Neu Perspectives

A Western Workflow

A young child stands holding a group of ponies.

Everyone has a process, whether it looks like leaning into the chaos or mapping out a plan. Just don’t forget to treat yourself at the end of a hard day’s work.

That feeling of productivity can be addictive, can’t it?

I don’t just mean with our horses, although I’m sure many of you have felt elated after a tack room clean out AND a good ride in the same afternoon. Strangely enough, sometimes it seems as though productivity with an animal can be the counterpart to enjoying them. I believe they are meant to help balance, guide and humble us and offer insight into the simple, wonderful things our world has to offer.

But, looking on the business side of things and being a (somewhat) professional facility where 200 things can arise in a day to take us away from getting the right things done, we really do relish and appreciate a day where the boxes get checked (with time at the end of it for a refreshing drink!)

I just recently learned there is reason and purpose in chasing this feeling, and that term has changed my thinking. It’s called “workflow,” and apparently, just about everyone else utilizes this process in their industries and when completing a task. Workflow is basically a thoughtful, carefully planned sequence of tasks and activities needed to successfully complete a project. There are articles, manuals — heck, probably volumes written on the topic — and it’s an important part of low-drama efficiency and productivity in the workplace.

I learned about this concept while at a writing and photography workshop, and I feel like it has validated my reasons for doing things the way I do to find the best patterns for my situation. I can only imagine the benefits of this to someone who shows and travels a lot. Most full-time or professional horsemen have a team that is a well-oiled machine, and I have no doubt that getting their workflow dialed in is a big part of that success. For us, having just a few of us around here, it’s still amazing what sort of effect the plan behind the process can have.

I think it’s important to respect that every horse trainer, owner, rider, etc., has their own approach and system that works well for them. Some of them lean into chaos and let it guide their days. Others take a much more methodical approach and follow a routine, step by step. There is a purpose behind the rhythm and often a creative process that happens alongside the individual steps.

It’s also imperative to remember that as a visitor, friend, customer or just an enthusiast, the concept of training horses is an inspired process. As a writer, I need time to sort my thoughts and spill them on paper. It would be very difficult to paint a stunning watercolor picture with someone looking over your shoulder, asking, “Now, why did you use that color?” and “Oh … Did you mean to make the pine tree look that large?” On the same note, it would be tough to work behind a bank counter and divvy out the proper amount of money every time someone is visiting, chatting and videotaping you “just so they can learn.”

We have people show up all the time who want to learn and want to help. There is nothing more wonderful than that sort of attitude, and every barn, ranch and facility appreciates that. But it’s a really hard thing to manage a new temporary employee while also trying to do your best work. No one can learn your workflow in a couple of days. And it’s hard to explain a process you are still trying to figure out for yourself. Certain things have a right and a wrong, and most folks are happy to assist a newcomer’s navigation of these. But others take hours … years … a lifetime even to grow and improve, and some horse folks never get very good at asking for help or explaining things.

Workflow, chaos, routine or something else, good on you for being out there, doing your thing. And I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone from taking the initiative to help out or learn from others involved in what fuels your passion. But know that there is purpose behind the process. As with everything else involving horses, we must all take our time, have some feel, exercise flexibility and avoid feeling personally attacked when it doesn’t work out like clockwork.

Just be sure to pencil in enough time for that cold beverage at the end of a long day.

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