Sometimes the best lessons are taught unexpectedly.
I lay on the ground looking up at the flash of hooves racing away from me. I sit up, brush the dirt from my arms and the bruises from my ego and take a deep breath. I wiggle my toes and do a mental once over of my body, which doesn’t bounce as well as it used to. Once I’ve confirmed that everything still works, I get to my feet and assure my coach that I’m ok.
It happens so fast, falling off. One minute you’re sailing over a fence and the next you’re, well, not. So goes the story of my most recent lesson.
I always find myself reflecting on my lesson on the long drive home, recounting the good moments and the bad and already planning ahead for what I can do better next time. Because there’s always a next time, right?
It’s funny to think about, but this lesson was actually the best I’ve had in recent memory. Aside from the miss at a bounce combination that just caught me unaware, everything was golden. I didn’t feel like I’d missed much from producing my young horse and not jumping courses to hopping on a lesson horse and piloting her around a small but challenging course. It’s a good feeling.
Until you hit the dirt. But what better way to check your own reality than a good close up inspection of the arena dirt? I’m not saying falls are good, but they do have their benefits (as long as they are not serious, mind you). Each time you have an involuntary dismount, you become just a bit better of a rider.
I fell off three times in the same lesson. That day, I learned to keep getting back on. Find something good, and end it there. As long as you and your horse are able-bodied, keep getting back on.
I fell off in dramatic fashion on a rainy day once. I still have a scar on my right arm from the impact point of the jump I fell into. That day, I learned that leaning up the neck is a bad deal. Especially when it’s raining and your saddle is slick.
I fell off my 5-year-old because he was too offended by the pasture horses gallivanting about while he had to work. That day, I learned that I need to establish more authority and trust with my horse so that he learns to focus more on me than on outside distractions.
Yesterday, I learned that you must leave the last fence behind and focus solely on the next one. I was too preoccupied with executing a good lead change that I forgot to approach the next question on a straight line. My horse called me out on it, and there I lay in the dirt. Yesterday, I learned that you must leave the past behind and focus on the future.
There is indeed something to learn from each mistake. Each setback, each obstacle — everything carries a lesson, as long as we are willing to listen.
The next time you are the victim of a tumble, get up and dust yourself off, put your foot back in that stirrup and get right back to work. Reflect on what you learned from that incident, and figure out what you need to improve to prevent it from happening again. We are all going to make mistakes and question our sanity as riders. But it’s what we take from those mistakes that shape us into the horse people we are capable of being.
So go hit that dirt, everyone. I promise it’s all worth it in the end.
Go Riding, and Go Fleeceworks.