It was long. It was tough. And I’m sure glad it’s behind us now. But this winter did afford a few lessons and insights I thought I’d share.
#1 – Have a practice to turn to
There are some things each of us need, (like being around horses!), to stay functional as human beings in the world. Regular exercise is certainly one of those things besides, for me, riding, yoga, writing and time in nature. I like running outside, so when winter arrived I was pretty pouty my first few trips out to the gym.
It seemed crazy to have to get in my truck and drive 15-20 minutes to hop on a treadmill amongst a crowd of sweaty strangers. (To make myself feel better I splurged for the extra $6/month membership that gives you access to the child-free change rooms – definitely worth it!!).
But pretty soon I discovered I kind of like the gym. Given the weather this year, a temperate, frost-free environment was actually a pretty good deal. And those sweaty people – even though I rarely talked to them – they started to spur me on. There’s nothing like the guy on the treadmill next to you just givin ‘er to keep you going when your energy starts to wane.
(Not so much for the ones that crank the speed ridiculously high for short bursts and literally have to hang so they don’t go flying off the machine while they put it back down to a more reasonable rate. They sort of scare me.)
I can’t say I like the gym enough to do much else besides run, but those treadmill sessions saved me this winter. They might just have been the single most important thing I did. Suffering from writer’s block, lack of riding, winter blah’s, or just plain inertia, a spin on the treadmill improved my productivity and state of mind many times over. And when I finally did have the chance to get on my horse’s back, I’m sure he appreciated it too.
Whatever the practice may be, this winter made clear for me the value in having one to turn to.
#2 – Priorities are important
Being self-employed is great for many reasons. But some days, especially in the winter when things are a little quieter on the massage side, I need to plan and structure my day or risk losing it to facebook.
I recently worked with a wonderfully cheerful sports psychologist and researcher, Dr. Inga Wolframm, for an article in Horse Sport (see the June/14 issue for the finished piece). We talked a lot about goal-setting, and whether you call them goals, or priorities, they are important in life and in sport.
For me, one goal this winter was to gain more experience with public speaking – and I don’t like public speaking. I like working with horses because we can communicate without talking. I like writing because I can hide behind my computer until the words come to me. So naturally, every time I had to stand up in front of a group of people, I asked myself how I could possibly have ever thought this was a good idea. Trying to keep my heart-rate under control, I thought surely I was shortening, not making improvements in my life.
But – quite amazingly – by the last two talks, I actually felt pretty OK. Of course it seems logical that experience would produce this result, but I’m still a bit shocked by the reality of it. And certainly, I know if I hadn’t set that goal, it never, no way ever, would have happened.
(Priority for next winter: Find a way to get away somewhere warm!!)
#3 – You have to act on the things you care about
Getting to the gym, yes. Time with my horse, check. But this winter I had time to reflect on some of the bigger issues too — namely, equine welfare, both here in Ontario and beyond.
I participated in the first run of the Global Perspectives in Equine Welfare online course offered through Equine Guelph, and managed to attended a couple of animal welfare conferences (one of which included the opportunity to hear Jane Goodall speak – perhaps life changing in itself).
In addition, my volunteer work at a local horse rescue has brought me face-to-face with the heart-breaking state that some of our horses end up in. But it has also afforded me the profound experience of seeing these animals come back into themselves, their personalities emerging as they regain health and simply the energy to be present here with us again. (Whew, trying not to cry).
There are so many experiences that shape us and make us who we are, and I expect for many of us, horses are central. I’ve always believed that horses make us better people, and the world a better place. And my hope is that collectively we can make sure we repay the favour. This is certainly a driving force in the work I do, but increasingly I feel compelled to do more.
There are too many unwanted horses in this country, young and healthy horses that end up at slaughter, broken horses that need not have gotten to that point, and others that suffer because people lack the information they need to make good management decisions. It’s easy to point fingers, but I think as members of the equine community we all have a responsibility to do something. We, after all, are the ones that know horses and the industry best.
I’m not always sure of the best way to direct my efforts, but I do know that doing something is essential.