Not everything goes as planned, but with horses, you do learn to focus on what’s in front of you and nothing else. It’s actually a great thing, to be absorbed. To get wrapped up in exactly what you’re doing exactly when you’re doing it, and not get distracted by what happened somewhere else, what could happen later, or what you wish would happen anytime. Horses are amazingly helpful at creating that state of mind.
I’ve been distracted all day. I entered a story I wrote (and I mean a 120,000 word novel, not a little story) in a literary agent’s writing contest a month ago. The judges have been reading and considering and narrowing the field – but not telling the participants who’s been weeded out. Today was supposed to be the announcement – who made the final round before the winner is chosen. I have been checking that website all day, reading the teasing updates she’s been leaving to torture the 404 contest entrants. She STILL hasn’t listed the finalists. It’s not that I expect to be one, out of so many entrants, but then, I kinda do, you know?
Anyway, I left work obsessing over this contest, and headed to the barn. Yesterday it poured rain, so Zeke didn’t get a follow-up to his ground driving, so I thought today I’d ‘squeeze’ it in. But not everything goes as planned.
Blame it on the cool weather, or anything you want, but the truth is Zeke just wasn’t with me today. He was really…distracted. He spooked while leading, he looked around while being groomed – who knows. I took him to the big roundpen to try ground driving there. Luckily I also brought the lunge rope to warm him up first, because he ran like a maniac.
After the rain we had, the dressage court next to us got a nice tractoring, so the dirt was all swirled up and nice and dark and fresh. I think that was what he was using for an excuse, since he kept running faster away from it and hesitating going towards it. Since ground dirt is always going to happen, I couldn’t accept that excuse, and we lunged a lot longer than I had planned. I started to get a little stressed, because it was my plan to ground drive, not lunge! I didn’t want to be here all night long!
But I knew what to do. As with any good instructor or trainer, I could hear Cindy’s voice in my head, even though she wasn’t there. Is he paying attention to you or just looking around? Is he working well? If not, get his attention, make him work!
So I concentrated on what I was seeing in front of me – I stopped worrying about my ‘plan’. If he went faster in one spot than another, I made him keep the same faster pace all the way round. If he offered to slow down I relaxed my posture and let him, but if he sped up again I pushed him to keep moving. And just like magic, he was suddenly there. His head tipped in towards me, his pace slowed – you could see him focus. It didn’t even take all night! So I decided to do the driving after all.
I hooked him up, and as I started driving in the big pen, he started the same worried running around again. I pulled on those reins to slow him, and he ran through me – and again, the voice in my head kicked in. What was the point of standing there hauling on his face and NOT being able to slow him? Did I want to teach him it was OK to plow through my hand? No. So again I gave up my plan. I dropped the ground drive reins, and went back to lunging until he relaxed, which he did fairly quickly. Then I told him he was good and picked up the reins again.
And you know, it worked. Was he as pokey and relaxed and easy as he was the other day? No – this was definitely a new day. But even though he seemed a bit more wound up, he listened to my cues. He turned when I asked him, he stopped when I asked him (without hauling on the reins, thank you!). When we were done, he stood like a quiet gentleman, like he always does,waiting for time to go back to his pen. All in all, it was a good learning day.
I’m glad I took that time to work Zeke. I was completely focused on him and what he needed, and we made progress. So now I guess I’ll go back to waiting, because the finalists for the writing contest have not been announced yet…