As the pandemic continues, we’ve been thinking about our community of horse owners and riders. How best to come together and share during this time? The Cayuse Corona Community is one way. Here we see folks making lemonade from lemons and we learn how some are coping with this year’s strains.
Josh McElroy is a Best Horse Practices Summit board member and horse trainer. Living in Kentucky, he’ll be instrumental in helping with the coordination of the 2021 Summit in Lexington. Josh is also an Army veteran and is a Medical Operations Section Chief for the National Guard.
As we enter the 10th month of this global pandemic, the world can feel like it is spinning out of control. There is no such thing as a schedule. There are people who are losing their lives and livelihoods. The political climate is tenuous and contentious. But there are moments, even days, of peace available. You just have to have the right perspective. And maybe a horse or two.
I have had the privilege of saddling up horses in -20 degree weather to break ice on water tanks for thirsty cattle. I have branded hundreds of calves in dust so thick you couldn’t see a man on his horse 30 feet from you. I have had the privilege of being wet and cold for days on end. I have cleaned the blood of my friends from my hands and washed it from vehicles and aircraft. I have had the privilege of going 50 hours with no sleep. I have waded through hip-deep snow hoping I didn’t trip an improvised explosive device. I have had the privilege of literally fighting for my life. I have had the privilege of seeing the worst that humanity has to offer.
Now, if none of the things listed above sound like privileges, then we have different perspectives. I was taught long ago to do what is called “embracing the suck”. It’s a military term that establishes that the current situation is bad and the only positive option is moving forward. We not only accept that it is bad, but find a worse situation or experience to compare the current situation to. It is a form of gallows humor. It forces you to focus on your reaction to the situation and not the situation itself.
The simple act of “embracing the suck” has gotten me through many, many hard days. It has also given me the mindset to know that as bad as things seem, they could be worse. It is why I can see all those seemingly terrible experiences as privileges. Without them, I might not see the current world situation as “that time when everything sorta sucked for about a year.” But I was alive to watch my kids learn and grow, to be a husband to my wife, to be horseback most days, and maybe make someone else’s day or week a little better.
Since the pandemic has rearranged the world, I have also had the privilege of getting quite a few young horses to start. Now I spend most days focusing on how to make progress with each one in their own way. Some days require saddling and riding three or four horses. Others require standing with a single horse until he can feel a little comfort in a situation that has caused him trouble in the past. Or, I might be helping someone see how they can be better for their horse and possibly see things differently in themselves.
I do not discount that the stress of current times has affected me and my mental health. But I’ve found that the connection I seek with the horses has insulated me from the majority of the stress and uncertainty swirling around us.
When I see anxiety in the horse before I touch them, I know I am allowing the outside world intrude. It allows me the window to focus on what is important and what is good. I know if I don’t, I will ONLY see what is undesirable and bad. If I take the time to connect with the horses where they are, it gives me the ability to remain sane and centered. This can happen if I focus on the right perspective.
This year has given me the chance to work on perspective as well as mental health. I’ve had the chance to refine my communication with my training horses and the humans I interact with. Without the pandemic, I would not have had the chance to really work on these things in a meaningful way. I know what my limitations are and what I can affect in the world around me. I do not have control of anything except my own reactions. I must own the consequences of those reactions. That thought could either be terrifying or liberating — depending on your perspective.