Mo*ti*va*tion (noun) the general desire or willingness of someone to do something
Synonyms: enthusiasm, drive, ambition, initiative, determination, enterprise.
Motivation, or the lack thereof, is something which we all have to deal with from time to time. When it comes to pursuing my riding goals, fitting riding time into my busy schedule, and/or doing all the various chores related to maintaining my horses and farm, lack of motivation is something which I have only rarely struggled with. In fact, skipping a ride for even valid reasons (pouring buckets of rain, celebrating a holiday) or shirking on a duty (not grooming my retired horse every day) usually causes me to go into a state of self-flagellating guilt.
Until this spring.
This spring has been tough on me for reasons wholly unrelated to my horses. The truth is that there is some pretty heavy “life” stuff going on, which I will get through, but the going is pretty deep right now, and I am getting tired of slogging. Enough about that but suffice it to say that this issue has taken a TON of life energy to manage and it has left me feeling depleted, insecure and not confident.
In addition, for the past five years, I have been dealing with on again/off again knee swelling and pain which has defied a causative diagnosis but which has responded well to draining and steroid injections. Usually it happened to one knee at a time and then the joint stayed quiet for months to years in between flare ups and treatment. This January, both of my knees decided to gang up on me. There was the “bad” one and the “worse” one. This time around, my doctor decided to schedule an exploratory arthroscopy to try to get some definitive answers. While all the “pre approvals” and pre-operative appointments were scheduled, the pain in my knees just escalated. My knees and calves swelled. Riding went from being non painful to bearable to misery at anything other than the walk. Before my surgery, doing really normal people things, like putting on pants and socks, was nearly impossible to do without pain. So you can imagine that giving proper leg aids was also a challenge. I felt useless and ineffective on a horse.
Being in pain stinks. Chronic pain becomes like a mantle that you can’t quite put down. You can numb it, you can suppress it, but it never really goes away. You don’t sleep as well, you don’t eat well, and you start to weigh your actions in terms of whether the pain they will incur is worth the outcome. Example: is it worth climbing the stairs one more time to get a sweater? Or would I rather just be cold today?
So it would be easy to label this pain as the cause for my loss of motivation. I tried to keep going, but I found that increasingly I would let excuses slip in to justify not riding.
“It is too cold.”
“It looks like rain and I don’t want to get my tack wet.”
“The footing is too muddy/snowy/icy/dry/uneven.”
“I have no one to ride with and my horse is going to be upset to leave the group.”
Or I might manage to ride, but only stayed on for thirty minutes before being “done”.
I struggled to set any type of goals for the 2017 season at all. I blamed it on not knowing what the outcome of the arthroscopy was going to be, and therefore how long I would be out of commission. But in reality, I was feeling overwhelmed by the effort it would take to actually DO any of the things which I could imagine doing. You know, things like actually hitching the trailer, putting tack in it, and going somewhere with a horse.
I had had some tentative plans to enter a few early season distance rides with Lee. I even got so far as to put one entry in the mail. But I scratched just days later, after having a really bad weekend in terms of knee pain. This was a perfectly acceptable reason for not doing the ride. But the underlying truth was that I couldn’t stomach the idea of doing all the work to get ready to go to the ride, loading/hitching the trailer, or getting up super early to be there on time. The ride itself was the least of my worries.
WTF was wrong with me????
Apathy ap*a*thy (noun) Lack of interest, enthusiasm or concern
Synonyms: Indifference, lack of interest, lack of enthusiasm, lack of concern, uninterestedness, lethargy, ennui
My Facebook feed is dominated by horses, dogs and cats, sprinkled here and there with a few posts about children or nature. On any given Sunday, dozens of people I know have been out and about with horses in tow, attending clinics, dressage and jumper shows, schooling cross country, attending trail rides and more. They post their pics and rave about how wonderful the day was and how much fun they had. This spring, I would just look at these posts and think… “huh, that seems like a lot of work. Good for them.” And I would stare out my kitchen window at my four horses and sip my coffee.
