End of Year Meditations. One

We are only as good as our last ride. I heard it on a podcast.

I would say, we are only as good as our last interaction with a horse. It is the standard I hold myself to. At times I wish I had chosen an easier one. A standard like this means I’m never off the hook.

It is different for competitive equestrians, who are as good as their last achievement. It is different too, for other artists, painters or musicians, who are as good as their last finished painting or piece of music. Though I bet my artist friends would disagree.

Everything is frozen. Horses are thirsty. The foals are not heavy enough to break the ice. Every day I am shuffling around in the snow filling buckets of water and dragging them to the barn. My hands are numb, I seem to have something the doctor called carpal tunnel syndrome that plays up more frequently than it did before. In the barn, one filly steps her foot in the bucket and playfully spills the water on the floor. I get irritated and say, “Oh, come on, why’d you have to do that, don’t do that”. She sticks her nose out and smiles at me. I think to myself how beautiful and what a rascal she is. I shuffle back and refill. The irritation dissolves as quickly as it came. I appreciate the filly’s sense of humor and our little conversation.

You are only as good as your last interaction. This is the standard I hold myself to as a horsewoman, if I ever am to be worthy of the name. It has to be about the way I live with horses when no one is watching, when I am all alone with them. You can call yourself a trainer, a person who has it as their job to train horses to do what people want. It is what you do, but it doesn’t make you a horseman.

You cannot call yourself a horseman. Other people might call you that one day. But that doesn’t really make you one either, I think. You have to be worthy in the eyes of the horse that day. There are no certifications or medals or Facebook likes for it. There is only the sigh of the horse, the way he licks his lips, the way she releases her flank or dares to ask for something while she spent her whole life leaving.

You are only as good as your last interaction. Not your last webinar, not your last Zoom presentation, not your last theory seminar or article.

You are only as good as your last interaction. This is also what a horse will remember about you. Horses are no rationalists, but they are excellent at remembering. The next time they see you they will remember which version of you you were with them that last time. They won’t judge you, they just remember.

Were you the you that needed to rush to pick up your child from school, and therefore hit your horse in the teeth while you pulled out your bridle and he stuck his head up in the air? Were you the you that lost her temper because you’re tired and the horse didn’t pick up a foot or didn’t stand still to be blanketed? Did you say something like “Why can’t you just act normal” to your horse, or “Stop being so stupid”, or (you hear this one in the US a lot) “Hey, what’s your deal?”

No, of course you didn’t say those things. No one does that anymore. Punishment and blaming the horse is out of fashion, all the Facebook groups and magazines agree. Until your next visit to any kind of stable. The fancy ones or less fancy ones, the ones with dressage or natural horsemanship or bitless paddock paradise banners, it doesn’t really matter. Just wait for it.

We are all victims of a horse world that is hurt and broken. Other people judge us, so we judge our horses. It is hard to change tradition, easy to point fingers. What happens behind the gates is different from what we like to show on Instagram. But we can change ourselves, from within, by starting over with each new interaction.

Forgive yourself. Try again tomorrow. We are only human. It’s ok. Horses like to start over too, so you have their blessing. We can only do better until we know better. And then still, we are only as good as our last interaction.