I have too many horses in my barn. I just do. Nobody in their right mind needs SIX horses standing around gobbling up their money. Honestly, I could probably get by with two to compete and one for lessons… but where’s the fun in that?! And yes, I need two to compete- not just one- because you don’t get your entry money back if your horse comes up lame and you have to scratch. So, it is the financially responsible thing to do to have a back-up horse. You know, just in case.
Whenever I’m feeling particularly poor and thinking I should sell half of the herd, I remind myself that I don’t really have any adult responsibilities yet (truck payment, insurance, rent, and food… those don’t count.) I don’t have a husband with whom I have to share finances, and praise Jesus, I don’t have any kids to feed, clothe, or send to college. And with that thought in mind, I feel much better about spending far too much money on the ponies.
Where I’m at in life let’s me have six horses, (if I live frugally, and want nothing of a social life,) and I know that may not always be the case, so I’m embracing it while I can. And I don’t just mean I go to the barn and watch the ponies and feel all warm and cozy inside (although I do that too.) (They each get morning hugs and kisses with their breakfast, and again when I tuck them in at night.) So sue me. I’m a big, gooey, horse lover, and I can’t help myself.
But what I really meant, was that I consider the ponies an investment. Not necessarily a business investment, (because we all know you can’t really make money on horses unless you rip people off and charge $150,000 for a horse just because it has “upper level potential,”) but rather, they’re an investment toward my skill set.
I can say, that without a doubt, my riding has improved dramatically since increasing the number of horses in my barn. Even when I went from riding just one horse to two, that extra hour in the saddle each day made a HUGE difference. Suppose that’s six hours a week. That translates to over 300 hours a year of additional saddle time!! It’s not that Ricco and I didn’t have A LOT to work on together, but you can only practice and drill one horse so much. Imagine if Ricco had to do an extra 300 hours of work each year. We would probably both be dead.
So, while Ricco and I were working on not throwing me to the outside of the saddle and simultaneously keeping him forward and round, Pitch was helping me with my jumping position. She was teaching me about transitions, shoulder-in, leg yielding, and building my confidence towards all things riding. It would have been years before Ricco and I got to that stage together.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I think it’s great to find a horse that you “click” with, and it’s great to ride that one horse to your heart’s content. You guys are besties, and you couldn’t live without him. He’s your heart horse, and you have some unspoken bond. I get that.
But if you think back on your own riding- your position on the flat, your reaction speed over fences, your ability to deal with a horse that is behind the leg, behind the vertical, pulling downward, falling through your aids, above the bit, or spooking- do you see a significant improvement in the last month? What about the last six months? If you don’t see an improvement, you could be doing yourself a disservice by staying in your comfort zone and only riding that one horse. *Gasp in horror!*
So, let’s talk about the comfort zone.
Hi, my name is Shallary, and I have an addiction to comfort. I really, really like it. I LIKE IT A LOT. It’s all butterflies and unicorns there. I have this constant battle with wanting to get better on one hand, and being addicted to the comfort zone on the other. Christian can vouch for me. The first, ohhhh, say 873 times she pushed me out of my comfort zone, I cried. GUYS. I KNOW. I’m a big baby. But change is uncomfortable! We all know that. If change were easy, we would all do it, and we would all rise to the top in a few months’ time. But it doesn’t happen that way. We cling to what we know, and God forbid somebody make us question that. The last thing on earth we would want is to realize that we know nothing, and we are about as far from the top as it gets. How’s that for your morning cup of optimism? But it’s true! I still get ulcers when I feel that I’m teetering on the brink of what I know and the big scary world of better riding. But I’m getting better at coping with that. (Usually.) (I think.)
I knew I had a lot to learn when I couldn’t get Ricco to stop shying at everything, stop stopping at jumps, and running around with his head in the air, looking like a giraffe. Every picture my mom took of me over fences was laughable. Poor Ricco Pants. I tried to make us better; I really did. But we didn’t have time or expertise in our favor. I needed another few years in the saddle, and I couldn’t get there today just by riding Ricco. Luckily, Christian sent Pitch to my house, and she doubled the speed in which I improved. (And yes, I begged Christian to take her back, because I didn’t know how to ride her or even what to work on, and she just was not my precious Spotaloosa, and nobody could replace him!)
(Christian ignored me.)
(Pitch and I went to the Eventing Championships at Novice that year. We placed 16th in our division.)
(I hate when Christian is right.)
(Actually, I don’t. It’s good to have a trainer that knows things.)
Anyways. I wish I could double my learning speed with every horse I add to the barn, but after you figure a few things out, the learning curve slows down a little bit (or at least, it has for me.) I still learn lots of stuff from all my monkeys, but now I feel like I’m teaching them some things too! I used to be just a rider along for the ride, hoping the horse would do what I wanted- which he never did. But now, I can ask the horse to do it, fix the seven things they are doing wrong, assure them they must still do the thing, and usually get a decent result.
No, it’s not always pretty. Yes, Coco still likes to throw a few flying changes in over the trot poles. Lottie still tries to buck me off, IF we can manage to get the left lead. Charlie is still Charlie. I still can’t tie him up without his “self destruct” switch being flipped. And Dillis is still 19 going on 3. But thinking back on where I was at two years ago, I can not even begin to compare my riding. Two completely different riders. (Thank God.)
I wrote this post to remind myself why I have so many ponies. The winters are hard because sadly, their food stops growing from the earth, and I have to pay for every bite they eat. But, they are an investment into my future. Because of the horses I have now, I will be able to ride a wider variety of horses in the future. Because of the decisions I’m making now, I will be able to train horses with more knowledge, and theoretically, have better success. I’m opening doors of opportunity for future Shallary.
I am slow at training them. If Charlie and I ever get past cantering 8″ verticals (again*) it will be a miracle. And I can only afford about six event entries per year. I wish I had the means to take them all out and build their show records, but I don’t. If I sold two, I could certainly compete more, but they aren’t ready to cart me around the upper levels yet, anyway. Life won’t end if I don’t prove that I can take Lottie out at Novice next year. So even though it’s the pits sometimes, and my people are galavanting around the countryside, moving their baby horses up the levels and winning ribbons without me, I have chosen to stay at home. I’m working on leaving my comfort zone. I’m working on things that aren’t pretty, and I’m riding the previously abused and still confused (Charlie,) the airhead stick horse (Lottie,) and the free mini horses with LOTS of ideas- the majority of which are *cough* enthusiastic- to say the least. I can set up questions that match what they would see on a course and school those. I can progress our dressage riding. I can do all these things without leaving the house and spiraling into debt. (It’s just not nearly as fun. Chasing ribbons is fun!)
*I will write a post on Charlie Horse here soon. He went to his Aunty Christian’s house for nine months and remembered how to horse again. It’s very exciting. I think we will be back to jumping 3′ and schooling Novice things before we know it.
So, do you take the opportunity to get out of your comfort zone? Do you have another horse you could ride from time to time? (If you say no, you aren’t trying hard enough. Ask a friend. Your coach. The cowboy down the lane. Most people are more than happy to get some free rides on their pasture ornaments. Or ride bareback. I bet that will throw a few things your way that you could work on. And nobody said No Stirrup November was just for November.) Winter is upon us, and the time for big improvements is here! Leave a comment if you’d like, and fill me in on your plans to leave the ever so warm and fuzzy comfort zone.