May 15, 2016 8 Comments
This has been a tough weekend for equestrians everywhere, as another bright young light in eventing was extinguished when a rider died from injuries sustained during a prominent 3* event, and another rider’s horse was euthed, also from injuries sustained during the same competition. (Godspeed, Philippa and Ouija. #KickOn on through Heaven’s gate.)
I’m not an eventer, nowhere near it. But for the last week, I’ve been hobbling painfully around on a grossly swollen knee, having come off about ten days ago when my horse spooked just as I was mounting. I got hung up in a stirrup, and before it broke free, my left knee got a pretty good twist. A visit to the orthopod confirmed there’s no serious damage (thank you God) however, it’s still pretty swollen and sore, I’m in a brace and he put me on stall rest for a week.
Late last week, one of my coworkers asked me what happened, and when she heard I fell off my horse, she asked me point blank why I do it. Why I, and otherwise logical person (her words) who is within spitting distance of her 50th birthday (some additional detail for you) would ride horses on a daily basis.
I said something about it being fun and the fulfillment of a lifelong dream when I answered her, but there’s more to it – much more – than that. Sitting on my couch, reading the sad news from Jersey Fresh, and resting after an early morning run to the barn to meet the vet (my retiree drove a stick into his head, into a sinus cavity – awesome) I’ve been reflecting on that question. Why do I do this? Because I am going to be back in the saddle as soon as this knee allows.
Why do I do it?
I think the answer I would give would be the same answer that mountain climbers or avid downhill skiers would give: give: danger is no reason to quit, danger is the reason why we wear helmets. However, there’s a lot more to it than thrill seeking. When you get to that point where you’re operating on the edge of fear and performance, something magical can happen. This is the land outside your comfort zone.
I don’t think any of us seek danger for danger’s sake. However, when you get far enough outside your comfort zone to represent a real risk, that’s where development happens. That’s where learning solidifies. That’s where real success is found. I would also say it’s where confidence is born.
I’m not a great rider, and have achieved nothing noteworthy in the show ring.
The high point of my career on the dressage court is the free walk I got out of a difficult mare in our first test in front of a judge. She scared the crap out of me, she tested me thoroughly, and she spent the hours before that test walking around on her hind legs. But I got on, and got it done. That was a seminal moment for me.
That said, I’m no daredevil. But there’s something deeper, more fundamental, that happens when you break through your fear, and you grow as a result. The product of that is self confidence, and I guess that’s what makes riding (and other challenging endeavors) addicting.
In addition to growing your confidence, this process also generates another important byproduct: grit. As you learn to manage fear, and improve your performance, you also become a grittier person. And you learn that fear can be vanquished.
I remember one ride on the scary mare in particular. I was learning how to package her power, and during one lesson, I got this absolutely monster trot out of her – it was actually intimidating. I remember shouting my fear to my trainer:
“What is going on with this trot?!?” I (probably) shrieked at her.
“You’re getting suspension!!!” she was delighted.
“I don’t like it!!!” I insisted as I went down the other side.
“YES YOU DO” was her unequivocal response.
I eventually did learn how to generate and hold that power, and I’ve learned to seek it and love it. In that moment, your horse transforms into a Maserati with a tuned suspension, super-car steering and power. Wow, the power. It’s intoxicating.
For me, the Maserati moments are the Promised Land, and getting there is a constant uphill climb. And that climb requires I face my fears, and let me tell you, they are abundant, because the disappearance of confidence in the saddle is a well documented phenomenon amidst women of certain age.
But I don’t want to quit. I’m not going to stay on the ground, brushing my horse’s tail. (Except for when my knee is the size of a cantaloupe, then yes, I will do that.)
Point is, if I’m not going to quit, I have to ride, and that means getting outside my comfort zone on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, and sometimes it flat out hurts, but what’s the alternative? Sitting at home watching sitcoms at night? Oh, hell no. If you need me, I’ll be at the barn.