Sinking… Sunk!

(“those moments or for those horses where we hear the music of the spheres”)

Two hurricanes later–Harvey for whose victims we could only feel sadness and empathy and Irma who scared the bejeezus out of us in Florida –-those of us who escaped devastation are grateful and even feeling a trifle guilty. When you’re talking 50 inches of rain or 130 mph winds, “sinking” sounds like a terrible calamity.

I spoke to a guy in Seattle who was on his way to Key West to see how his sailboat had fared. He said he thought he had seen it on the TV news in a tangle of other boats blown up on the shore. My neighbor on the other hand took advantage of a sinking. She put all her porch furniture in the swimming pool so Irma wouldn’t blow it all into the next county.

Riding has been on many people’s back burner these last days as we all try to clean up the mess. And mindless busy work with the chainsaw and the rake allows for more introspection than usual. Which leads me to “that sinking feeling” which instructors and trainers experience more often than they would wish. It can happen when we get on a new student’s horse for the first time and discover – oh, dear – holes in it that are dismayingly deep and should have been remedied years before. Like not just a little slow to the aids but incredibly behind the leg. Like not just unfinished in the connection but deeply suspicious or resentful. Like not just “lacking suppleness” but the proverbial “feels like he swallowed the cavaletti pole intact.”

This sinking feeling comes when you acknowledge how hard it will be to make things feel right especially for a horse or rider with structural or psychological limitations. This is probably the greatest cause of burn out among instructors – that realization of how incredibly messed up a horse might be and how unlikely his rider may be able to maintain the fix even if you can make things right in the first place.

As a professional it’s a tricky business managing your own expectations. Of course you want to be positive and upbeat. But you also have to be realistic, taking into account people’s goals and abilities and not for ego-driven reasons trying to shape riders into an image that’s unachievable and only opens the door to disappointment.

We all ride (or teach) for those moments or for those horses where we hear the music of the spheres. Here and there a trainer may have a whole barn full of those. That would be rare unless the trainer has an inaccurate perception of the horses he works with. Ignorance is bliss. In real life we often can’t have it be as good as we want it to be. Situationally we must sometimes temper our expectations for the peace of mind of those students and for our own sanity.