The skies have rained and blown for weeks. Blankets have been on and off the horses. Salted mashes consumed. Saddles nestled in the tack room, waiting.
And then, yesterday!
Dawn broke still and the farm floated alone in a heavy cloak of fog. Mist froze on branches, wire, hay, and manes. I warmed a saddle pad and bit indoors, waited until afternoon to mount.
As I rode, the cloud melted. Sunshine – jewel-bright, scarcely remembered – glittered the frosty trail. No people were out. No cows. No foxes. Few birds. Sometimes, my mare and I stopped just to listen to the silence.
I’ve done a lot of listening this year. A lot of waiting. A lot of accepting.
Back in February, I dared to hope that this would be the year my endurance stars would realign. After years of roadblocks, I would have horses fit. Be injury-free. Not be crushed by work. Make it to rides at last!
And then, COVID.
But I had a horse ready for the third…
…until a normal dose of bute crashed her kidneys without warning. She spent most of a week – not to mention a large pile of cash – in the hospital. We saved her life, but not her career. Horses with compromised kidneys shouldn’t be put at risk of dehydration. She can do almost anything now. But not endurance.
So, I got my old campaigner out of semi-retirement. He was a rock star before headshaking syndrome put him out of the game. But he’d been looking better for several months. No reason not to give him a shot; we could always reverse course if he wasn't happy.
He was happy. So, so happy! It was all I could do to keep his inner monster from eating too much trail, too fast, at Top o’ the World. We finished our first 50 together in several years. We really were on top of the world.
But at the next ride, he colicked near the finish. We treated. He’s fine. But I gave him the rest of the season off. Next year may be on the table for him, or it may not. We’ll have to take it as it comes.
I’ve been doing a lot of that. Not just with endurance, but with work, and with the intrusion of a housing development they want to build in the field next door.
It’s so easy to get angry, isn’t it? When all you want is a break? Just some clear sailing, please, for once?
But we don’t learn much on smooth seas.
When the waves are high and the fog closes in, and we are chilled to the bone just trying to find our way…that is where the answers are. We must get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Learn to rest in uncertainty. If we can find peace in that place, we can find it anywhere.
There’s an interesting book, if you’re struggling, called Life is in the Transitions. It tells stories of people who have suffered much more than I. Its point is that – contrary to our cultural undercurrent of expectation that life is “supposed to” always move us onward and upward – our lived experience rarely follows that trajectory. We should expect to be in the midst of transition (often the uncomfortable variety) for about 40% of our lives. Might as well get good at it, eh?
Trail riding can be nice, I’ve discovered. Just walking. Getting to know a new horse, without focusing on hills and heart rates and speed. Exploring new trails or visiting old ones. Quietly watching the sun soak through the freezing fog...melt the resistance...and shine not on the way things should be, but on how they actually are.
It’s bright again today. I’ll saddle two horses – the one with damaged kidneys and the one that colicked – and embrace this fleeting moment that holds them both.
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Thanks for dropping by! I'm an endurance rider in the northwest region of the United States. This blog is about the practicalities of distance riding and the practice of being my best self for my horse. I hope you'll come along for the ride.
The Sweaty Equestrian