Monday, March 20, 2017

The Next Phase

"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.


  1. I so often learn lessons from horses that I apply to life. Good to know that life lessons can apply back to horses.

    I hope your recovery doesn't have too many more bad days though.

  2. this might be your best post. well done. (also does your PT do head therapy as well?? she sounds great)

  3. I've come to terms with the fact that I am no longer a good rider, and that I will never be a good rider again because of my health. Jack is seven, still doesn't leg yield, and it doesn't matter because it's not like we're going to Devon. It's very freeing. I can putz around as much as I like, Jack can be as goofy as he likes, and there's absolutely no repercussion. Will we ever be competitive at any level? Who cares? I wish I'd taken that pressure off myself and my horses years ago.

  4. Makes a lot of sense, sounds like you're in a good mental place with it all which with horses and all things in life is the majority of the battle. Accepting the things you can't change and having the courage to change the things you can.

  5. That almost bulleted list is so simple yet so easily forgotten. For where I am (a horseless rider trying to get her shit together) it's a great reminder that I'm adding to world in a spot where I will see it.

  6. I'm always amazed at the lessons our horses will teach us, if we just try to listen and learn.

  7. Horses have taught me life lessons beyond count and beyond measure. It's one of the the things I love about them <3

  8. I often wonder how people who don't have horses learn valauble life lessons. My horses have made me face myself- the good and the bad. How would that have happened without them? Would I be doomed to go through life oblivious? Too many questions but what a good post.

    1. Ha I always wonder if non-horse people found a cheaper method to the same ends.

  9. This is amazing. And I second Teresa, how DO people with horses learn valuable life lessons? I know I'd be a fraction of the human I am if I didn't have lessons from horses in my life.

  10. There's this great little diagram that shows the path of progress and how it twists and turns and basically looks like a game of chutes & ladders. I always forget about that when I'm in the middle of it and when I do remember, it's a "duh" moment. It's seems obvious when you reflect back on it (like most things)

  11. Everything about this is so true and relatable. THe wonder of horses and working with them. Being a horseman. Thank you for sharing. They continue to amaze me.

  12. Learning to listen is so hard, all our early riding life were told as you say "to power through" & "not take no for an answer" - but the owning my own horses vs lessoning woke me up to the notion of riding the horse you have on a given day rather than trying to conform them to my agenda #holylightbulbmoment
    Doesn't make for less frustration but it sure does help in the aftermath postride analysis & musings


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