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May 2011
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If I Had Known

I wish I had known as a kid that it was OK to be scared and nervous. That these feelings were valid. But I was a know-it-all kid and that meant I couldn’t admit weakness. As an adult, I have been known to say “I’m scared” or “this feels too fast!” in the middle of a jumping lesson. Although I say it like I am kidding, I’m not. I wish I had learned as a kid that sometimes it’s OK to quit when things aren’t going right, or to jump off a horse when you feel scared. Sometimes that’s better than staying on. HorseGirls might be tough, but they don’t have to be brave all the time. Or stupid either.

The bad thing about having the necessary skills to accomplish a task is that it makes it harder to give credence to those fears, like I should have the day I fractured my shoulder. If I had been brave enough to quit when I realized I just wasn’t having a good day, that Sadie and I just weren’t clicking (at all!), I would have kept more of my confidence intact (and my shoulder too). But making that call is hard, especially in the context of a lesson. Especially when you are being told you can do it. Especially when you’ve done it before. Especially when you want to push yourself and improve. But there is always tomorrow. There’s no hurry. Not really. And so much of riding is about mental state.

I am not a brave rider by nature. Sure, I’ll fall off and get right back on (and fall off again and get back on, and fall off one more time and still get back on), but I don’t think that makes me brave. It definitely doesn’t make me confident. Foolish, maybe.

When I have students who seem nervous or afraid, I get it. More and more, I try to talk with my students about their fears. “What are you worried about?” has become one of my favorite questions. I have found that if we can talk about our fears, we can practice the skills required to help those fears go away (I have worked so stinking much harder on my position since my shoulder injury). For instance, if I have a student worried about falling off at the canter, I can remind her that she’s passed all the canter tests (posting trot with no stirrups, two-point with no hands at the trot, two up/one down and two down/one up), that I feel confident she can do it, that keeping her heels down and her eyes up will help her stay where she belongs.

Sometimes, acknowledging the fear and talking about how to overcome it make it possible for the student to press on. Sometimes I ask the next question, which is “Will you feel disappointed if you go home and you didn’t canter (or whatever) today?” If the answer is yes (and it usually is), then we still have work to do. If the answer is no (and it really is OK with me if it is), then we call it a day or move on to something different.

And this is something I think is important: to feel safe enough to be able to say “I don’t want to do that” and for it to be left at that. Because riding really is supposed to be fun, and being scared is no fun. And also, learning to ride is about learning how to be a confident and assertive leader, and sometimes that means standing up for yourself. And that’s why I think learning to ride is important, even though it isn’t a fundamental skill (unless there really is an Apocalypse or we really do run out of oil) like reading or writing or even (gasp!) math.


Comment from Caroline
Time May 28, 2011 at 9:15 AM

I like this one!!!

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