Reprinted from Endurance News, October 2013, Ride Managers’ Column, monthly publication of the American Endurance Ride Conference, www.aerc.org, 866-271-2372
“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear … “ (Buddhist Proverb)
“If you keep feeding him, and listen to him, he’ll stick around and keep teaching.” (Mean Patti)
I’ve long held the belief that the horses we have often find us (not the other way around) and that each is here to teach us certain lessons about horsemanship and life. Ned, who I’ve written about many times, has been an excellent if sometimes slightly curmudgeonly teacher.
On paper, Ned has been a moderately successful endurance horse, with a couple thousand miles, six hundreds and a decade of competition under his girth.
But that pales in comparison to the lessons he’s taught me, some involving broken bones, many involving humbling joy, moments of being in perfect sync as we danced doing dressage, dozens involving mind-numbing levels of embarrassment. At 19, a year after some pretty major surgery to remove a massive melanoma, he doesn’t owe me a thing, but as a teacher he is the gift that keeps on giving.
I recently joined a couple of friends with competition-fit horses for a ride at our park, popping a portly Ned on the trailer to meet them. The trail involves a pretty massive climb out of camp, a trail Ned has conditioned up and down for well over a decade, and one that doesn’t bring out much enthusiasm in a horse that values the conservation of energy. He trudged up the hill well behind the other two horses.
At a break in the trail, I encouraged my friends to go in the opposite direction Ned and I did so they could do some fast miles, then come back and catch up to us in the direction we’d headed. Off they went, and for a few minutes, I nudged Ned along with my heels, lamenting the fact that he was not so fit, not so easily motivated as my younger horse, that our fast days were behind us and that we were likely to have a pretty slow ride.
And then I just dropped my heels and let him be. I looked around, I watched the bright sunshine breaking through the leaves on the heavily wooded trail, I felt the strong, steady and even footfalls beneath me, and I was simply still. I stopped riding with a mission; I simply rode.
It wasn’t more than a minute or so later that Ned, sensing my acceptance of his role as bus driver, picked up the pace, lifted his head, looked around and found a bit of a spring in his step. We had a peaceful, quiet, lovely ride and while I wasn’t disappointed when my friends caught up, as Ned was also happy to see them and join chase to the last of our miles up the mountain, I was in a different place mentally. Ned had brought me there (with some minimal kicking and screaming, mostly metaphorical).
As in my own changing relationship with Ned, we are at an interesting crossroads in our organization. Times have changed and we are faced with expanding our umbrella or making it a smaller umbrella. I am finding that the decision to stop kicking and be still with it is the wisest one.
One of the things that has always fascinated me about the people in our sport is the vast spectrum of reasons we are here, how incredibly differently we define success, how “endurance” has a different meaning for each rider.
AERC’s challenge is to follow its mission and by-laws and do our best to meet those needs, knowing that our membership has significant disagreement on what that looks like.
To me, success is about educating and supporting like-minded individuals, to not always say “that is far enough, now let’s do it again faster” but to say “that is not far enough, if I slow down just a little, how far can we go?”
But I recognize that I am only occupying one very tiny corner of the space under the umbrella, that there are those with other goals, other missions, other aspirations, who also have a spot under that umbrella.
For my own part, I’ve decided that my best fit within the organization is to promote and educate, to help others find the joy that we do under as part of AERC. And rather than push or nudge about where we used to be or where we might be, I plan to do those things which bring me fulfillment and the change that I’d like to see, and to be still with that, to accept it.
Helping organize and teach Endurance 101 and 201 Clinics, and helping others do the same, now that, friends, that trips my trigger. For that reason, I’ve stepped down from my role in chairing the AERC Ride Managers’ Committee.
Do you want to share the amazing things about our sport with others and help them find their own definition of success and to learn to share our passion?
Please join me.
There are resources available (PowerPoint presentations, videos, clinic insurance, clinic fliers and handouts) to organize and facilitate a clinic in your area. Whether your role is as host or facilitator or mentor, we want to help get the word out, to spread the fun, to share our addiction, and to help a whole new slew of riders to find their own success in AERC.
Contact me and let’s get going.