Off The Clock…Rachel Gearinger

Here’s the thing; I think we have a problem. Now, not to worry, I’m not here to be a bearer of bad news, a negative Nancy or, god forbid, a Debbie downer. But I also think we need to talk about something. So, what is this thing? Well, it has become quite clear to me that our culture has a problem with chilling the fuck out.

There, I said it.

And I can say this with some level authority, considering I may be the worst offender. (How does that saying go; “do as I say, not as I do?”) The American ideal of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps shapes our mindset towards work. Hard work, we are told, ensures success. Hard and incessant work is the only way to find happiness. Not only should we work hard but we should probably fit in some time for eating well, exercising and maintaining a healthy social life.

With all of this work even when we are not “on the clock,” when do we have time for empty space? Empty space as in a whole morning doing nothing but laying in a field. Empty space as in wandering around our neighborhood free of purpose. Empty space can often feel like a “waste of time.” But who said time is a resource that can be wasted and spent like money? I like to think it is more fluid than that. This brings me to today’s feature.

I’m interested in the times when time itself loses meaning. When we are “off the clock”, in every sense of the phrase, because the clock doesn’t even enter into our consciousness. I’m interested in the people who can find the space to let things flow. People who dedicate themselves to a passion that liberates them from the pressures of our work-obsessed world. I’m interested in people like my dear friend, Rachel Gearinger.

Please enjoy a glimpse into her empty space. We’ll go off the clock, out of our minds and into the barn.

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What first sparked your love of riding?

It started with horseback riding camps as a middle-schooler and trickled into biweekly riding lessons. In the beginning, it was less about an interest in riding and more of just an interest in horses. They seemed magical to me, so quiet and intelligent.

Of course, the riding was exciting, almost like being given the chance to fly. I never wanted to get off the horse.

You practice a specific style of riding, called dressage. Please explain what dressage is and what it means to you.

The word dressage means “training” in French. The word “training” is deceptive, though. To me, especially in the context of a sport, it connotes something physically rigorous. It means gaining muscle or attempting to be the best at something. It means trying to win. That is not what dressage is truly about, although I think many riders lose sight of this. Dressage is an emotional journey, one that is never ending. The training is less about the body and almost entirely devoted to the mind. Although the horse’s physical strength is developed, the rider’s mind is also strengthened. I’ve learned training and discipline can be a beautiful, freeing thing.

Dressage is about forming a partnership with a horse, one that sustains beauty. It is learning to move and communicate with a horse that has its own inclinations, weaknesses, and strengths. Meanwhile, the rider must work to lose her own habits to merge with the horse. You are having a conversation through body language and relaxation is the only way to open that dialogue.

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Can you try to explain how a relationship with a horse compares to a relationship with a human?

Horses don’t have the ability to judge. They are feeling creatures, instead of thinking creatures, like humans. Horses are built to be the ultimate prey animals. If horses stopped to think before running away from a predator, they wouldn’t be successful as a species. And somehow, they allow humans to sit on their backs and direct them. It’s unlike anything seen in any other human-animal relationship, or human-human relationship for that matter. And as long as you respect the horse, this relationship will never falter.

Because of their uniqueness, horses can give humans a completely different perspective of the world. Around a horse, I feel the essence of who I am, uninhibited by what people think of me, or even what I think of myself. I rely more on my senses. Through the horse, I feel closer to the world around me. Horses teach us how to be better humans by letting go of some of what makes us humans. They teach us how to be patient, to live in the moment, to take something for what it is and not what we want it to be. We have so much to learn from them.

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What work goes into your passion on a weekly basis?

Usually I ride about 5 days a week. There is a lot of work that goes into dressage besides the time you are on the horse’s back. I spend a fair amount of time taking care of my horse—brushing him or grazing him. These things are important to build up the horse’s trust. And honestly, I like doing them. I have never thought twice about being covered in horse hair and dirt. I try to keep with me the awe of horses I had when I first started riding. I was overjoyed just to be near a horse. This kind of passion is hard to find sometimes. I am constantly reminding myself how lucky I am to have a horse of my own. If I could go back and tell this to myself as a child, I imagine there would be a lot of screaming and jumping up and down. I want to keep that childlike wonder.

Also, it is important to think about the horse as an athlete. Because I feel like my riding is almost a selfish pursuit at times, I will do whatever possible to make my horse comfortable. This means I spend a fair amount of time making sure he is happy and healthy.

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How does this piece of your life affect the other corners of your day-to-day existence ?

In the most obvious way, I have less time to do other things. During college, I spent so much time at the barn, it was nearly impossible to join any other activity. I don’t regret this, though.

Through riding, I’ve become more aware of my body outside the saddle. I’m a lot more patient, because you absolutely have to be to ride dressage, or work with horses generally. Because of dressage, I realize the interconnectedness of things more. For example, how your mind affects your body, and vice versa. Also, the interconnectedness of animals and people. Riding has also made me more empathetic.

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What does success mean to you in terms of a day at the barn?

Being open to what my horse has to say and not getting frustrated if I don’t understand, or don’t get what I expect from him. Every rider has to learn that 95% of the time, anything that is going wrong has to do with them. This is a very hard thing to accept, as it is our inclination to blame anyone or anything but ourselves. If I don’t fight my horse out of my own inability to accept my faults, it’s a good day.

The best days have breakthroughs. They usually involve the tiniest things that make a big impact on my horse’s movement, like adjusting the weight in each hip bone or stretching one of my legs back more. When I’m shouting and smiling because I’m so excited about what I’ve learned, that’s a good day. Also, spending time cantering around and laughing is always fun.

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Did you have any mentors? What are the most important lessons you learned from them?

Coralie Hughes, my trainer and friend at my old barn. To me, she exemplifies what dressage is about–the overwhelming love for the horse, so much that being without the ability to ride irks her. She plays an active part in her journey, learning everything she possibly can and always questioning. She has made me more aware of my body and how it effects my horse’s riding. She forever changed my view of riding.

What is the most challenging part of riding?

Learning to let go of your humanity. This means learning to relax when you are terrified out of your mind. Doing the exact opposite of the instinct drilled into us since we evolved. Listening instead of shouting. Taking a step back and just breathing. You have a living mirror underneath you.

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Thank you Rachel!
I can say with the utmost honesty (due to the fact that I’ve known her since 4th grade!), that Rachel is a true individual and beautiful to boot. Not to mention, she has an amazingly thoughtful and inquisitive mind. (okay, lesbian rant ended.) You should definitely take a gander at her blog: www.rachelgearinger.wordpress.com 
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  1. Pingback: Stepping Out Of Your Comfort Zone And Into Chocolate + Matcha Cupcakes | Elizabeth Sensky

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