One of my mares, Erin, is getting older, now in her early 20s. After being in her life and working with her daily for the last twelve years, we seem to know each other better than anyone else. I’m absolutely obsessed with her (for good reason), and I do everything in my power to keep her happy and healthy.
Although Erin’s retired, I keep her in consistent work. I ride her five days a week, rotating between dressage days, a walk day, a day of pole work, and a day to stretch. This routine has kept her strong and fit over the last few years, and she can comfortably work through a number of lateral movements, tempos, and gaits. The cutest face in the world!
Recently though, I’ve noticed her increased disinterest in our work. Where she used to attempt to take off with me (I’m only kind of joking), she now requires significantly more leg to even get her going. She always goes through the motions, but without her normal fire. It was beginning to be difficult for me to slog through the work as well.
After checking to ensure there were no physical limitations causing this change, I started thinking about how I could mix it up and re-energize our work – for both of us. She loves poles; could I add another pole day? Maybe take her on more trails?
Even as I changed her routine, she seemed bored. I had been trying a variety of activities over a few weeks, and while it seemed to catch her attention, it still wasn’t quite right. One day, I just didn’t have the motivation to do anything “productive”, so I hopped on bareback and started meandering around.
Bareback rides are my absolute favorite. When I was a kid, I solely rode bareback as it gave me more time to ride instead of spending the time putting on a saddle. Now, it’s where I find comfort, peace, and joy, and get most of my reflective thinking done.
On that particular day, I let my mind wander, and began thinking of what it was like when Erin and I were younger. As I dove deep into thoughts of Pony Club games, winter excursions, and Saddle Club themed rides with my friends, I looked at the jumps set up in the ring, imaging the barrels as obstacles to serpentine, poles to side pass, and tarps to walk over. Letting my mind wander created an obstacle course, a challenge, for us.
Seeing the new purpose of that ride to complete my imagined obstacle course, I felt my excitement and motivation grow. I gathered my reins as my energy spiked, and felt Erin pick up with me. Her ears flicked back and forth, asking where we were going. I pointed her to our line of barrels and squeezed her into a trot.
Reconnecting with some of our favorite “childhood” activities re-energized our training.
Our new challenges to work on in our ride turned to our purpose, as I introduced new concepts and then worked to see how well we could complete them. Could she be softer as I serpentined around the barrels? Could we make more efficient turns? Could we complete this smoothly in the canter? With each question, a reason to apply our training to a task added meaning to our work.
Before I knew it, I was grinning like a little kid, hanging on bareback as Erin happily completed the challenges with me. Using my creativity to establish this purpose gave the ride meaning for both myself and Erin, perhaps more meaning than if we had just tried to get through our typical routine. Without listening to each other to create our purpose, there had really been no “reason” to go through the movements we’ve schooled over the years. Applying our abilities to a greater task at hand gave us a reason to remain active and passionate about what we do.
As we get further into winter, stuck indoors or buried in snow (for those of us who aren’t able to flee south), let’s challenge each other to find new approaches to our rides that bring us joy, giving purpose to the grind of winter training and energy into the New Year.