"In riding as in life" is one of my favorite sayings, because I see the world through horse-shaped glasses and it's strangely accurate.
I used to think I was a good rider. Then I started riding with good riders and realized that no, I really wasn't all that good. But while it was tempting to label myself a bad rider and get down on my abilities, I realized that bad riders aren't the people who are less skilled--they're the ones who won't learn.
So I frantically learned and soaked up knowledge from every angle. If there's a clinic, I'm there auditing. If there's a lesson, I want to watch it. If there's a book, I'm reading it. I've even watched a surprising amount of videos for someone who hates video on principle. Theory. Practice. Application.
And once I started trending towards "competent at the lower levels", I switched horses.
And when I tried to apply all the excellent theories and and techniques I knew that were so ideal and correct, it backfired. Hard.
Because theory is great, but as all the great trainers know, each individual is important.
And no matter how perfect your theory is and how bad you want something and how hard you train for it, if the individual doesn't want it too, it's not going to happen.
So at the time, I tried everything I could think of to make it happen.
And it didn't.
The harder I tried, the worse it got.
I didn't want to admit it. I wanted to power through. If I just did more, tried harder, studied better, got a different teacher, had better facilities, bought different tack, tried a new discipline, surely then I could make it. I could achieve my way into success.
What I did was piss off my individual horse. A lot.
And he's not really the forgiving sort.
When we landed with my current trainer, we'd take an hour long lesson in which we did like... 10 walk/trot transitions. That was it. Walk and praise him. Give him a pet. Big release. Try again next week or next month or whatever. No rush. Take a deep breath. It's fine.
Of course, given my hellbent plan to achieve and learn and whatever, I couldn't take it. I'd work my ass off between lessons. Study. Push. Try. Bad rides meant bad days and maybe not tears, but definitely feelings of failure and distress, which is a lot of pressure to put on a horse you're already being a jerk to and who again, isn't the most forgiving horse.
And sure, we can talk about whether he's the right horse. The answer is probably not. He's difficult. He's temperamental. He doesn't take jokes.
But he's a fantastic life horse, even if he's never the show phenom I dreamed of.
He's like me. Slow to trust. Quick to react. Good at holding grudges. Sensitive, flamboyant, loyal.
And when my life shit and my accident shit and my horse shit kind of all overflowed on each other, a lot of bad things happened. (Example: spending Christmas on drugs on my couch. Massively shitty.)
But good things have happened too--because I couldn't physically do anything, I didn't. Because I haven't been able to function normally in months, now I can't.
And I don't think the ninja goddess knows it, but my physical therapy has been a lot of emotional therapy too. I always ask her why we do the exercises we do and have the set backs we have. She's very good at explaining. She tells me that recovery is not a linear process. That the most important thing I can do is just a little, tiny exercise, but it will make a huge difference if I'm patient and let it.
That sometimes the harder we try, the worse things get.
That some things just take time.
That sometimes they get worse before they get better.
That I can't overachieve myself out of this corner.
That I need to be patient, but determined.
That goals are good, but flexibility is better.
That just because I can make something happen, doesn't mean I should.
And all those things maybe seem simple and trite. They're nice catch phrases that I could probably spit out this whole time, but it's not about being able to mouth the words. It's about having a bad pain day and actually being okay with sitting on the couch taking drugs instead of achieving. It's about letting go of my need for perfection and validation and admitting that shit happens and it's not okay, but the world keeps on spinning.
It creates this beautiful perspective in which a bad ride is actually a good day, because I felt good enough to try. And if Courage is having a Courage day, I don't take it personally. We'll just try again tomorrow. Or next week. Or whenever.
The change wasn't overnight and yeah, sometimes it was way worse and I wouldn't say it's 100% better now, but instead of being a jerk to my horse and trying to drill him into achieving, things are trending upwards. He's an individual. I'm an individual.
And now, whether or not I used to be a good rider, I'm really not currently. I can't just power through, because I don't have the strength or the reflexes I used to.
In my weakness, I'm learning to listen.
And in riding as in life, that's the first step.