Equestrians plan. Horses plot.
Blame yourself, the other horses in the field, the fence/stall, the weather, the full moon, your astrological sign, the universe, you name it, but in all honesty, horses find themselves in predicaments that we often can’t explain.
As a Type-A individual to a fault, plans are a routine part of my life. Plans for the short-term, like to-do lists for the day or my coursework for a class; plans for the long-term, like career-goals or planning for trips home; plans for my commissions and art; and of course, plans for my horse.
I like plans. They give some structure and organization when life is headed a hundred different directions. They give some motivation (for the short-term), and perspective (in the long-term). And for just about every situation, I have a back-up plan to my back-up plan, and come prepared to any situation for any outcome I could have imagined (which earned me my nickname of ‘Mary Poppins’ during undergrad at horse shows). This extra-planning compulsion is a trait I think I inherited from my mother, who not only has a Plan A, but right on down to a Plan Z if she needs to.
The problem when you apply planning to the world of horses is that they like to flip those plans on their end at the drop of a hat.
Just when you are at a comfortable spot in your training, your horse decides to suddenly be terrified of jumping ______ (insert jump/filler that they’ve jump 125324 times before with no problems). The morning of a show decide that they have most definitely never been on a trailer before and are most definitely not getting on now. Months of planning for a show, and the day before you leave your horse is mysteriously lame. Out of nowhere, they stick a leg through a fence, get in a fight with a horse they’ve been turned out with forever, they catch themselves on a random loose nail in their stall, they rip their nostril on a bucket hook, they spring a shoe and step on a nail, they blow an abscess to put all other abscesses to shame, the list goes on.
The point is, just when you think you’ve got it all planned out, chances are your horse is going to find a new and creative manner in which to set those plans aflame.
If you are lucky, it will be something minor and fixable within a fairly short period of time with an uneventful recovery/retraining period. (But it’s also important to note that horses are creatures that seemingly defy evolution, with about a million and one ways in which they can end up in life-threatening situations if you look at them the wrong way long enough.)
Not planning with horses isn’t really an option…our careers with horses rely on planning. Planning their diets, their stabling situation, their turnout, their work schedule, what shows to attend (and shows come with their own list of planning in an of itself), their veterinary care…there is so much forethought that goes into each and every day of a horse’s day; from the amount of grain they get in the morning, to what type of tack they wear when they go to work, to how/when/why they get their feet trimmed/shod, there is an *immense* amount of planning.
But when you know that it is pretty much a matter of when and not if your plans get derailed, how do you handle it?
When it comes to my horse, I don’t have a back-up plan, or a Plan A-Z. There are simply too many things that could go wrong with a horse to try to have a contingency plan for them all.
I simply have Plan A.
Plan A: keep my horse healthy and happy in her job.
Plan A has a lot of subsets (most recently, adding Morgan Grand National 2018 to my roster for next fall) that include a fluctuating amount of things at any time – from altering her tack if I need to, her diet, her turnout, etc., but everything is with the end goal of Plan A (keeping her healthy and happy in her job) in mind.
This past year, there have been a lot of extenuating circumstances that have tested Plan A.
We’d just finally settled in after moving for vet school when The Mare got into a fight with the same horse twice in 2 weeks (after getting along just fine for several weeks before) that resulted in 3 months of stall rest/handwalking, a nasty cellulitis and several rounds of antibiotics.
We were just back into full over fences work when The Mare got a nasty, nasty strain of strangles, and spent another 3 months in isolation, suffering from a dangerously high temperature, getting a guttural pouch empyema, and continuing to shed bacteria for a stupid long time.
We were almost in the clear to go back to work when The Mare escaped her stall, fell on the asphalt outside the barn and gained some impressive road rash on her shoulder, hip, knee and face.
Most recently, we had just had our feet trimmed and were getting ready to bump her back into heavier over fences work, and take our first lesson in nearly a year, when The Mare came in from her field (where she had been out alone), with the spot on her shoulder – healed from the road rash for several months, hair totally regrown – wide open and bleeding freely with no other signs of trauma on her.
The plan doesn’t change; the plan is always to get her healthy, happy and working. So when things happen, the plan detours. Sometimes the detour is longer than others, sometimes the detour ends up taking us on some crazy, unfinished back road and we hit a couple hundred pot holes before we end up back on track for our plan, sometimes the detours end up with their own detours, and it takes even longer to get back on the path you wanted to be on. Sometimes our detours are financially stressful, other times they are emotionally and/or physically taxing.
But what I have found so far, is that no matter how long it takes, our detours always get us back on the path we were intending to take. Our detours show us parts of our journey we wouldn’t see otherwise if we just stayed on the main path, and they teach us so that if we ever end up on a similar detour in the future, we can better navigate to get back to the main path faster.
Just like an *actual* traffic detour, they can be longer than you expected, frustrating and time-consuming. Sometimes they put you on the scenic route, some are quick and easy, some send you way off course. But no matter what kind of detour you find yourself on, you know you will eventually end up where you want to go.
The detours are a part of the journey; and I believe that in order to make it through those detours, you have to be willing to adopt them as part of your plan.