Your Turn: The chocolate clause
“How do you treat falling as something to be avoided but not something to be excessively feared?” Chelsea Alexander shares her own trainer’s deliciously foolproof method.
Riders are always going to fall off horses. When you start riding, it’s not a question of if you’ll fall off, but when. It’s an unavoidable part of the sport, and it’s something that has to be impressed upon new riders. But while falling is bound to happen, it is certainly not something that should be constantly feared. Gaining that healthy balance between respect for a horse’s power and confidence that you can handle whatever they throw at you can be difficult for any level rider, but with kids it can be even more difficult. How do you treat falling as something to be avoided but not something to be excessively feared?
My trainer long ago came up with a foolproof method for getting kids (and adults, too) in that correct frame of mind when it comes to falls. There is a rule at the barn that if you fall off, you owe her chocolate. It has come to a point where it’s almost a game—the pre-teens all joke that whenever she needs a cocoa fix she makes the lesson harder or has them drop their stirrups to get them to fall off. Even the little kids all know the rule—and it gives them something else to think about besides the surprise of falling off, as the first thing we often say to them (right after, ‘are you OK?’, of course, or ‘can you move your [insert body part here]’ in the case of a particularly nasty spill) is “Uh-oh, now you owe chocolate!” and my trainer will then go on and on, detailing what exact type of chocolate she would like. It often gets the kids to grin a bit, even through tears.
Every rider, from the seasoned veteran to the tiniest beginner knows about the chocolate clause, and even that mere fact keeps the fear of falling at bay. The beginners and younger kids know that it’s something that even the older riders have to deal with—they’ll see them bring in brownies one day, or be offered a slice of chocolate cake another time—and that knowledge being present and tangible (and taste-able!) seems to set them all at ease. It gives everyone something to laugh about, and it gives them something to avoid (making something chocolate or buying chocolate) but not something to fear (giving chocolate isn’t scary!). When riders at my barn bite the dust, my trainer bites into chocolate—but the taste is sweet for everyone.
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