I’ve always found self-regulating to be a challenge. If I’m doing something, I get lost inside that thing. I want to do that, and nothing else. If I am reading a book, I get lost for hours. If I find myself at work for an extra fifteen minutes, I stay for an extra two hours, and then I bring my computer home, and I’m on the couch working until midnight.
The same is true for my riding: if I have a good ride, if I put together a few days of good work in a row, I want to ride all the time. I read COTH all day. I stare out the window and wish I weren’t at work.
But there’s a flip side. If I fall out of that hyper-focus, it’s like things don’t exist. I haven’t picked up a crochet hook in 9 months, after making a baby blanket a month for almost a year prior to that. Sometimes, I’ll marathon a TV show, get interrupted (by sleep, or by having to go to work or do something else) and then I’ll forget it exists. There are so many that I’ve completely dropped that way.
For whatever reason, my brain is not built to do the steady plugging away thing. It’s gotten better over the years, in the sense that I am more aware of my natural tendencies, but it’s also gotten worse – for whatever reason, as I get older, I get more set in some of my ways. This is one of them.
Sometimes this hyper-focus is a good thing. It’s great for working on the house. It’s great for the intensive work of dressage. When I really dig into a work project, I can absolutely crush it. When I can turn it to my advantage, I lay waste to a to do list.
One of the biggest struggles of my equestrian life is managing those tendencies, especially in relation to a horse who is basically the opposite.
See, Tristan is a horse who is really, really difficult to manage mentally. He fundamentally does not have a work ethic. There are many horses who will work their hearts out for you – who thrive on being ridden every day, or twice a day – who will keep going no matter what. Lots of people seek that out in their horses, and value that about certain breeds of horses.
That’s not Tristan. Work, for Tristan, is a negotiation. He is the equine equivalent of the guy who shows up conscientiously to his job every day, 9-5, plugs away, honest as the day is long but never spectacular, and then spends his weekends on the recliner watching football, beer in hand. Figuring him out physically is a piece of cake compared to keeping his brain on an even keel.
Me? I work 8-7, then go home and paint the kitchen, then re-organize my office, then scheme for new projects. I over-commit and burn out spectacularly and when I force myself to take some rest, within 12 hours I’m itching to re-commit to something new.
So you can see how we might come into conflict.
When I have a good ride, I want to go back and ride every night, all dressage, all the time, for hours. Tristan can’t do that. He just can’t. Ride 1 is great, Ride 2 is decent, and then the wheels come off. So I’m constantly forcing myself to plan in rest days for him, to vary his work in quantity, quality, and type. To juggle it so that each ride I have the happy, refreshed, and cooperative horse instead of the one who lets out a deep sigh at the mounting block as he’s staring into the middle distance.
Here’s the other catch. When I give him a day off, I fall into a rut. It turns into two days off, three days off. I tell myself he’s happier that way – which is actually completely true. So I fling myself into projects around the house, or into reading book after book after book, or staying super late at work every night, and before I know it, he’s had a week off.
I’m not good at the moderating. I’m not good at the plugging away just a little bit every day. I full appreciate that this is a pretty deep character flaw, but I would also point out that learning to work with my natural inclinations has netted me some great results otherwise. The trick is in learning to manage it, to channel it, and to occasionally force myself to put one foot in front of the other, even for things that I love to do, like riding.
No, I’ll never be a world-beating rider. But then, I honestly never wanted to be. I love my horse, I love to ride, and I want us to keep getting better. For me, part of that “better” is finding ways to square what I want to do with both my brain and my horse’s brain. Sometimes that’s challenge enough.
[sorry for the wall o’text – I’ve had this on my mind for a long time. Hat tip to The $900 Facebook Pony’s recent post about momentum that finally spurred me to put this down.]