I met with a friend for dinner last month – it had taken a long time and lots of back and forth messages to organise a time that suited both of us. When we finally got together, she said – this whole – “I’m just so BUSY, when did we start saying this as a good thing?” When you meet up with someone, or ask a friend how they are, how often is the answer, OK, busy, all OK…?
Part of the reason that this is on my mind again, is reading an article in an equine magazine last week, about making our working hours closer to 9 to 5. They say farriers, vets, instructors shouldn’t be expected to answer their phones or messages outside working hours. On one hand, yes, I can see where they are coming from. You cannot be working 24 hours a day. However, for an awful lot of people, horses are their hobby, their down time, their relaxation. And so, as with any leisure or hospitality industry, your working hours are during what most people consider their leisure hours. A lot of yards or instructors take Monday as their day off, because they are working all weekend when clients have time for lessons. And there are even some yards who close on Monday, the horses just getting their basic care. So, if you only answer your phone, emails or work in mainstream working hours, you miss out on a lot of work.
I know that I am dreadful at not being “at work”. Recently, I decided to take a DAY OFF. An entire day, of not doing anything related to working, writing, researching etc. I lasted until about 11am. Because I have clients all over the world, no matter what time it is where I am sitting, someone somewhere is telling me about their ride, asking me about their bit, chatting about where we are organising our next yoga retreat, or asking advice about an issue. The number of times I’m sitting up at midnight chatting to a client who is another part of the world, or at a family function but on my phone at the same time…
Another friend who I was chatting to a while ago had, sadly, just lost her horse to colic. She was saying one of the things that had really surprised her was the amount of free time she had – not just the actual time she would have been spending at the yard, but time planning what schooling sessions she would be doing, looking into different feeds, checking that she had booked her farrier at the right time, reading about new bits and wondering if she needed to change what she was using. And because she was working full time and juggling her horse around work, and juggling booking her farrier around that, she would sometimes be messaging him at 8 at night.
Is being too busy different when it’s your hobby? Does it make it better when you work your hours and then you’re “being Busy” is your hobby time? It’s all a careful balance I think…
And then, a couple of days ago, I was walking from the house where I was staying, down to their yard. It’s 660 steps – I know because I counted – and I think it’s a lovely amble. For me, that is my down time. I don’t have internet connection when I am outside the house or yard, so for those 5 minutes I am not online. And, the view, the flowers, the ponies grazing in the paddock, they all make you go hmmmm… And on one of those walks last week, there, sitting on a bench on the common was an elderly lady, very quietly, very still, gazing down the valley. She didn’t move, didn’t react, was completely lost in just looking out over the fields and hills. That, I thought, that is switching off and not being at work. Maybe, instead of trying to stick to office hours, or stick to taking a day off, maybe we should just make sure we have time everyday to sit and stare at the view, to make room in our heads for nothing but the feel of the warming sun, the smells of the spring flowers, the sound of the birds in the hedges
And, what about our horses? So many horses live in very busy yards. They have grooms in and out of their boxes, mucking out, feeding, grooming, tacking up, and different riders coming in, collecting different horses at different times for different lessons. Maybe those horses go out for a couple of lessons a day. And even those in the paddock, cars will be driving past, pulling into the car park. Planes fly overhead, things are always happening. I do think horses get stressed by being a part of our “busy”. On this day, when I was watching the lady sitting staring down the valley, I also watched the horses in the paddock in her line of sight. One was standing, hind leg rested, head lowered, ears hanging out to the side and lower lip flopping. The other two horses were lying flat out on the grass, sunbathing and totally switched off. These, I thought were horses who really were busy doing nothing. And that is so important in their lives, they need to horse, they need time to relax muscles and they need time to process.
When I was first learning about horses, first taking professional exams, one of the subjects that we spent a lot of time on was roughing off (preparing a horse for his summer holidays by gradually reducing his work, his hard feed, his rugs) and then getting him fit again, ready for his busy season. For at least a month, he would be turned out, checked once a day but otherwise left alone. How many people now a days have no idea how or why roughing off is done? How many horses never actually get to have a holiday? So many people have horses who they ride 6 days a week, every week and when they, the humans, go away on holidays, they make sure to hire someone else to come in and ride their horses 6 days a week.
We humans are complaining about being busy, about how we need holidays, about how we need to switch off, and if you are a farrier, to stop answering your phone. But how often do you put your horse’s holidays aside because he must keep working? When was the last time that your horse had a few weeks holiday?