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Jec Aristotle Ballou

Riding Made Me: Jec Ballou on Mindfulness and Accountability

By | Tribe, Why I Ride | No Comments

Even for those of us who describe ourselves as firmly connected to reality, our tethers to a calm, realistic state can become frayed during everyday life. For numerous reasons, we often experience our bearings altered, our perceptions skewed. This is when a give a sigh of gratitude for horses. Riding has made me more grounded.

It has done this by requiring that I possess two particular traits on a daily basis: mindfulness and accountability. I would argue that when a person practices these, she is the best version of herself. But without horses, it is pretty hard to cultivate them.

Consider mindfulness, for example. In the course of our lives, becoming distracted or frazzled or fatigued is a norm. But where horses are involved, there often is no room for these other states. There is only room for paying very close attention to every moment, staying calm, and being ready with the right response to your environment. To do anything well with horses, we have to focus and concentrate. We simply cannot wander off in distractions. Both for safety reasons as well as respect for the horse, we have to stay present with 100 percent of our attention.

When a person experiences this in enough moments throughout a day, it spreads throughout the rest of her life. It becomes more attainable and consistent. And I can only pause and smile when I think what a gentler place the world might be if we were all a bit more mindful.

Or what might the world look like if we were all more accountable? Riding and training horses reiterates this trait for a person every single moment. When something is not going well in the training or care of a horse, I have to stop and ask myself why not. What am I not getting quite right? When during a ride, the mood or comfort of the horse changes under me, I must stop and assess what I botched. Tempting as it is to point a finger elsewhere, there is nowhere else to point it where horses are concerned.

They mirror back to us the spirit in which they are cared, the health and comfort they either are or are not provided. No conscious person can ignore the reflection of that mirror. Sure, it can be sobering, but it also prevents any of us from getting caught up in delusional thinking or ‘quick fixes.’ It keeps us tethered to our own individual integrity and honesty. It helps us respect other horse professionals.

Perhaps I’ve made the case that if more of humanity were mindful and accountable, the world might realize a better version of itself. This just might be true if even more people rode horses. At the very least, they would undoubtedly be more grounded.

Learning to Love it All

By | Tribe | No Comments

Manolo pointed at the fence where a piece of pipe stuck out, and I thought he was going to tsk me. A horse could scrape himself there. Then he spread his arms wide and pivoted in a slow circle, as if he were gathering the whole property in an embrace. With a few gentle words to me, a young trainer focused wholly on riding and training and teaching, he made his point clear.

Even though I boarded at this facility, and did not own it, I needed to take responsibility for every single piece of my horse’s care and health. I could not excuse unsafe fencing or dusty arenas or insufficient feeding routines just because I was not in charge of the barn operations. You have to love all of this, Manolo Mendez told me, meaning every mundane detail of my horse’s wellbeing.

If I owned a horse, I alone was in charge of his wellness, always. I was not just his rider and bill-payer. I was his advocate, his health-watcher, his best resource.

 

Since that moment a decade ago, I have operated with those words close at heart. And, funny enough, taking more responsibility has not meant more work or burden. In most ways, it has felt like a vow to deepen my connection not just to Corazon but to every horse in my training program.

As I increasingly prioritized the role I played in their daily wellness, I opted a few years ago to lease my own facility here in California, which seemed initially like financial suicide. Stepping away from operating my business out of boarding facilities to run a property under my own direction presented risks of both money and time investments.

Luckily the financial part has been okay. Even luckier: my connection to these animals is the most complete and satisfying I’ve ever known. I observe them each in their pens daily, tracking their hydration and moods, their appetites and energy levels, whether or not they are socializing with other horses. I’ve learned to rate the quality of my farrier, my hay grower, and saddle fitter on par with my ability to teach a shoulder-in or canter departure.

I watch each of my horses’ individual personalities play out over the course of each day, letting it inform my approach to their training sessions. As a result, I appreciate and honor their unique natures better than I did as a younger trainer. I possess more patience, more correctly calibrated expectations. I guess you could say this has led to having better connections with my horses. And somewhere along the way, I learned to love all of it.

Finding Redmond

By | Equine Health, Stories

Several years ago, I stumbled upon the nutritional advice I had intuited for years for my training horses. An equine nutritionist and researcher here in California tested hair samples from a few of my horses in addition to analyzing my hay quality to determine if and where mineral deficiencies might be present. After all this testing and producing a printout of each horse’s nutrition profile, she came back to me with a single piece of advice: feed all of my horses 1-2 Tablespoons of high quality natural salt and quit dosing them with all the other supplements that filled our grain room.

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