Horses Make Me Less of an Inflexible Curmudgeon

Photo courtesy of Lauren Mauldin

BY LAUREN MAULDIN

I remember being surprised the first time someone called me a control freak.

“What? No! I’m easy going, go with the flow.”

They just looked at me like I had grown a third arm.

I thought about it more. It’s not that I have to be in control of everything, but rather that everything needs to be in control. An unplanned life leads to chaos! How am I supposed to go about my day without knowing when we’re doing something, where that something is and who is going to be there?

My need for planning got a lot worse after my husband died. Throughout my life, I’ve made well-planned, careful choices. When two roads diverged, I took the one with landscaping and streetlights. But despite all of this, my life fell apart anyway. As I sorted through the chaos that his sudden death left behind, I looked to planning and control more than ever before.

In the past four years, this “control freak” nature has served me pretty well. I schedule everything. Barn days, social days, time to work, time to rest. My life runs like clockwork, but it isn’t always easy. I have to admit that it doesn’t always make me easy to be around either.

Because my goals are so set in stone, I beat myself up viciously if I miss a deadline or feel like I’m “wasting” time. I have become ten times harder on myself than before my husband died, and I was already hard on myself then. When I can follow my strict schedule, I stay in a pretty stable mental place. But when something breaks my plan, I fall apart.

Still, I mostly kept it together. That is, until I bought a baby horse.

Photo courtesy of Lauren Mauldin

The first time I sat on Poet, I had stars in my eyes. He was the dream. The OTTB that was well-built, had a lovely canter, was too slow to race and seemed destined to effortlessly step into the hunter ring. I wrote a check for him, and made all sorts of plans.

Surely the trainer will be showing him in a month. I bet I’ll be able to hack around a few days after he settles in. He’s such a natural, this is going to be an easy process. By the time I take him home to Texas, we’ll be ready to go to some CenTX shows. Oh look, THJA has a Thoroughbred prize in their Green Incentive. #PinOak2020

I planned and dreamed, and planned some more. And you know what my baby horse said to those plans? He took one look at my show schedule, written in ink, and replied, HI! HELLO! I AM FOUR AND I HAVE LOTS OF FEELINGS!

So. Many. Feelings. Photo courtesy of Lauren Mauldin

It’s not that he is a bad horse, but he is a baby horse. I think all horses, especially young ones, absorb their owner’s energy. The energy I put out was frantic and on a time clock. And well, Poet’s wasn’t. His world had been entirely turned upside down. Suddenly there were new rules, and he didn’t understand them yet.

Though I tried not to explicitly say as much, I wondered if I made the right choice. My trainer sensed my stress, and felt pressure to keep her client happy. The horse sensed it too, and couldn’t understand why he suddenly had to be so perfect. For the first week or so, nobody had much fun.

I looked at my grand plans, looked at my beautiful baby horse, and listened to my trainer. She told me the only thing she can do is train the horse she has that day. That I can’t carry expectations from what happened before, or what I had planned for the future.

Photo courtesy of Lauren Mauldin

She was right, so I had to do something I wasn’t comfortable with—destroy my plan and live in the moment.

Now when I head to the barn, I have to coach myself to take it minute by minute with Poet. I made sure to text my trainer and let her know that I trusted her with my new horse, and we were on no timeline or expectation as far as I was concerned. I may be cantering and jumping in a month, or it may be a year. The timing isn’t important. Good things, and good horses, are worth waiting for.

This shift in mentality is not easy for me, but it’s necessary for success with a young horse. What’s more though, is that it’s necessary for happiness in my life. While I will always want to plan things ahead of schedule, horses have shown me that I have to be more flexible. Some things need to be taken one day at a time.  

Photo courtesy of Lauren Mauldin

When I get it wrong, whether it’s taking a nap instead of working on a revision or making a mistake, continually punishing myself isn’t helping anyone. Whether it’s a baby horse or a 34-year-old writer, we can’t be perfect all the time. We can’t plan everything, and real progress happens so slowly that it can take a while to notice.