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Life Lessons I Learned from my Horse

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Talo is celebrating his 22nd birthday today! We’ve been together for almost six years now, and I learned a lot from him, and from being around horses in general. In honor of the occasion, I wanted to write about the things I learned from my horse and from being a horse owner. And so it goes:

Living in the now

As a human being, living completely in the moment is one of the most difficult things to accomplish. We are often worried, planning ahead, thinking about so many issues and problems, that we fail to experience the current point in time. Horses are masters of living in the now. They don’t care what happens tomorrow. They often don’t care what’s gonna happen five minutes from now (unless they know it’s feeding time). They live in this instance, this moment, the pinpoint of the present time. They don’t plan ahead, they don’t analyze, they don’t see the future. They just ARE. There’s a good piece of grass around? Let’s eat that! There’s a friend we can groom and scratch? Let’s do that and NOTHING ELSE! They experience life as a series of moments, and they don’t worry of what’s next, because right now there’s something occupying their entire attention.

Of course, we are humans can’t be like that all the time, but living in the moment is a wonderful, cathartic experience, which makes life a hell of a lot better. Horses know the truth: Today is glorious, and none of our tomorrows are guaranteed. Talo has taught me a lot on how to live in the now, and forget about the rest, even for a few wonderful minutes.

Mindfulness

This is closely related to living in the now. Horses are mindful of their environment, and are very PRESENT in the moment. They don’t think about bills or the hay they ate last night, but they pay attention to what’s around them. This is, of course, because they are pray – and they need to be attentive and careful, in order to avoid getting eaten by a predator.

We humans are mostly terrible at paying attention and being mindful (as opposed to “mind-full”, like in this cartoon). We often drive while messing around with our phone, we eat while watching TV and without paying much attention to the people around us, we walk down the street without hearing our surroundings, because we are listening to music. In fact, we seem to be making a lot of effort to AVOID mindfulness.

You can’t be distracted while riding a horse. A single moment of not paying attention to what’s happening, can be rather costly, especially if you’re riding a spooky horse. One minute of looking at your phone or in the wrong direction, and you might find yourself on the ground, wondering what the hell happened. Riding while thinking about your bills is not as dangerous, but it will take the joy out of it. Horses are mindful of their environment. They pay attention. They listen and look, they smell and they feel. They’re all about the current state of affairs, so they can quickly react when they need to. Most of us aren’t going to be eaten by a wolf, but mindfulness is a wonderful thing – it keeps you focused and connected, able to perform your current task efficiently or just enjoy the ride. Mindfulness means emptying your mind from unimportant, irrelevant things, and focusing on what’s happening around you right now. Horses are great at that, and we should all learn from them about being mindful.

Joy of life

Horses are, generally speaking, happy creatures. They are ridiculous and silly, and they take great joy in small things, like rolling in the dirt after being washed, annoying their owners, fresh grass, a carrot (or any sort of interesting food), running around and biting the faces of their close friends. Most of them don’t need much to be happy – a nice herd, good food, fresh water and some shade in the summer, and they are well and fully joyed.

Revitalo

Talo, in particular, is a happy, silly horse. Nothing makes him more happy than food, of course, but he will demonstrate his joie de vivre in many other ways, like a fast canter after a good ride, or hopping around after being released in the turn-out on a cold day. He makes me laugh on a regular basis, and that is a true gift. Don’t let anybody or anything take away your joy of life. As long as you have it, you can’t be beat.

Professionals are worth their weight in gold

Do you know how hard it is to find a good farrier? When you find a good farrier, you are never letting go, trust me. The same goes for a good vet, a good chiropractor, a good trainer – you name it. These professional cost a lot of money, but it’s way more expensive to rely on hacks and inexperienced idiots. Always look for the best professional you can afford, and establish a good relationship with them. It may be costly, but it’s worth every penny – even when it’s not horse-related.

