As I get ready for a new career and to start working with a new horse I have been reflecting on why horses are such a wonderful match for me. It is because they temper my natural intensity. When I try out a new sport or study a new subject I want to be the best. When I was a pre-teen I went ice skating with a few friends for a birthday party and was terrible. I fell down constantly and couldn't even make it a lap around the rink. I immediately asked for lessons and in a year I had advanced to a level that it takes most several years. I was never a great skater but in that first year I was landing single jumps and it looked like I would be able to start landing doubles before long. Unfortunately, the intensity with which I attacked this new sport was my downfall. I pushed myself so hard that I had bruises all over my body. I was so thin that I didn't have the energy to keep doing it. I ended up quiting because my feet were so painful that I couldn't skate for more than a few minutes without wanting to rip my skates off. I didn't quit because I lost interest I did so because I burnt myself out. My first year of college I took calculus, biology, chemistry, psychology. I jumped right in at a rigorous private college known for their strong science programs and for a time did well. Then health problems brought me to a screeching halt. For several years I couldn't work or go to school. I don't doubt that my inability to slow myself down and to balance peace with constant doing played a huge part in this.
During the period when I wasn't able to work or attend college I found horses. I was lucky enough to start as a working student at a local dressage/event barn. I had five or six lessons as a kid so I was a very green beginner. I still don't know why she decided to take on a person who didn't even know how to put a halter on. I attacked riding just like I had any other obstacle I faced. Six months after my first lesson I was riding a hot thoroughbred in shows and clinics and doing well. In less than a year I was schooling cross country and attended my first event. I wasn't anything fancy but I had progressed fast for my first year in a saddle. Then my sensitive mare started bucking me off after fences outside on the rock hard ground. After getting the wind knocked out of me a few times I lost my nerve over fences. I think it was her way of telling me to slow down. Riding is a partnership and every moment is something to be cherished, not just the blue ribbons or big jumps.
And no matter how bad things are going you can't just put them in a closet like a pair of skates. They are there waiting for you with a sweet face and nicker when you are in so much pain you don't want to go on. The most wonderful thing about riding is that it is a relationship. In individual sports there is nothing there to stop you from pushing too hard or doing something too many times in the pursuit of perfection. The horse always stops me. If I get frustrated or angry that I can't get something the horse an feel it before I do. They don't know I am only angry at myself. I never want my horse to think I am upset with them so thinking about that partnership brings me back from the brink of being too intense. Riding horses who are green, hot, or abused have made me even more self aware of when I am pushing too hard. They let me know when we have done a movement one to many times, when the same pattern is boring, when I am distracted from a bad day at work, when I am pulling too hard, or driving them too fast.
I know it isn't in me to just be a recreational rider who enjoys a trail ride here or there. I wish it was. It would be cheaper and less time consuming ;) Over the last few years I have tried to convince myself that a few laps around the arena is worth it to me. I can't deny it though I miss the thrill of doing something new, of jumping over something when I am scared, and of a dressage test well ridden. My mind never stops and horses are the one thing that fully consumes my mind and body. However, each time I work with a horse towards our new goal I am getting far more than a blue ribbon. I am getting that reminder of the power of well timed deep breath and of the peace you can find when you can allow your mind to let go of the hustle of life. In the process I have learned how to accept imperfections. I have learned that there is beauty in almost getting something right. Sometimes the greatest triumph is just getting from point A to point B alive. There is pride in finding a different way to get to the end result even if it took twice as long as it "should have". It gives me goose bumps to think I will be getting back into that part of riding. As always I know that the lessons I will learn with my four legged friends will make me a better, calmer, more tolerant person, and hopefully less intense person.