Saturday, July 21, 2012

Finding Focus

L with Butters.
Today was one of those days where I felt like I was crazy busy all day, but running into roadblocks at every turn so that nothing really got done. I need to finish an article and have been waiting for a veterinarian to return my calls so that I can interview him about a horse with bone cancer. I needed to get some work done outside, L needed help with her 4H record book, and I had to run and pick M up from a friend's house. Tybee had an afternoon appointment at the vet for lab work (he's losing hair), I needed to track down a couple of phone numbers for the next article I need to write, and I felt like I was checking my phone constantly for the vet's email, distracted and running in too many directions.

By late afternoon, I wasn't sure I really had time to go out to the barn, but L had a lesson, and we needed to clean stalls. I hadn't done much with Ellie in more than a week. I gulped down dinner with K and the girls, then headed out to the barn still thinking about everything else I needed to get done, and why did I think I'd have time for horses?

L brought Butters in and tacked him up for her lesson, and K started working on stalls and runs. So I went out and got Ellie. She was up to her eyeballs in hay, and not exactly in a big hurry to greet me, but she stopped eating and walked up to me, frisking me for cookies. I pulled some hay from her forelock, slipped on her halter, and walked out of the pasture with her.

I led her past the run where Mosie, a gray Connemara stallion, was peacocking around, all but standing on his head to get Ellie's attention. She paid no attention to his foolish self. In the barn, I put her in crossties, pulled her fly sheet off, and started to curry her, rubbing along that spot on her neck that is always itchy. Over the past few weeks, Ellie and I have become acquainted in measured paces. I've bathed her on hot days and hand grazed her while watching L take lessons, or tacked her up and just done simple circles with her.

She is still dragging her front feet, so we've put down poles to try to get her to work those shoulder muscles stepping up and over the ground poles. I've trotted her here and there, pleased to find that she has a nice, easy trot that is smooth to sit. (I've also learned that while posting was an easy exercise when I was in riding shape, it's definitely not as effortless as it used to be. Going to need to work on that.)

I didn't really have time for a ride tonight, so I sprayed her liberally with fly spray, then walked her over next to the arena where she could hoover up some grass while I watched L's lesson. It was a calm evening without the broiling heat of the day. Ellie contentedly and greedily moved her lips over each green patch of grass, cropping it close with rhythmic intensity.

While I stood there with her, L was learning to canter Butters, and she was earnestly focused on what she was doing. Butters would canter four or five strides, then break back to a trot, but those few strides were pretty exciting. Butters has this funny habit of occasionally giving an exuberant squeal while cantering, and on L's last attempt at a canter, he took a couple of strides, gave a short squeal, then took a few more strides. L praised and patted him. She was proud.

As I stood there with Ellie, I realized that I hadn't once checked my phone, hadn't worried about hearing back from the vet or checking off the next item on my list.

Earlier this week I finished a story for Horse&Rider about Allan Hamilton, M.D., who wrote Zen Mind, Zen Horse. In it, he talks about having focus when you are with your horse, and he says, "We learn from our equine partners how to clear our minds." Standing in the grass with Ellie, with the scents of summer and the sounds of her grazing--with our growing comfort with each other--I realized she had done just that.

And it wasn't just me.

L, who typically flits in 50 different directions and sometimes struggles to focus, was so intent on what she was doing, and so hyper-focused, that watching her made me realize how good riding is for her as an exercise. When riding, you have to be present and focused, and Butters was teaching L how to set her intention and clear her mind of everything except what she was doing.

I watched L a little while longer, then walked Ellie back to the barn, grabbed a few cookies, put her fly sheet back on her, and walked her out to her pasture. We again walked past Mosie as he tried in vain to get her attention. Ellie doesn't give him the time of day. I pulled her halter, gave her the two cookies I'd brought, and let her return to her hay. She was back to what she was doing when I'd pulled her from her pasture. But I was a much calmer person leaving her pasture than I was when I'd first arrived at the barn.

Funny how horses can bring the present into sharper focus.

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