I took four riding lessons last week, and my hips this morning are berating me for the abuse. They are not the only parts of me who endured abuse, my ego gets slammed every time I mount a horse. When I decided to learn to ride it was because I imagined it to be fun, exhilarating and somewhat natural for me to do. While it is exhilarating, not always fun, it has never felt natural. And the instructors are not shy about pointing out my repeated failures. “Stop, put your heels down for the love of God”… “your legs are forward again”… “if your upper body is tense, your horse will be tense”… “be firm in the leg and loose at the same time”…”if you hold your reins like that and the horse gets spooked you are on your #$%”…”don’t let the horse tell you what to do, he’s not stubborn he’s smarter than you”…”what are you doing?”
Why in the world do I continue to sign up for more lessons? I am getting better, though not as quickly as I hoped. I’m entranced with the understanding of horse behavior and psychology. I love being around the stable and learning to tack the horse, walk him across the pasture, give him a good brushing and shower. Occasionally a horse will nuzzle my neck with his head and I melt. I think the workout I get has been surprisingly intense and that’s a bonus. To have to concentrate so intently on learning something while out in the fresh air with beautiful views makes me forget every detail of my life, and I’m sunk deep in the moment I occupy. Ah hah. I relish having this sort of fun escape. Taking in the beauty of the animal refreshes my artistic tendencies. Romance…beauty…adventure… horseback riding has it all.
The broader answer is something I can see that I have repeated over the course of my life. Being a student is good for me. In most areas of my life I am a leader or the teacher. How can I ever be a good leader if I am not always remembering how hard it is to be a student? Thinking back over the (gulp) decades here are a few of my endeavors to learn something difficult… the bible…teaching fitness…piano…photography…novel writing… Spanish…and now I want to understand the equestrian world. And they can be a rough bunch.
I take lessons at two stables because I have found two teachers who teach me in different ways that make a good well rounded instruction. In one place I get all the stable instruction and a lot more freedom in the ring to practice what I’m learning. In the other place there’s no experience in the stable, only a hyper focus on training my body to align perfectly on the horse no matter what I ask him to do. She keeps me on the line and instructs my every tiny movement. From both situations I learn so much. However, building up the sort of strength required to ride well takes a lot of practice. There’s nothing we do in our normal day that resembles what is necessary to have the strength to ride well. And I get out of breath! I’m determined to rise to the physical challenges.
On Saturday I was qualified to take my first group lesson, which felt like a promotion. My instructor believed that I was ready to control the horse while there were other horses in the ring. I rode Bill, a horse I am becoming fond of, but also beginning to understand his quirky ways, and I love this guy. We had a flawless ride that morning and afterwards my instructor said, “you rode really well today!” (and she said it in front of other people, tee hee) Oh my goodness, I felt like a little kid receiving praise and it gave me a bounce all day long.
Then on Sunday nights Jack and I are signed up to take a lesson at the same time with different instructors, at the other stable. My usual instructor had to rush her 14 year old daughter to the ER because she fell off the horse right onto her head. I confess that gave me a little tension. When I realized the owner of the stable was going to give me my lesson, my tension increased. She’s really old and cranky with a bark that makes me jump. So when I mounted Gunner, a horse I am just beginning to ride, he sensed all my tension and it made him nervous. He refused to move for me, so she gave me a whip to hold just because it will tell him to listen to my gentler cues. There were a few times in that lesson when he looked back at me, tossed his body slightly, and let me know he was thinking of dumping me on my butt. I felt more vulnerable than ever before on top of a horse. I wasn’t afraid so much as I realized I needed to know what they are teaching to prevent an accident.
Suddenly it all became clear. If I learn to hold on correctly with my legs and hold the reins just right, and keep in control of what the horse is doing, then I’m not going to break my tail bone (worse than it already is). The more I learn about riding, the more I realize there is to learn, and this is what I’m after. It is like photography or writing, I’ll never get it just right, but trying is fun. So, I’m hooked. I am not sure what this means for my future. We certainly don’t have room at home for a horse. I don’t necessarily have time to take care of all of a horse’s needs. And Craig said I have to ride for a year before we can talk about having a horse… but I have to confess…I’m wondering what would be the perfect horse for me to have so I can become a better rider and have as much saddle time as I can squeeze into my life. And… will it be a horse I can share with Jack? Kira? Poor Craig, it’s a good thing what he loves about me is my passion, or he would be the one to dump me on my #$%.
(And that cranky old teacher, we really connected in my lesson, and I think I’m going to adopt her. I can’t resist original spunk in a person.)