In the horse world we have a saying to the effect that being a horse owner is completely different from being only a horse RIDER.
When you are a horse rider-you take lessons for example- you show up at a defined time, you ride for approximately an hour, possibly interact with the horse for 30-45 minutes or so besides that and then you go home and forget about that horse until the next time you go for a lesson or ride.
When you are a horse owner, everything changes.
Ironically, you often find that you are now riding LESS than you did when you were a horse RIDER.
When you have a horse that belongs to you, even if they are boarded at a farm where someone else is responsible for most of their basic daily care, you still are ultimately responsible for them and their well-being. I keep my phone in my bedroom and check it first thing every morning to make sure the barn owner hasn’t texted or called me. I visit my horse almost daily and there are still lots of jobs only I can do for him.
Sometimes your horse is injured or sick. You’re still paying for their board and care, but they’re not rideable now. They may need to be on pasture or stall rest to recover. You could theoretically ride another horse- you’d have to pay more money to do that, and it’s also not YOUR horse.
There’s a long-term relationship to develop. This includes a lot of work that isn’t riding work or mounted work but what we call “ground work”. Instead of getting up on the horse’s back and “going somewhere” you have to invest in activities and exercises where you stay on the ground. Hand-walking, stretches, clicker training, lunging, long-lining, etc, are all things that can be done on the ground.
There are going to be many, many, times when you aren’t with your horse to ride, either because you can’t ride for some reason or because you are there at the farm to take care of other chores of daily life with horses.
These things aren’t the things you see on the Instagram or magazine pages. Nobody wants to celebrate you for mucking stalls, or watch videos of you standing next to your horse for 20 minutes to click and reward him for standing still or turning his head to the right or left. Nobody sees the preparation it takes to suit your horse up in lunging gear or even the tacking up process or setting up poles for when you actually do ride. (Nobody cares about ground poles either.) Nobody is likely going to understand why you need to take your horse for walks like a dog instead of saddling up and riding off into the sunset or jumping those fences like a boss. But these are actually the things that form the foundation of your life and relationship with your horse. They strengthen body, mind, and soul. This is the work of real life.
Ground work is literally groundING work. Humbling work. Centering work. Relationship developing work that forms the foundation of our ability to do the “bigger things” in life. It is “remembering what is important” work. It doesn’t always look glamorous or feel “fun” but it is where we are called to become more observant, more appreciative, and more grateful.
Spiritually, we do “ground work” too. We must cast aside ideas of spiritual “flying” and recognize what our “ground work” is. What are the ways we need to train ourselves in our mundane, everyday lives to deepen our relationships with Allah, ourselves, each other, and our surroundings?
We cannot be teachers, leaders, activists, workers, examples, parents, winners, or anything else unless we are working from a foundation of ground work. Our salah. Our daily dhikr or wird we do. Our quiet, private, secret duaas and tahajjud. Our reading and reflecting on the Qur’an time. And our ability to remember Allah and stay connected as we go about the mundane jobs of daily life. When we’re driving, washing, cooking, shopping, problem solving, discussing, waiting, fighting, studying…
Being a horse owner is different from being a horse rider…
And really traveling the spiritual path is different from simply observing it or dipping in and out of it once in a while.
I took this video on a day when I was annoyed that I couldn’t ride. I’ve had a couple of busy and difficult weeks and I was feeling irritated and also guilty about the lack of time I’d been spending getting my horse into shape and working on our goals. But I missed him so I went to the barn to just hang out with him. I also wanted to change him into his heavier weight blanket because it was supposed to be cold that night.
I can’t stop watching this video. Watching my horse lie down, roll, and frolic like this fills me with awe and gratitude and deep love and appreciation for the fact that this enormous and beautiful animal is MINE. That I’m so privileged to have him in my life. That he has value to me- so much value- beyond his “utility” as a thing I ride and do a sport on.
This is the value of “ground work”, paying attention to what we have to learn and grow from in the mundane, everyday experiences. I might never have had this beautiful experience or learned of its openings otherwise.
Alhamdulilah for anything that teaches us and brings us closer to Him. ❤️
Additional Equestrian resources:
4 Ways to Enjoy Your Horse WIthout Getting in the Saddle
6 Reasons to do Groundwork with your Horse
Additional Spiritual Resources:
Joy Jots: Exercises for a Healthy Heart by Anse Tamara Gray (Consider this book like “ground work” for the heart)
The accompanying Joy Jots podcast