Sometimes you need to ask for help

I am an independent person. I do things my way, on my own, and I usually don’t like other people doing things for me. I learned the hard way that sometimes you have no choice and you need to ask for help. Asking for help doesn’t make you a lesser person. It just means you’ve encountered an obstacle that you can’t handle on your own. There’s no shame in that, and you’ll usually become a better, more knowledgeable person in the process.

I learned to ask for help after Talo fell on me and I broke my ankle and pelvis. When you break bones, you quickly learn to ask for assistance. A few months back, Talo and I were having some issues amongst ourselves, which necessitated the help of a professional trainer. I brought in a Western trainer, and after two sessions and some work, the relationship between me and my horse has completely transformed. It was an amazing experience, and it also taught me this next lesson:

It’s never too late to learn something new

I went back into the world of horses at the ripe old age of 35. It’s true that horseback riding (and especially dressage) is ruled by women over 45, but still – going back to the saddle at 35 isn’t easy and not THAT common. Most horse riders have started very young, and stuck to it. I started young, but stopped riding for many years until I found my way back. My body took its time adjusting to this old-new sport, and my progress was slow at first. But three years after my comeback, I became a horse owner, and things started moving a hell of a lot faster.

Talo, too, has demonstrated to me that it’s never too late to learn something new. After the sessions with the Western trainer, I started trying new things with him – tasks I never thought he’d be up to, especially at the age of 21-something. I was delighted and amazed to discover he’s certainly into learning new things, and that he learns them very quickly, too. We started opening gates, doing side-steps, picking up things from the floor and some other neat tricks. All I really had to do is TRY.

Most of what people will tell you is WRONG

The world of equestrians is full of misinformation, urban legends and plain stupidity. It took me a while to realize the training I received at first was flawed at best, and to start looking for professionals who can really help me learn about horses. Common knowledge is usually just common ignorance – and that’s also true in other areas, not just horseback riding.

Don’t believe everything you hear. Teach yourself to be a skeptic. Verify information you are given, cross-check “facts” and trust no one.

I know nothing about horses

Really. I am humble. Every day I learn something new, that makes me realize how little I know. Even Talo still manages to surprise me with behavior and other unexpected stuff.

Come to think of it, I know nothing about a lot of other things, too.

Every ride is a therapeutic ride

Therapeutic riding is well known for its advantages. It’s used to treat a variety of issues – from ADHD to muscle problems, social anxiety and PTSD. It’s a great activity for kids and adults. It does wonders.

Equestrians know this and don’t need explanations: every ride is therapeutic. Horses are healers by nature. They are not the smartest animals on the planet, but they have an amazing emotional awareness and they can make you fell better in almost every situation. You don’t even have to ride. Just being around horses has a healing effect.

Three months after my injury, I went back to riding Talo. It was just five minutes and a careful walk, nothing fancy, but it was fucking GLORIOUS. I was over the moon. It was a true pivotal moment, a feeling of triumph. And although physiotherapy helped me get back in the saddle, it was the riding itself, and the being in the presence of my horse, that truly healed me – in more way than one.

Money can’t buy happiness

But it can buy a horse, which is basically the same thing.

Birdcatcher spots - Talo the horse

Dreams can come true

Having a horse was always a dream of mine – ever since I was a child. When I started riding again (took riding lessons), I felt the horse dream getting closer, but also farther away – mainly because I realized the amounts of money and time required for horse ownership. I didn’t think it was going to happen, and I was actually content with riding school horses and hanging around the stables. But only three years after I re-started riding, Talo came into my life and suddenly I had a horse.

It’s a completely different experience from what I imagined – a lot more demanding and definitely a lot less glamours. It’s time consuming and takes up TONS of resources. It’s costing me and arm and a leg and it’s forcing me to give up many other things. However, it’s the one of the most wonderful things that has ever happened to me, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

It just goes to show you – dreams can cam true, even in a later stage of your life. They can manifest in many shapes and patterns, and sometimes they may take the form of an annoying, chestnut creature, with four legs, lots of sass and tons of white birdcatcher spots. What can I tell you, life is wonderfully crazy.

 

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