I Take Forever in the Cross Ties

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

BY LAUREN MAULDIN

These days, I take forever in the cross ties—especially before my ride. I didn’t used to be this way. My horse always had to be body clipped in the winter, because I didn’t have time to scrape off mud or wait for them to dry. Every minute was precious. 

Maybe it’s because I was still married then, and had that thin layer of guilt that comes with an extra twenty minutes spent at the barn when I should have been heading home. Or maybe it’s because I took those days for granted. There would always be another ride, another time to linger. A quick groom, a quick hack, a quick pat to say goodbye. I was always in a hurry.

But these days, I take forever. 

I start with the curry gloves, and push my fingers into his muscles, always lighter under his belly so he doesn’t dance around. Then it’s the stiff brush, fly spray or hair conditioner (or both), the soft brush. The face brush with its soft, quick strokes around his doe eyes and absolutely going to be muddy furry cheeks. Maybe a little tail spray. 

Most of my friends are already walking to the ring, but not me. I take forever.

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

I reach for my favorite hoof pick. Scrape the dirt off the sides, dig in down the groove by his frog. Lean upside down over the hoof and stretch towards two little bottles next to my feet on the ground—thrushbuster and Keratex, my mini arsenal against constant mud and Thoroughbred feet. I doubt either do all that much, but applying them makes me feel better. I’ve grown to like the dull purple splotches on my hands. 

Before I finally reach for the saddle, I stand back and take a look at him. Every day he’s changing now. A little bit higher in the shoulders, more dappled, face losing the two gray stripes on either side of a stripe that’s all but disappeared. Owning a young, dapple gray is like trying to hold on to an ethereal being. Constantly shifting. You can’t firmly grasp them in your hands. The silvering of his coat is a constant reminder to me that everything is not how it was the day before. And so, I take my time. 

I try not to live with a lot of regrets. With horses, humans, decisions I probably should have made differently. I’ve wasted money buying the wrong horse (who hasn’t?), but it taught me a lesson, so I suppose it wasn’t that much of a waste. I’ve taken interesting paths in my career that no financial analyst or business consultant would advise, but they brought me to where I needed to be in the end. 

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

I don’t regret much, but I regret all the hurrying. I regret keeping my eye so focused on improvement, goal setting, the timeline, that I missed a lot of things on the periphery. My intense drive is both my super power and my downfall. It’s helped me achieve incredible things that I’m very proud of, but it’s also made me colder, less kind. It’s trained me to focus on the flaws instead of the simple beauty of being. 

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but one day I woke up to the failures of not accomplishing what I had meant to do—a normal occurrence for me. I started the typical cycle of beating myself up for not being better, making a new plan and timeline that was more stringent, telling myself that I’d get it together today while I piled more things on my plate. But in the middle of counting my shortcomings, I just stopped. I was tired.

So I slowed down.

If people watch me toiling over my horse in the crossties, what they don’t realize is that I’m exercising great restraint with my lollygagging. I still want to throw the tack on, rush through the ride, and move forward to the next thing. I still want to pile more and more on until I collapse in the rubble of my own making. I still want to hurry.

Photo © J Mock Photo

But I’m trying, really trying, to be more present. To stop putting aggressive timelines on all of my goals. My horse is happier because of it, and so am I when I learn to stop, take a breath, and slow down. 

If you see me scraping off tiny bits of mud with my fingernail, or taking what appears to be fifteen minutes conditioning my horse’s tail, don’t worry. Right now, running my fingers through the thick, silver ringlets of hair isn’t an unhealthy obsession with grooming, but rather trying to live in the present. Enjoying the barn for what it is that day instead of worrying about the future. Taking the time to remember, really remember, all the little details in case that afternoon is the last one I spend with him. There is a lot I wished I slowed down for with loved ones that have left. There is so much I wish I remembered.

But really, what’s the rush? It’s easy to forget, but this is why we started riding to begin with. Whether it’s a ribbon at a horse show or a promotion at work, we’ll get there when we get there. There’s nothing wrong with the scenic route. Take your time.


About the Author: Lauren holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of California Riverside, and is a lifelong rider and writer. Beyond equestrian journalism, she explores body positivity, mental health and addiction through personal narrative. She enjoys showing on the local hunter/jumper circuit in Austin, Texas.

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