Many of you know I ride horses in my spare time. I began riding in my 40s and started taking lessons in my 50s. I’m not very good at it, but I have fun trying. I love being outdoors and far away from my computer. Riding makes me forget about everything else. It keeps me in the here and now.
I tried English, but I prefer to ride Western. The bigger saddle makes me feel more comfortable and maybe a wee bit safer. But even in a big saddle you have to be balanced and activate your core.
Beyond that, a lot depends on how well you communicate with your horse. I don’t mean talking. Horses communicate in other ways, and learning to speak their language can be challenging. A lot has to do with energy. The calmer and more peaceful the rider is, the more relaxed the horse will be.
I’m currently riding a mare named Jazz at Triple R. She has a fabulous disposition and is very responsive. But sometimes I show up for my lesson feeling a little stressed out. Jazz feels my stress, and it makes her stressed. My instructor reminds me to breathe and not worry so much about doing everything perfectly all the time.
These are good lessons for me since I tend to be a control freak. I micromanage to a fault. It’s not something I’m proud of, but somehow this passion for perfection became part of who I am. I wish I could change.
That’s where horses come in. You can’t micromanage a horse. You have to be on a team and work together. As the rider, it’s my job to let the horse know what I want. Intention is important. The hard part can be translating the intention into horse language.
Let’s say we’re trotting, and I’m starting to get nervous because I’m out of balance or maybe Jazz speeds up a bit. Instead of taking a deep breath and sitting deeper in my seat, I communicate my nervous energy to her, and she thinks I want her to go even faster. Whoa!
I have a choice in this situation. I can pull on the reins and ask her to stop. But at my last lesson my instructor suggested I try to go with the faster pace and learn how to be comfortable there. What a revelation. Instead of being nervous and slowing down, I’m using my skills, such as they are, to gain confidence at the faster pace, and I have a chance to use other methods (relaxing, breathing, sitting deeper in my seat) to ask Jazz to slow down.
I’m learning there are different ways to reach the same goal, maybe even better ways. When I think about how this lesson translates to my life out of the saddle, it’s crystal clear. My way is not always the right way or the best way.
When we challenge ourselves, we grow. When we stay in a rut, we don’t. I hope you are finding ways to get out of your comfort zone and learn about yourself. Horses are one way, but there are others. Make sure you include regular opportunities to recreate. Just as the word implies, it’s a chance to re-create yourself for the better.
PS - Enjoy our inspiring cover story this month about therapy animals!