Yesterday I was walking through a paddock with four ponies, and I decided to see what would happen when I broke into a jog. I heard one pony start trotting with me, and when I glanced over my shoulder, I was astounded to see it was my oldest mare looking at me with a bright, friendly eye. This is a pony with whom I’ve never felt I had a strong enough relationship to do liberty work. She made my day!
Sometimes I feel guilty taking time to do these sorts of things with my ponies. Being a small business owner, there are never enough hours in a day to get all the things done that should be done. Making it through these last five years of economic turmoil has required us to be diligent about how we spend every minute of every day. I feel guilty taking a few minutes out for a short trail ride or to just enjoy a little time with a pony that has come to me to be scratched in its favorite places. I’ve also felt guilty keeping my ponies when I’ve had so little time for them. ‘Certainly someone else could give them more time and attention than I can’ goes my thinking.
It turns out my guilty feelings about my ponies are far from unique. A recent horsemanship survey found in part that many people feel guilty about spending time with their horses or conversely spending time away from them. (1) For those with children, the pull of parenting might replace or be added to the demands of a business; nonetheless the demands on our time are universally felt.
It came to my attention recently that feeling guilty is a waste of energy. Energy is another precious commodity in a physical lifestyle like mine, so this idea gave me plenty to ponder. Worse than being a waste of energy, guilt is actually a distraction from what is really important. In fact, guilt is a signpost that we need to pay attention to because it is an indication that we are not being true to ourselves and are being distracted from the work we are uniquely meant to do.
As I pondered these teachings about guilt and my guilty feelings about my time with and away from my ponies, it occurred to me that we all have equines in our lives for a reason. For some it may be a straightforward reason, but perhaps others are like me where the reason is far from obvious or simple. There is absolutely nothing in my background – high tech career, Ivy League education, more than a generation removed from agriculture – that would suggest a life that is now totally immersed in equines – from care to breeding to training to working in harness.
It is one thing to know that guilt is a sign flashing to warn us of distraction, but it’s something entirely different to figure out what to do about it. I often fall into the trap of thinking I know what should be at the top of the to-do list, and with an engineer’s training I am very solution-oriented when a problem presents itself. If these past five years of economic turmoil have taught me anything, though, it’s that what I thought was important wasn’t really so. I still have work to do to let go of thinking I know what’s important and instead gracefully asking for help. It’s been very humbling.
Here, I think, is one reason equines come into our lives. They live only in the moment, and being with them reminds us to live similarly as much as we can. Very few other times in my life is being present so possible; planning the next project (the future) or reviewing business performance (the past) are regular features of the other-than-present life of a business owner. In the moment, though, I often find answers to vexing questions, answers that are elusive otherwise. In the moment, I am often reminded what is truly important so that my to-do list can be updated accordingly. In the moment, I can remember, in the most profound sense of the word, what it is that I’m supposed to be doing so that guilt has no place in my life.
Having equines in my life has completely changed my experience of the holidays. The ponies don’t know that one day is different from the next; they still expect to be fed and have their other chores done. I no longer travel to be with my human family; my ponies are the family I spend holiday time with now. There are fewer resources to spend on gifts, and so those I give are chosen with greater care.
It occurred to me as I’ve been pondering guilt and horsemanship that the ultimate gift for a horseman or woman is one that we can give ourselves: time spent with our equines without guilt. We may not know why we feel compelled to take a ride on some days and not others. I may not know why I want to move manure with a pony and cart instead of a machine. I may never know why, but apparently I’m meant to have these ponies in my life and reap the benefits that come along. Instead of undertaking the time-consuming work of logically processing those guilty feelings as I’ve been trained to do, I’m much better off just letting them go and replacing them with the joy and love I have for what I’m doing in the moment. And since how I’m feeling inevitably leaks out into other areas of my life, it’s pretty obvious what I really ought to be leaking: love and joy trump guilt as gifts any time!
(c) Jenifer Morrissey, 2012