“It is easy to overburden yourself out of habit, necessity, or both. To bring the best of yourself to your horse… you have to intentionally care for yourself the way you would for your favorite horses. You have to take care of yourself.” —Nahshon Cook
Not long ago I found myself in church, on trail with my favorite little chestnut adventure buddy Kenny– and I found no peace. Horses have always been where I go to let the baggage from the rest of the world slump to the ground for a few minutes or hours or if I’m really lucky days, chasing that carefree kid riding bareback to the river feeling as long as I can before the cell service kicks back in and the bills and lists and the which things aren’t you telling which people for their own good or otherwise all descends again.
That day, no dice. I rode, I hiked, I was mad. It wasn’t Kenny’s fault and I probably went a mile farther than I should have before I acknowledged the blackness of my mood. If you follow Warwick Schiller at all then you may have heard of his “rabbit threshold” story about a query regarding a horse who, seemingly exploding out of the blue on the 13th spooky rabbit after “being fine” with 12, is merely finally showing his true feelings about all of the accumulated stress after keeping it together for 12 rabbits. We can all maintain a game face for some number of rabbits but at some point, the threshold is reached.
I hardly need to explain 2020 to anyone who might happen to read this. For my own part, I’m an “essential worker;” I worked masked all of last year with the exception of the first month of Covid shutdowns. I am still busy as the animal industry has flourished if anything, with more people at home, many bored, and some with income to spend in different ways with travel and many forms of entertainment so limited.
Aside from the national and international crises, I didn’t get a job I was excited about, went from zero to permit signing and then had to Covid-cancel a brand new endurance ride, did not visit my all older and out of town family from January on, had to evacuate myself and husband and animals in the middle of the night due to wildfire in the autumn, and came across a private crisis or two on the home front in both the beginning and end of the year. Overall I spent much of the year in a dark funk; I can’t overstate how much my horses and a deep podcast library helped me through it. I barely rode for most of the year but the daily upkeep tasks of the many-crittered are always welcome and necessary.
All this to say? Hello, I suppose. Checking in. Hoping all is well, and if it isn’t, I hope that you can find some steps toward figuring out why or find someone who can help you to. Personally I spent some of my younger years in counseling and hadn’t been back since but am now almost done with my first month of online therapy through BetterHelp.* I highly recommend the podcasts Last Day and In Recovery, as well as Warwick Schiller’s Journey On for many hours listening to thoughtful, quality people on serious journeys in life who express themselves in relatable and often humorous ways.
I’m happy to say that a few days after that rough day on trail I got a message asking if I wanted to help on a small local cattle drive and I couldn’t say yes quickly enough. Kenny and I had done it once before, helping a neighbor drive his cows home for winter from leased pasture and it was an absolute blast that time, and this.
Needless to say I did not make it to any endurance rides in 2020. As I reflected on what I actually missed about the events throughout the seemingly endless non-adventurous year I realized that a large part of it was the efficiency with which I operated while on the road. I’ve ridden a large number of horses in a number of states and a handful of countries. I have been on some proper larks with Kenny in particular over the last few years, from breaking down on I-5, overnighting in a razor wire lined junkyard in Bakersfield, California, and riding through the Taco Bell Drive Thru while awaiting a replacement truck which would take us on into the desert for a 150 mile event completion, to Kenny punching through June snow in Washington state 50 miles into a 55 miler with reckless abandon, all 14.1 hh of us, established paths be damned, finishing dragging me to the finish line, crooked leg and all, already pulsed down, lower than the Arabs for that matter. Those are the moments that give me oxygen, even typing them I feel the thrill run through me, me and my buddy, against the odds. Some of our success amongst the shenanigans has been thanks to my toolbox, mental and physical, and that toolbox is filling with every experience, ride, and year. I’ve recently consciously decided to open that toolbox to my every day life, optimizing my daily experiences as if I were my favorite horse with limited hold times, i.e. figuring out how to fulfill the most important needs with the best possible resources and preparation. It sounds stupid but it actually really takes doing, DOING, not just reacting, but thinking and rethinking, and taking accountability, and listening to things that you’ve been firmly sitting on for years.
These things were already swirling in the brain mists, therapy was signed up for, and then I heard, read, and read again the quote at the beginning of this post. Yes. Yes. This is me, busy busy, mentally busy, solving everyone else’s problems, sometimes my own, sorta kinda, just, always moving. I like to be alone, I seek it out, but then I fill the silence with problems to solve and things to read and watch and podcasts to listen to. I know exactly how loud my head can be and exactly how fast I have to run on the hamster wheel to drown it out. And now I am learning how to rebalance all the levels.
Wishing you happy trails in 2021✌️
*I have a BetterHelp referral code with attached discount if anyone is interested in trying online therapy