3.5 min read

I have been listening to Robert Macfarlane’s book The Old Ways this week. For a grounded wanderer and aspiring long distance traveller like me, his descriptions of the ancient British thoroughfares of land and sea are better than any day dream.  One of my main joys in endurance riding is discovering new parts of the country from the back of my beloved horse. Sometimes, even more special than the far way places we visit occasionally, are the hidden geode like tracks we discover close to home. Turns in the path revealing new views. The change of light through a favourite tree from twiggy spring through to crunchy autumn.  The learning of these intimate folds of my local landscape develops a real sense of belonging to time and place within my core.  I rest easier when my mind and body have been enveloped by the welcoming limbs of a familiar copse during the day’s riding.

There is no denying the effect of traveling to different places on your view of the world. It is a kind of education. A broadening of your points of view, through landscape and cultural understanding. To me, physical traveling is similar to studying. Taking a metaphorical journey into a new realm of information.  I have long been a voyager of knowledge as much as of place. Restlessly pursuing information at a sometimes dizzying pace. Investigating multiple schools of thought in parallel. Relishing in the tension of many deadlines and competing viewpoints. Challenging myself to see the commonality in conflicting schools of thought. Until one day when I fell over a solid truth.

What if the thing you’re looking for around the next bend is actually found within yourself?

Could I have made this realisation without all the study and search? Maybe not. But it swiftly brought me to a deeper question:

Is it necessary to undertake a long voyage of learning or travel in order to find the place within where the knowledge already resides?

When you consider that the true aides are in fact learnt from the horse. And that each horse you ride is already innately capable of every prescribed dressage move and many more.  Does it seem possible that the knowledge of pure riding is already within you too. Both the questions and answers have been travelling with you all along, quietly waiting for you to be ready to open the door inwards.

And what might you find in there? Calm, centred focus. Acute awareness of every present moment in turn. The rhythm of your breath in time with that of the horse. Kindness. Kindness to yourself and to the horse. And lastly, compassion for obstacles in the path, both of your own making and the seemingly random happenings of the universe.

But can you reach this room within without traveling the path to get there? I’m not sure if maybe the travelling is an innate part of the process. If the effort it took to arrive adds intrinsic value to the discovery. The bravery it takes to start down the road. When I think back to riding as a child, I start to believe we all had access to this room before we were conscious of the value of its contents.  When we rode from the heart not the head, and had wild adventures across the South Downs astride my occasionally reliable friend Domino.

Some riders are not inclined to travel physically or mentally, through space or knowing. Deep held fear can root you to a place, its solidity is comforting. So, comforting, that I believe many people don’t even recognise their resistances as fear. However, is living or riding in fear a sustainable practice? I believe it requires you to numb the fear and your other emotions to render it tolerable.

Why in the end are we drawn over and over again to the rain soaked field, or freezing arena to meet our horse? I feel the horse calls out our often unvoiced desire for this internal voyage. He steels us to the bumps in the road, and beckons us forward at our weakest moments. He stoically suffers our mistakes with great grace if he sees they are made with love. And reacts to our darker moments in a manner to try and help us see the path. As the shortest darkest days of the year approach, take some time to travel inwards and see where the road could lead you at the turn of the year and the start of another spin around the sun.