The sound of galloping horse hooves implies action and adventure. The notion of riding off into the sunset of one’s destiny provides a frame through which we can view any task. As we climb atop the noble steed of our academic studies, we might reflect on the twin value of fun and function that guide life’s enjoyable pursuits. If we can’t sometimes have a good time learning then we’re much more likely to take a spill or maybe give up the ride. When our grades fall off remembering our successes will help us get back on all the quicker: we’re here for a good time as well as a diplomaed time!
For equestrian types, a horse can be a beloved member of the family as well as a useful tool. But there’s also stables to shovel and hooves to trim. Likewise, our studies hinge on us being part workhorse and part weekend warrior; seeing the rewards of our labour can reduce some of the sting of sacrificing our leisure time to accomplish assignments. As metaphor horseback riding is fine, yet domestic horses are a new phenomenon in terms of human evolution. Recent archaeology reveals the first humans to spend significant time riding horses were only 5 000 years ago. Compare this to the first Homo sapiens emerging a full half a million years ago! (Handwerk, 2021). That’s a lot of time on foot, and it begs the question: after sharing grasslands with horses for so long, did the first would-be John Wayne domesticate and climb atop a steed for a good time or for a certain purpose? Maybe both, and it behooves us (no pun intended) to remember that even the toughest moments of coursework are part of a process of enlightened betterment as we cantor our way to a better future.
Technology is a tricky beast to tame; newness does not unequivocally translate into better. Horses are not so different from glowing blue computer screens that make eyes sore and circadian rhythms askew: riding them can have negative health consequences. In fact, the reason archaeologists know that later models of the human race (later in terms of those half million years of being a species) rode horses is that such people bear the marks of their passion. “Horseback riding is a very specific pattern of biomechanical stress. You use muscle groups in a way you usually don’t do in everyday locomotion” (Bartels, 2023). There’s even a name for such distress to our corporeal realm: “horseman’s syndrome”. Anyone who’s suffered from carpal tunnel pain from typing interminably on their laptop keyboard can surely agree, as can a person whose thumbs have become fatigued from carrying on endless smartphone text conversations on a warm spring day while lurching from shade to shade to see the screen. Whatever the motivation for new technologies (including technologies on four legs), advances in mental or physical locomotion are not unceasingly positive. To take a balanced view of our studies also means to address problems and to elevate positives.
Ready, Set, Study At Your Own Pace!
A somewhat antiquated phrase for beating an ideological dead horse is to climb onto one’s hobby horse. Many of us have key topics in current events or politics that we circle back to endlessly, like a horsey being trained in a pen. Such a journey between ourselves and our companion beliefs bears literal parallels in the realm of literal hobby horses. These toys, often consisting of a crafted horsey head atop a broomstick or toilet plunger, are hugely popular in Finland where competitors literally engage in steeple chase obstacle courses, all the while clutching their maned pet. Like a favourite pet peeve or pop culture hero, these riders come to value their toy horses so much that they believe them to have a personality and skill set all their own. During online horse auctions they describe these inanimate but attractive pets in equally lifelike fashion: “Some of the horses are good at jumping and some are fast” (Turner, 2017). To make the grade riders must exhibit “elegant movements” and perfect rhythm”. Competitions with judges are so serious that a loser may leave the room “to cry” because “your steps have to be light and beautiful”. Horseback riders may get weird spinal curvature but clearly hobbyhorses are fraught with emotional peril.
Now, fake it till you make it may have some value in coping with exam stress or bibliography bugaboos, but this fake horsing about seems, if not a bit much, then certainly an example of how the fun of a hobby can lead into function and then, when competition enters the picture, end in tears. Or, for that matter, jubilation over having proved oneself better than others. As for competition and horsey rides ending in tears, AU too is a deeply personal project, and one that can enter tricky terrain if we try to compare ourselves to others too much. Non-students and scholars alike may not agree with, or even respect, our studies, and that’s okay. It’s not a race or a popularity contest; distance education is about giddying up on the way to our destiny. If we feel lithe and limber and ready to bound across meadows, that’s great. Yet in the end it’s how we privately relate to our learning that’ll form the bond of a lifetime between ourselves and our studies. We’re all solitary cowpokes as distance education students.
Finding solace in our solitary studies can provide perspective on society and by extension the social sciences. What does it say about the state of humanity that a timeless childhood toy is now the subject of such rigorous competition? Anyone who’s seen a gamer wig out fervidly while playing a video game can glean an answer: we live in the most intense of times where extremes of anxiety are always nearby and persistence of jubilation much further away. Playing aimlessly with toys and wandering in a fog of daydreams seems a distant memory. However, the fun of just studying as its own reward can enter our academic picture when we let ourselves wander into the nether regions of our textbooks and extra readings that aren’t assigned. Let your mind run wild a bit and that can trigger the imagination which is what makes us the inquisitive and thoughtful students we are all. Like a horse gambolling when released free into a pasture we, too, can at times allow ourselves to study as though the gate were left open.