Couch Time Isn't For Everyone

Oct 19, 2021 - 7:55 AM

Ravi, my fiancé, and I just spent five days in Seattle, a place neither of us had ever been. Prior to this trip, we’d taken a three-day outing to Kansas City, and a few two-day trips to Washington, D.C., and that’s been it for the two of us. I got to spend a weekend in Savannah once, and also a few days in San Francisco in my 20s. And … that’s it, for vacations. This is the longest non-work trip I’ve ever taken as an adult.

Blogger Lauren Sprieser and her fiancé Ravi Perisastry enjoying the longest non-work trip she’s taken in her adult life.  Photos Courtesy of Lauren Sprieser

Part of the reason I don’t often take them is because I really like my work. I love to ride and teach, of course. And I’m presented so many wonderful travel opportunities with that great job, between the places that I get to teach clinics, and the occasional buying trip to Europe, so I get to stretch my global legs.

But those are work trips. The vacation thing, with downtime and leisure, is… a challenge for me. I’m not good at the turning-off-of-the-brain part. Ravi challenged me to try and embark upon this vacation without an extensively thought-out itinerary, and so naturally we had a carefully planned list of activities for each day, with a brief window of time on the last day, and reservations for dinner for most nights.

I tried to lean into the relaxation part, I really did. I even was vaguely successful some of the time, and we did have a lovely time, seeing all of the touristy things, eating ALLLLL of the things, and main-lining coffee to contend with a combination of chronic insomnia and the time change. (I’m the only person in the world who’s bad at traveling west.)

As I lay awake at 1 a.m. one morning, it made me think about how both Puck and Elvis experienced their downtime this fall.

Elvis came home in fighting form from our trip to the U.S.  Dressage Festival of Champions, but I wanted to give him a break, because we cannot expect our horses to stay in prime condition all the time. The original plan was for two weeks of hacking, which he did enjoy for the first week, but as we began Week 2, something changed. He was stiff in his back in a way that was unexpected; he’s never been as flexible to the right as he is to the left, but suddenly he was simply a board.

I ended up putting him back to a bit of light work earlier than planned, and in a few days, his body was tremendously better. And it was that thought that got me into the hotel gym at the end of our stay in Seattle, because even though we walked all over the place, and I stretched every morning, getting out of my routine was making my body hurt in ways I didn’t like. I felt so much better the next day, and it’s a note for me for future vacations (if I’m ever allowed to take one again): Physical routine does have its costs, but it also is what we’re used to, and that’s a comfort to our bodies as well as our minds.

Elvis showed us the kind of vacation he prefers. Restorative downtime can mean something different for every horse and rider.

That isn’t to say a physical break isn’t sometimes an asset. Puck, who is not as temperamentally suited to downtime as Elvis is, got a different type of break: a few weeks of working for shorter periods of time and in a lower outline. The end result was that he actually laid on some new muscle which, naturally, has caused us to need a new saddle … sigh. (In fairness, this was probably a path we were headed on anyway, but the timing is pretty funny!)

The mental part also has been interesting. Elvis and Puck are both very social horses, eager to engage, but Elvis became more aloof during his downtime. Since returning to work, he’s happier to see me in the mornings. And both he and Puck would make this nasty face when I went to work my other horses instead of starting my day with them, which was an interesting phenomenon to observe, particularly for Puck, who is very outgoing and gets along well with everyone.

I, too, only enjoyed my let-down for so long. I loved our first few days of museum tours and walking about, but by Day 4, I was really ready to head home. Still, I’m delighted to have gone, and I returned very refreshed and ready to leap back in with both feet.

It was an interesting experience, because I’ve lived so long in this world being told that I need to relax, need to prioritize my mental health, need to stop being married to my job. And that’s true, I do. But what downtime looks like for one person isn’t what downtime looks like for every person. In the same way that a full-stop break would have made Puck bananas, I started to twitch after a few days. In the same way that Elvis’ body hated just hacking, mine hated just walking around. We’re not all wired for couch time.

Lauren Sprieser is a USDF gold, silver and bronze medalist making horses and riders to FEI from her farm in Marshall, Virginia. She’s currently developing The Elvis Syndicate’s Guernsey Elvis and her own string of young horses with hopes of one day representing the United States in team competition. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.


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