By Laura Crum
I just got back from an idyllic ride through the redwoods with my nine year old son. We cruised up a gentle logging road in mixed shadows and bars of sunlight on our two gentle, bombproof trail horses, Henry and Sunny. A mellow summer morning made the forest calm and peaceful. My kid and I rode side by side, enjoying the sights and smells. We saw a young buck deer, and a yearling coyote, and butterflies playing in the sunshine. Baby quail scuttled into the vines along the trail as we passed. We rode by the biggest madrone tree I have ever seen, its shiny green leaves flickering in the breeze, above its red peeling bark. We rode through cool shady redwood groves and past a lone Douglas fir, standing tall and straight like a solitary sentinel by the trail. As we neared the top of the ridge, we saw the tumbled coastal mountains all around us, misty blue in the distance.
All the way up and back, our two steady mounts never put a foot wrong. They never spooked or balked or crowhopped or jigged. Their ears were up, their eyes bright, looking around, taking it all in. They seemed to enjoy the ride as much as we did. We let them stop to air up whenever they puffed a bit. When we got back home and unsaddled them, both had a light sweat under the saddle and on the neck and such, enough to show they’d gotten some exercise. Neither was truly tired. The ride took about two hours. We mostly walked. Trotted occasionally when the horses wanted to. We had a blast. My son sang or whistled for most of the ride. I daydreamed and gazed at the endlessly interesting and beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains. Sometimes we talked—about the horses, about what we were seeing, about anything and everything.
I was happy as we put the horses away. I thought how lucky we were to have this in our lives. I thought that I was enjoying my horses as much or more than I ever had. I felt truly blessed to be able to give this great experience to my son.
And then…. And then what? I can just hear you asking. Or I imagine I hear this. What awful thing happened?
Nothing, really. I came home and had a minute and sat down at the computer. I read a few horse blogs, which I haven’t done in awhile. Don’t get me wrong. I find horse blogs endlessly entertaining. But I have realized that I need to spend more time working on mystery number twelve in my Gail McCarthy series, riding my horses, finishing my remodel, and (boring but true) cleaning the house. Reading and commenting on horse blogs was taking time I needed for other things. Still, today I did it, anyway. And I learned something…about myself.
Because after half an hour of reading about what other people were doing with their horses, I felt a bit anxious. Other people were/are showing and competing and training and learning. They were/are challenging themselves…and their kids. They were/are having fun with this. All of a sudden I wondered…am I doing enough? Should I be riding a more challenging horse? Should I train young horses again? Should I compete? Should I encourage my son to compete?
Those of you who have read this blog know that I competed relentlessly at reined cowhorse, cutting, and team roping in my twenties and thirties. I worked for half a dozen professional trainers. I broke and trained upwards of fifty colts for myself and others. I hauled my horses all over the state of California (and further) virtually every weekend to compete at some event or other. I owned cattle to train my horses. It was a rare day that I did not ride (and train). I really have a very clear picture of what training and competing amounts to.
In my forties I quit riding young horses and competing. Instead I spent my time having a baby and raising him. I taught him to ride. And in my fiftieth year, he and I started riding the trails together on our two steady horses.
I am truly having as much or more fun with my horses right now than I ever had in my life. No, its not exciting in the way that some of the things I used to do were exciting. But somehow riding beside the crashing surf or along the spine of a steep ridge is exciting enough right now. And no, I feel no pull towards competing or training. I don’t miss the hauling. I don’t miss the intensity. So far, my son seems content to trail ride with me and gather the cattle for our team roping friends. We work the chutes and put the fresh cattle through. I feel connected to my horses and the natural world, and I still get to work cattle, which I enjoy. I love to watch my son have fun with his horse. It seems like enough.
Its only when I read about these much more strenuous, intense horse pursuits that other women my age are attempting that I get these niggles of doubt. Ought I somehow to manufacture a desire to compete again, to improve, to ride young horses? Am I missing something here?
Of course, I know the answer. The answer is that I am happy. My horses are happy. My kid is happy. What more can you ask? If I don’t want to compete or train any more, that’s fine. Its equally fine if others do.
After I disconnected myself from the internet, I pondered my reaction to reading those horse blogs. Why did reading them make me feel worried that I wasn’t doing enough myself? It only took a moment’s contemplation to show me that I was perfectly happy with what I was doing, and that it was great that others were happy with what they were doing. No problem there at all. But I wondered.
Am I the only one who is enjoying her horses in a low key, relaxed way after spending many years in intense training and competition? (I doubt it.) If others are also in this position, do you too fall victim to this odd angst or anxiety that you are not doing enough?
For me, the answer itself is simple. I am enjoying my horses, and what I do with them makes me (and them) happy, and that’s enough for me. Since I have no urge to push myself any more, I don’t. Its only when I compare myself to others (which we all know is a no-win deal) that I get that niggle of doubt. I would welcome hearing any insights that any one else can contribute on this subject.