I’ve always had an affinity for large animals. I love big dogs, elephants, harp seals (in high school and in early college I was obsessed with harp seals–you know, the beautiful white ones with the big black eyes?!), and horses. I really do love them. My mom asked me the other day if I was ever scared of them because they are so big and powerful. I honestly told her that wasn’t even a concern or a feeling that has ever crossed my mind. But then I got to thinking… should I be afraid of them? Should I be less naive, and realize that these 2,000 pound beings that I want to cuddle with like a puppy are so solid and strong that they could actually hurt me? Honestly, I think not. And it’s all because of TRUST.
In May of this year I began weekly horseback riding lessons at the Misty Rivers Equestrian Center just 15 minutes from my house. I knew pretty mulch zilch about horses other than they are cute, big, fun, and of the few times I’d ridden them on vacations, etc. they were easy-going creatures. Let’s just say that’s about right–I knew zilch. While they are cute, and big, and fun, and CAN be easy-going, I have since been made keenly aware that they are highly intelligent, empathetic, moody, and often unpredictable. Therefore, my rose-colored glasses which caused me to see these animals as merely puppets on the ends of reins, have been tossed aside. Learning to ride these guys, I mean really RIDE them, is SUPER HARD!!
The challenges I’ve faced over the past 7 months have stretched me in directions I didn’t think possible. I often retreat from things that are challenging. If something is physically difficult I will try and power through, but if I don’t catch on quickly, I give up. For example, the first time I went snow skiing, I was all “Nah, I don’t need lessons…I’m an athlete…I got this…” Guess how that turned out for me? NOT GOOD. And then if something is “brain-power” challenging??? Nope…I quickly run from that. I literally told my kids once when they were in elementary school that they didn’t need to worry about how to do the math problems they were working on because we had Iphones. (Mom of the year award right there people!) So, if you know anything about horseback riding (no, not the kind where you ride on a trained, almost mechanical-in-nature-like horse at a resort in Branson or Costa Rica), but the REAL kind of riding, then you know it takes tremendous amount of physicality AND critical thinking skills. Oh, and not to mention relying on my memory, quick decision making, listening skills, and trying not to focus on one’s lady parts being highly aggravated. And you know what’s best part? ALL OF THESE THINGS ARE HAPPENING SIMULTANEOUSLY!!!!!!!
I am learning to ride dressage from my incredibly patient, fun, and super smart teacher, Kathleen. This style involves lots of detailed turns, directional changes, communication with the horse, presentation, and focus. I never dreamt I would have to do math, engage my core, talk with “my hands”, use my voice, and entertain a whole plethora of other detailed physical movement while JUST riding a horse. Enter: my off the mat yoga practice.
Patience is not my strongest virtue. I pretty much want what I want, and I want it now. Yoga has taught me that slowing down, taking my time, and practicing the asanas over, and over, and over again is what it takes to feel better about my physical practice. Learning to do forearm balance has probably taken me 8 years and thousands of attempts. So why shouldn’t riding a horse be any different? It shouldn’t! But, I’ll be damned if I didn’t just plop myself up on that beautiful creature and expect it to be simple, and just “click” for me (kind of like that whole snow skiing situation). And then there’s the actual preparation of my horse. It goes a little something like this: Get all of his tack from the tack room; go and round him up from God knows where in the pasture; lead him to the hitching rail during which time he wants to eat EVERY SINGLE BLADE OF GRASS along the way; tie his halter rope to the rail (a very specific way with very specific knots, etc.); brush him; check his hooves for gunk; “dress” him (half pad, full pad, saddle, girth, reins, etc. etc. etc.); get him to take the bit, which he doesn’t always want; AND do it all EXACTLY right so that neither the horse nor I are in any sort of jeopardy. CAN’T WE JUST GET ON WITH IT ALREADY?!?! We aren’t even in the area yet!!! (Enter my dear friend, Patience, once again.)
I have almost fallen off twice. I have had to change horses a time or two, due to a variety of reasons. I have bruised my tailbone, hurt my back and neck, and did I mention the lady parts? I have been REALLY frustrated. I’ve been sweaty, freezing, and sunburned. And, I’ve thought about quitting more than once. So why haven’t I quit yet? Because the rewards outweigh the fore-mentioned belly-aching ten-fold. Without a doubt I am in love with this new adventure.
I love the feeling of accomplishment when Kathleen asks me to do something and both the horse, and I CONNECT, and we get it. I’m learning to trust her, trust my horse, and most importantly trust myself! Sticking with this whole process and not quitting is showing me that I can indeed do hard things–physically, mentally, and psychologically. Staying patient with myself during those times when I just can’t get my partner to do what I ask is teaching me humility, as well as grace with myself. The physicality of it all is requiring me to explore new areas of building my external strength. Taking my time to do all of the steps for preparing both me and my horse is an act of self love that I don’t do very often. Conquering the feelings of being worried about the unknown while cantering (which is sort of like slow galloping, but feels like running to me!) are teaching me to use my focus, breath, and confidence in ways I don’t get to in my every day life.
Thank you yoga. Thank you for showing me that my practice is more than just the physical poses and shapes that I make on my mat. Thank you for teaching me that if I just slow down, TRUST the process, and BE PATIENT, I can find the most rewarding ways to open doors to experiences such as these that are making me a happier and healthier person!