As the light wanes, I plod back to the house after the evening chores. I watch Jake trotting ahead of me, his fluffy ‘pants’ swaying with each stride, his tail bobbing over his back like a plume. It has been a rough few weeks at work, the office politics reaching a fevered pitch – yet I find myself smiling reflexively. I begin to think of a saying I’ve heard, in various forms, since I first had Brita – you always end up with the dog you need.
My mother was down with food poisoning. Though nearly an octogenarian, she was not content to handle it curled up in a blanket on the couch, as most people even decades younger than her would. No, instead she was dragging herself out to feed snacks to horses, and texting me complaints about not being “made of iron.” When I got home, she was even out doing the early chores! Yep, that’s my mom … Still, she is not made of iron, and the horses were largely ignored, beyond satisfying their hunger. None received exercise, and those requiring turnout had to wait. So it was when I returned home from work. Limited on time and energy, my dilemma was how to best attend to the individual needs of five horses.
One reason I dropped out of teaching and training was the epidemic of anyone who won a few ribbons hanging out their shingle as a trainer. In some cases, people who rode horses trained by other people were getting their scores and then becoming professional trainers. I saw people and horses getting hurt under such trainers, but new students were dazzled by the ribbons and medals, so they stayed in business.
“Should we not ask the question, ‘is competition really the only measure of an equestrian?’ No. It never was, it isn’t, and it never will be! For ages, for centuries, real horsemanship existed, thrived, and survived without any competition at all.”
Charles De Kunffy, The Ethics and Passions of Dressage
In this era of learning everything by YouTube video or Facebook posts, people seem to rarely have the patience to spend time learning anything in depth. I have read many an article that says we no longer need experts because we have so much knowledge at our finger tips. I hope those authors never need medical, dental, or veterinary services.
Unfortunately, the equestrian world has been infected with this idea. We live in an age of ‘lesson by clinic’, in which many people receive their instruction over an hour or two, several times a year. That trend had begun when I left the industry, and seems ingrained in at least certain areas even more now. Then there are those who post questions on Facebook that seem to be seeking free instruction from an online community. This not only short changes their own education, but poses a host of potential risks to the safety of them and their horses (some of the answers I’ve seen are frightening!). The quote below was written twenty five years ago, but is more important to understand now than ever!
Recently, Coffee was on some turnout time in the arena. My mother went to bring him in, and he was watching calmly from the corner; but, when she neared the gate, he galloped a small circle, threw in a buck, and stood looking at her expectantly. He was clearly asking, “Come play with me?” So, she ducked under the fence, and off Coffee sped! At last – a playmate had arrived!
The barn I spent so many years riding and teaching in was nothing much to look at. It was your typical dusty pole barn, so common in the Western U.S. Built by cowboys for year round roping practice (there was still a holding pen and remnants of a shoot attached to the indoor), it was meant for utility not for looks. However, over many years and several owners, it had become much more. When we moved in there were the remnants of a cross country course, which the then new owners revived. Some boarders who showed in Western Trail classes had banded together to carve out a corner for a practice course. Eventually there was a full Dressage court and a perimeter track added to the mix. None of it bright and shiny, but all of it utilitarian.
Buried in annual staff evaluations, filing our taxes, and starting up a blog for my mother, I am resigned that the draft posts I started will have to wait. However, in quiet moments, when my brain needs a break, I have been rereading this old favorite. It reads like a good lecture, easy with some beautiful passages. I just read this particular passage and thought that I would share. I hope you enjoy!