I did the basic chores. The horses were groomed, fly sprayed, shod, and had their spring vaccines. I went to get additional hay to carry us through the season and ordered grain. I sent the trailer for its spring tune up and inspection. I laundered winter blankets and scrubbed and stored winter shoes. I started transitioning the horses to grass turn out.
I rode Lee and Anna four or five days per week. Lee hacked or longed. Anna did light dressage schools, hacked, and practiced wearing a double. Izzy went for walks on the driveway and learned how to stand on the cross ties and wear a fly hat. Marquesa was groomed and ridden by friends. It was all done by rote.
I tried to forgive myself for feeling this way. I tried to be patient with my body, which seemed determined to make me miserable. I tried to set super small goals each day (like, today I will do ONE extra thing that needs to get done). I tried, with all of the morale I had left to muster, to not completely stop moving. I worried that if I did that, I would never get moving again.
Coming About: A nautical term, used in sailing to indicate that the bow of the boat will start to turn through the wind
Synonyms: Helm’s Alee
I had my knee surgery on May 23. After being in so much pain for so long, the surgery wasn’t much worse. Unfortunately, the procedure hasn’t yielded any definitive answers but the overall cleanup which occurred (along with yet another drain/injection of the other knee) has left me feeling better than I have in months. I am still not allowed to ride, but I have had some students coming up to keep Lee and Marquesa going. I might try to put Anna on the longe line later. We’ll see.
While I have been on lay up, I have had plenty of time to think and analyze and assess. And what I think I have come to is that how I feel is how I feel…and it is okay. Maybe I don’t have huge performance goals for the season with my horses. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy them and keep moving forward. Sometimes, your body and soul just needs some time to heal. That is where my life energy is focused right now.
I set a few small goals for myself for the period during which I am going to be laid up: 1) re-read The New Basic Training of the Young Horse by Ingrid and Reiner Klimke 2) work on setting up a website for my farm 3) write a few blogs. I have done some work on all three.
Last Saturday, I worked at the Central New England Region Show Jump Rally as the course designer and a judge. The weather was pretty much perfect—sunny, slight breeze, temps in the mid to upper 60’s. The courses rode well and the riders seemed to have fun. I was surrounded by friends, students, former students and parents. Several of the riders were trying to qualify to compete at the USPC National Championships later this summer and it was exciting to see them ride up to the challenge. I actually had fun. I started to remember what that felt like.
Tues May 30 was Izzy’s birthday. I took a few conformation photos of her so that we can compare her in one year’s time. She has been coming into the barn independently for grooming and handling daily. She makes me smile whenever I enter the paddock with her friendly and inquisitive nature.
Slowly, I can feel some of my motivation coming back. I can guarantee that I won’t be taking the world by storm this year. But maybe, just maybe, I can get moving in the right direction again.
With Anna, I hope to make it out for some lessons with Verne Batchelder when he is in town, and maybe make it to one dressage show. With Lee, maybe I can do some further exploration of my local trail network, or ship up to Tamarack Hill to ride with Denny, or to Pawtuckaway State Park to ride with friends. Maybe we do a competitive ride, maybe we don’t. I can guarantee you that Lee doesn’t care. I want to introduce Izzy to the trailer, do some basic in hand work, and improve her behavior with the farrier.
This is progress. These are actual tasks I can see myself accomplishing. There is hope.
I am usually a results driven person, and many of my personal goals have revolved around competition. But as Denny (Emerson) says frequently, at the end of the day, no one cares about how you did at a show except for you, and your mother (and she only cares because she wants you to come back in one piece). Perhaps the theme for this season will be to learn to enjoy the journey and to find a balance between the process and the result. I hope that by looking at my goals from a different perspective, I may be able to make progress towards them without starting to feel overwhelmed, apathetic or detached.
In this way, I will try to Come About. As with turning a boat, it won’t happen immediately and I may have to fight the tides. But so long as I keep pressure on the tiller, I should see this ship turn.