“For those of us who are not young and reckless and fearless, this is the beauty of horseback riding. When we get so completely attuned to our horse and his needs of the moment, any fear we may have felt simply evaporates.”
I am not young and reckless and fearless. I have come off of my fair share of horses and “hit the deck” numerous times. It hurts. Sometimes it grounds you for weeks while your body heals.
Some folks say you’re not a “real” rider until you’ve come off. I don’t know about that. What I do know is I was never afraid of coming off a horse until after I had done so a few times.
For riders like me – the not-young, not-lithe-like-a-cat rider – we have two choices in our riding. We can choose to feel fear and not ride. Or we can choose to feel fear and ride anyway. There’s a wonderful “silver lining” to the latter that I’ll share in a moment, but first, let’s talk about fear.
Years ago, I had a very wise elderwoman tell me, “fear is not a word; it’s an acronym: F.E.A.R. And it means, False Evidence Appearing Real.” Now that I’m an attorney, the notion of “false evidence” is one that makes me scoff. False evidence is not the basis on which to convict anyone.
False evidence is a lie. I don’t need to give false evidence any power to control me, to make me overeat, or to make me uncertain in the saddle. False evidence is not true.
One mental roadblock I have been dismantling in my current phase of weight-loss is the roadblock of fear. The fear-based lie that perhaps I am not a “good enough” rider to train Kaliwohi and ride him in a show. What if he freaks out? What if I mess up the test? WhatIfWhatIfWhatIF.
All those What Ifs, swirling in my head in a cauldron of fear, have built up a wall in my weight-loss efforts that I am in the process of tearing down. How am I deconstructing that fear? Using three primary tools:
First, by using positive self-talk and imaging. When my mind starts playing the “what if” negatives, which drive me to eat sweets (because hey, if I stay a size 14, I surely won’t be brave enough to show Kiwi this year, right?! Right?!?! Hmmmm…), I switch up the negative “what ifs” to something positive: “But what if we ride a great test? What if Kiwi gets in great shape and we have a blast together? What if we enjoy a weekend with friends, supporting each other as we learn and show together? What if a show weekend is as wonderful as last year’s JJ Tate clinic experience was for my young mustang?” Using this technique, pretty soon I’m smiling and feeling positive inside.
Second, I think of silly things to get my mind thinking “lighter.” I would love to be one of those light-hearted, easygoing gals who laughs often and who everyone wants as their BFF. But I am actually a fairly serious person most of the time. I don’t like this piece of myself, but it is very difficult to re-wire such an ingrained part of me. (Trust me, I’m working on it!) But, for now, like a talented but overly intense mare, I have to make a conscious effort to “lighten UP, Esther!”
This past Christmas, a dear friend surprised me with a very silly gift whose sole purpose is to help me laugh and ride lighter: a whole “flock” of plastic yard flamingos! I have laughed and laughed over these delightfully ridiculous flamingos. Recently I put them all around the dressage arena and the yard. This pink plastic pat of flamingos is a merry addition to the farm! How can I possibly fret with F.E.A.R. when I’m riding with silly flamingos all around?
The third tool, and the silver lining to which I referred earlier in this article, is the wonderful and transformative process that happens when one chooses to face one’s fears and ride anyway. What is this process?
Well, just like I take Kaliwohi to the edge of his comfort zone and then ask him to stand there and mentally work through his fear so he can take another step closer to whatever has made him anxious, in the exact same way, I get on my mustang and push my confidence to the edge of my comfort zone – and ride on.
So far, my mustang has bolted, yet I’ve stayed on and brought him under control. He has shied, yet I’ve stayed on and gently realigned his body into the bend I want. He has meandered, been distracted, and longed for his herd, and each time – every ride – we work through whatever is bothering his mustang mind and, almost magically, my own fears subside because I am so focused on my horse!
Fill your mind with focus, and there is no room for fear or distraction. For those of us who are not young and reckless and fearless, this is the beauty of horseback riding. When we get so completely attuned to our horse and his needs of the moment, any fear we may have felt simply evaporates.
What is left is a series of beautiful moments in time, one hoofbeat upon another, and another, and another, and, before you know it, another successful schooling session is completed and you can hop off your riding partner with a happy grin and give him a huge hug and say, “we did it!”
And as my fears dissipate, my weight gets lighter and lighter!