Updated: May 13, 2020
How sometimes taking a step back in your training program can be a leap forward in your life.
Sometimes breaking it back down to basics and letting go of your self imposed pressure is just what you and your horse need to gain momentum and clarity moving forward to the next level in your training program and life.
Last year around this time I was in a very different place. I had been feeling debilitating pressure in my life. I literally did not have one aspect of my life that I was not feeling pressured by. My mind spun daily with about a million tasks as I worked through college, horses, and a full time job. Work on horses to finish my case studies for my therapy program, get on this horse and that horse to get them legged up for summer, haul to the arena to get this horse used to trailering and being indoors, pony this young horse out to get some miles on her, doctor the three horses that had wounds or injuries and treat them with my therapies to speed healing, meal prep for the week, eat healthy and stay in shape, study for finals, send resumes to get a good job for the summer....the list could go on and on. And what did it all equate to? That I have too many horses? Yes, but it also led to me feeling of the weight of the world on my shoulders. I was feeling tense and you can definitely guess my horses were noticing that.
The pressure had me so overwhelmed that I was literally making myself sick, feeling nauseous and exhausted and beyond that so emotional and lost. Crying over the littlest thing and blaming myself for every single mishap. Questioning and doubting every decision I made and begging the universe for guidance. I had fallen into the trap of feeling as though I needed to be at a certain point in life, I had to achieve a certain productivity level every day, had to add enough check marks to my to do list to make myself feel good. But it was never enough, and the more overwhelmed I felt, the more the universe piled on. I wasnt taking care of myself, I wasnt accepting help. I was feeling like a submarine in the deepest part of the ocean...pressure all around me.
I thought if i just implemented another system, made another tracking measure, set another reminder on my phone, created a set schedule for each horse and ride, made a set time frame for each goal... I would be able to accomplish more on my to do list and feel better about myself. But what it actually did was add MORE pressure and make everything so much worse.
My horses were feeling my tension and pent up pressure the minute I was walking up to them. My young ones, that I wanted so desperately to be advancing, were going backwards. My old steadies were getting grouchy and we weren't clicking as they wondered what the hell was going on with me. It made every ride harsh and frustrating. This so called "training program" was backfiring on me.
I decided to take a step back, to unload some of that self imposed pressure, because the truth is no one else was putting any pressure on me, I was putting it on myself. One day, I threw a bridle on my main mare, hopped on bareback and went for a ride in the field. I felt the wind on my face, her muscles flexing powerfully under me, I dropped my shoulders and gave myself permission to take a break and reminded myself that my horses don't have a time frame, (aside from what time I feed because lordy it better not be any later than 7:30). I realized that they don't care if we make the 2D next month or next year. They don't care if I have my life figured out and my entire life's path laid out in front of me like a red carpet. The truth is the more pressure you put on yourself the further in the mud you sink and no equestrian likes to deal with dreaded mud. We think that controlling everything will make things run more smoothly, but in actuality we can never control our circumstances, we need to let the universe unfold its plans, and embrace things as they come.
As riders, it is in our nature to try and control, to have constant contact on our horses, to be in control of every situation. But our horses and our lives can't move freely when we have a death grip on the reins. The more we let go, ease off, pump the breaks and breathe into our lives and our connection with our horses the more magic happens.
What i've learned over the past year is that taking the pressure off ourselves doesn't mean we aren't going to achieve our goals. It doesn't mean that we're settling or that we have NO time frame, it just means we're allowing ourselves to have a REALISTIC one. It doesn't mean that we are accepting the place we are at and not trying to advance. In fact, i've probably advanced more with my horse in the past year, since I learned how to ease off the self imposed pressure, than I had in the three pressurized years before that. We can still achieve all that we want to, even when we're slowed down a bit. Life isn't meant to be full of struggles and drudgery, it is meant to be easy, it is meant to feel good, it is meant to flow. We are allowed to give ourselves and our horses a break. It is okay to slow down and ease up, you aren't in a race with anyone but yourself. We can enjoy a trail ride and let our horses relax and take a momentary breather from our training programs. You might just find that you and your horse come back with a clearer head and eased heart. Then you'll be ready to get back to work with more fire than ever before.