The Sweaty Equestrian
We are grounded.
To varying degrees around the world, we are all being asked to stay home. No concerts, no weddings, no casual afternoons trying on shoes at the strip mall. There is much talk of these measures being too little, too late – or perhaps too much, too soon. We don’t know how bad it will be or how long it will last.
We equestrians, especially the introverts among us, are filling social media with memes: Our sport was made for social distancing. We’ve practiced our whole lives for this. Indeed, we are among the lucky ones whose passions aren’t immediately stifled by the pandemic. This situation would be even harder if we were, say, avid sport climbers or Irish dancers.
But our events are being cancelled, too. Rides are dropping off the calendar as managers make fraught decisions for the good of the whole, or have their hands forced by governmental edicts. Some of us have horses fit to race. Others, like myself, are holding onto the dissolving hope of finally having a good year. All of us are, quite literally, grounded.
Of course, most of us can still mount up and hit the trail. But how is your mental game?
Distance riders tend to be a Type A, goal-driven bunch. We grow despondent when our targets are taken away. Without an event to shoot for, our motivation wanes. Conditioning loses its urgency. Maybe we won’t go ride today.
My own tendencies run in the all-or-nothing vein. I’m the sort to choose my path carefully, then jump in with both feet. So here I am: up in the air, looking down at the evaporating pool where I had expected to land.
It’s the uncertainty that hurts. Will we have a ride season, or won’t we? Will the medical system get overwhelmed – and if it does, should we refrain from riding, given the high-risk nature of our sport? How will the economic impact resound, and for how long? Will we come out of this with the jobs and homes and hay and lifestyles to which we’ve grown accustomed?
We simply don’t know. Maybe the containment and mitigation measures being taken will succeed, and the economy will right itself posthaste. Maybe not. Data models can speculate, laypeople can debate, but in the end, only time will tell.
It’s like looking out the window and watching your horse cross the paddock, still favoring that tendon he injured last fall. Will he recover fully, or is his endurance career a bust? We don’t know, so we wait, and the ball of anxiety in our stomach burns.
Life takes us there sometimes. To the place where there are no answers, no matter how badly we want them. A cancer diagnosis. A career disruption. A pandemic.
It’s something I’ve thought a lot about in recent months, this challenge of finding peace in the midst of uncertainty. I think there’s much to be said for the meditative practice of simply acknowledging, without judgement, what is. What is in the world. What is in our minds. And then (this is key), letting go of wishing things were different.
You can get redneck with this concept: Wish in one hand, shit in the other, and see which fills up fastest.
Or, you can put it as Buddha did: You can only lose what you cling to.
Either way, the idea is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. To be okay with not being okay. To learn to rest in the wait.
That is a worthy goal, my friends. Something we can work on while we condition for rides that may or may not happen. A frame in which to collect the power of our restlessness.
So let go. Go ride.
The Sweaty Equestrian