For years I was pretty much never late for anything—meetings, appointments, even parties. It’s a trait you pick up when you work in radio news, where everything is timed to the second. If you are even 10 seconds late with a newscast, you may as well have not bothered. It is a world where “better late than never” just doesn’t apply.
Then I started riding lessons—and that’s when I discovered the world of “horse time,” where things happen when they happen. At first I was confused, even a bit put out. Trainers, farriers and veterinarians were always late for their appointments with me. Was it because I was a newbie and not one of the expert show riders they were used to working with?
Before I figured out the answer to that question, I bought my own horse, Lady. And, suddenly I, too, started being constantly late.
At first, I couldn’t seem to get home from the barn on time for dinner—but that inconvenienced only my husband, so whatever. Friends had to wait for me on the weekend. But hey, they were friends—they’d understand. But then, if I had to duck out to the barn during a workday, I began being late for work meetings. My highly punctual radio colleagues were not amused.
Eventually, I found myself feeding treats to my mare in the cross ties as I tried to maintain a professional demeanor on a conference call, hoping she wouldn’t blow my cover with a whinny. But even when I was trying to be good, when I wanted to be my original punctual self, there was just no getting Lady to abide by my timetable. The more I tried to stick to a schedule at the barn, the later I would be.
An acquaintance of mine who designs computer interfaces once said, “Timers make people anxious.” This explains why we radio people are always a little on edge. Everything in broadcasting is timed and timed again. It’s this time anxiety my horse can sense in a heartbeat. The more of a hurry I was in, the more likely she was to refuse to go into the wash stall. Or she’d decide at the last moment it was the perfect time to pee in the grooming stall. It never failed.
Finally, I realized what was going on with all those horse professionals—the trainers, farriers and veterinarians: They know focusing on time and schedules around horses will only make them later. It took me a long time to learn that lesson.
I learned something else, too. Before I had a horse, I thought I was “living in the moment” because I knew how to time my professional days down to the second and even to the tenth of a second. In fact, I was doing just the opposite. Spending time with Lady taught me what “a moment” really means.
True moments don’t happen when you are keeping track of time. They happen when you lose track of the minutes.
As an adult beginning rider, I don’t have any time to think about anything besides what is happening as I ride my horse. If I’m thinking about staying on my schedule, I won’t stay on my horse. I learned the hard way to remain in the here and now.
Moments at the barn aren’t measured in minutes and seconds, but in the sensation of my body moving along with a horse, the smell of manure and hay, and the tickle of horse hair on my skin.
It’s those moments when nothing matters but the relationship with an animal who doesn’t really have to do anything I ask, but does so anyway without missing a beat.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #468, September 2016.