what I have made sure to add each time I ride whether I have the time for it or not, is the peace and appreciation for the moment that 2020 taught me we cannot take for granted. Maybe my ride is cut short by life or the dang phone that never seems far away. Maybe I only get 15 minutes of actual saddle time. But what I don't skimp on is the connection and the time to just sit and be, whether in the saddle or out. To just be at peace and tell my horse how thankful I am for the time I get to spend with them. That time, and that partnership is more valuable in the long run that the fabulous feats of horsemanship that we chase.
So thank you 2020 for reminding us that we aren't really in the driver's seat. Life and all that comes with it is precious and fleeting. The gift of the sun on our shoulders and the smell of leather and horse sweat is enough. I hope that it doesn't take another global pandemic to remind us of the simple pleasures in life. I hope that normalcy returns in some form as the decade marches on. I will continue to scratch out some goals each year, but I'm not going to loose the forest for the valuable TP producing trees as I march down my horsemanship trail.