Eighteen years ago, my mother passed away. I don’t mention this for sympathy, but instead because I want to pass on her last valuable lesson to me.
Mom was completely bedridden and I was in the middle of the winter circuit. I had a string of seven horses I was competing, including one particularly talented horse for the Sunday grand prix. It was a busy and exciting time but I was a little worn out as one gets towards the end of the circuit. One afternoon, my Mom and I were laying side by side and I remarked how wonderful it was to slow down - to take time and unwind. Gosh, I wished that I could do this more often, I said. Her reply was, “Be careful what you wish for.”
Well, here we are. We actually have time. Arguably one of the most valuable currencies a human can have. Time.
"(This) will be what we make of it."
If you’re lucky enough to be healthy and have a healthy circle of family and friends, it can be easy to fall into the monotony of this time, bemoan the weeks out of the saddle, and generally lose a bit of perspective. This time can be tough for a lot of reasons, but it’s really important to think about how we look at this situation that we find ourselves in as we’re stuck at home safety. Is this a gift? Is it a prison? My belief is that it will be what we make of it.
We are the lucky few. We have horses to go back to, and that is something very special to look forward to. While you may not be able to see your horse right now, you will again soon enough, and someone is working very hard to keep him healthy and happy for when you return. Be kind to the people that are caring for your animals; they’re not only looking out for your safety but for your animal as well.
With all of this in mind, here are a few of my suggestions for those who have been asked to stay away from their barn and four-legged friends. Thanks, by the way, for your help in flattening the curve!
Delve into your library. You know all those books about horses that you’ve either bought or been gifted over the years? Dig them out! Read them! No, really, really read them - from front to back! It’s a great way to get your horse fix and learn a few pearls of wisdom. I just dug mine out and am thinking I may not get through them all before this COVID-19 thing wraps up!
Go online. It’s a treasure trove of knowledge about all things horses and horse sport. Absolutely immerse yourselves in the wonderful Masterclasses available. Study your favourite riders’ rounds on Youtube. Look up the history of the sport and learn about those that came before you.
Study projects! Assign yourself some homework and delve into some research.
A few ideas:
Bits and their uses
The anatomy of the horse
Equine range of motion exercises
Equine nutrition for each type of horse
(I need to do all of these!)
Practice walking distances.
Practice your eye by not stepping on cracks on the sidewalk. My childhood is coming back to me.
Get moving. Some of my favorite suggestions for riders:
Knock out a few yoga and pilates videos. There’s tons of online content for these!
Ride a bike.
Practice proper position. Don’t wait for your coach to remind you that your ear, shoulder and hip should be aligned - a good reminder as you are looking up from your phone or working at your desk. Note to self on this as well!
Gail Greenough and Mr. T. Photo by Jayne Huddleston.
Request photos. Kindly ask your coach/trainer to send you updates and pictures of your horse if you’re unable to visit in person. A good friend of mine has an immunocompromised student come out to give her horse a carrot in the paddock from time to time, so maybe that is an option for you. Set that up in advance of course (if your barn is allowing these visits - but respect them if they’re not) and no touching of fences, gates or halters. Get a sniff of your horse’s nose. Inhaling that scent does wonders for the soul!
Pick up the phone. We have such a great community. We are strong and connected. I, for one, have enjoyed touching base with friends that I haven’t talked to in a while during this time. We’ve been able to really reconnect and spend a long time enjoying each others’ company on the phone. We’ve been trading our share of funny at-home fixes and beauty hacks. The best one I heard today was using duct tape to remove lip hair… duct tape. Gotta love it! (Now, how the heck am I going to dye my roots so that when I do go back to my guru of a hair stylist, she doesn’t kill me?)
Take heart. Please know that I feel your pain; I am immunocompromised and am on lockdown together with my father, so no horses for me, either! But on the positive side, I am blessed to spend invaluable time with my aging parent that otherwise, I may not have spent.
One thing is for sure: when this is all over and done with - and that day will come - we will have a new appreciation of horses getting out of their stalls on a frequent daily basis. We’ll all have a new perspective on stall rest!
Because isn’t that what this is all about - perspective? If we’re one of the lucky individuals who are healthy and have healthy families and friends (because not everyone has this gift at the moment), are we going to mope around and plead ‘poor me’ or are we going to turn this crazy time into a positive?
I think what is most important is that we can all look back on this time and recognize the journey as one we can be proud of. If time is one of the most valuable currencies a human can have, decide today: How will you spend yours?
Feature photo of Gail Greenough by Starting Gate Communications.
Written by Gail Greenough
Gail became the first woman (and the youngest rider) to win show jumping individual gold at the World Championships in 1986. She owns and runs Greenough Equestrian in Calgary, Alberta.