It was an unusual year in nearly every way for nearly everyone. But my favourite thing about horses has always been that there is always something new to learn. What did you learn this year, about your horses, about yourself, or both?
I learned that a year at home with my horses was a gift.
For as long as I can remember every single summer has been spent busily getting ready for, travelling to, and showing at horse shows, parades and other events. Our summers here are short, and jam packed with horse events.
This year, with no deadlines at all, I was able to just enjoy my horses. I played with whoever I wanted, drove most of the horses who are able, in single, tandem, pair and four in hand. I competed in online horse agility, I taught tricks, and just plain had fun with my horses without having to do any body clipping or bathing horses or packing and unpacking the trailer – my least favourite parts of showing horses.
I loved staying home so much that it’s going to be a bit hard to convince me to leave the farm when it’s safe for us to gather at horse shows and competitions again. Don’t worry – I’m sure FOMO will get me there, but I won’t be as worried about missing out now that I know how much fun it is to just stay home and play!
I learned to drive a four horse hitch.
It’s been on my list for a long time, and thanks to this summer at home it was possible to focus on it. We got long retired horses back into the swing of driving in pairs first – they LOVED going back to “work”! – and then marshalled the troops (this summer, when outdoor “gatherings” were still allowed) and got four hooked.
My work on driving tandem over the past few years definitely helped set me up for success, and my brother and I both had a lot of fun driving four this summer. Interestingly, while I knew I was holding the reins “wrong” for tandem, everyone I talked to said it was fine if I was comfortable. Grandad had told me how he holds the reins to drive four, and I tried that with the tandem (as both hitches use four reins) but it never felt right. I was amused that within 10 seconds of setting out with four I’d switched to the way Grandad told me to do it!
I read an article that said that driving four is extra fun because the horses love to work as a herd, and maybe that’s why it’s been so enjoyable. I am very grateful to have these amazing horses of my Grandad’s to learn with – they know much more about driving in multiple hitches than I do!
I’m (still) learning to control my frustration.
It’s long been my biggest downfall as a trainer that I get frustrated and start making bad choices. This year, with no horseshows, it’s mostly surfaced when I’m against the deadline of this month’s agility course and my perfectionism is at play, and I keep doing it over and over, trying for the “perfect” course. That’s not quite accurate. I don’t ever expect it to be perfect, but I want it to be as good as I know my horse is capable of.
But, I’ve gotten a lot better at walking away when it isn’t going well. Trying another day instead, as horses, as well as humans, are allowed bad days, or realizing that the first go was as good as it’s going to get, and doing it *one more time* isn’t going to make any difference. And honestly, it’s always better when I watch the video back than I think it was.
What did you learn this year? I’d love to hear!