Thursday, November 10, 2011

When Reluctance Turns to Dread


WHEN RELUCTANCE TURNS TO DREAD                                                                                  Originally Published in Horse Directory, November  2011

When it comes to trailering out for my weekly off-property lesson, I’m champing at the bit.  It’s normally the highlight of my week, and with good reason.  I have developed a rapport with my trainer and we have the same philosophy.  Actually I didn’t even know I HAD a philosophy regarding training until I began working with someone who shared my own. Our lessons range from breakthroughs on some elusive concept to dealing with issues, human and equine, and saving the more challenging stuff for another day while reinforcing what we already know.  Most lessons fall somewhere in between: reviewing past successes and adding the next level of challenge, letting my OTTB mare, Lola, tell us what she’s ready for and how much to push forward.  We make steady progress. It’s a good plan and it works well for all of us. We’re on no particular timetable; I’d like to get her into a jumper class, but if it’s not this year it’ll be next year.  I need to feel challenged, but within the limitations of making some sort of progress, we attempt to make sure that it’s as pleasant an experience as possible for everyone concerned.  To that end, we’re usually successful: both myself and, I believe, Lola, end our lessons satisfied, encouraged, and eager to yet again build on what we’ve learned in next week’s lesson.
So… why did I wake up last week at five a.m. dreading the thought of having a lesson?  It began with a knot in the pit of my stomach.  I’m familiar with that feeling because it’s the same one I used to get in my early horse show days.  Self-doubt would open the door a crack, then fear would wedge its foot in and fling the door open.  It progressed to a secret disappointment when I found all eight tires of my rig intact. No need or reason to cancel.  It culminated in outright dread of how my mare might act in this unseasonably cold and windy autumn morning.
I couldn’t imagine what was going on. This wasn’t me. I’ve been known to cancel business appointments and show up late for family functions so as not to disrupt my lesson schedule.  Where are these paralyzing feelings coming from?  Could it be the sudden cold weather we have been experiencing?  That it is foretelling the end of the easy days of summer and the return of another endless, oppressive winter?  Is it that my schedule had not allowed me to ride for two weeks and the anticipation of my mare being a handful?  Is it a delay in processing grief at the recent loss of another long-beloved  horse?
I tack up and mount up because that’s what I’m here for.  My feet find the stirrup irons automatically and they fall into the correct position and angle all by themselves.  I pick up the reins and they fall into my fingers perfectly organized.  My body molds into the seat of my saddle.  Save for the first few months, since taking up riding my saddle has become the most comfortable seat I own.  Physically, mentally and spiritually, I am in my element.  This is where I am meant to be.
We walk on, slogging through the mud that the monsoon-like rains of the past week have deposited.  Lola is alert, responsive and alive, but not by any means challenging my hands.  We have a positive contact on her mouth which is what she appreciates, neither restricting nor encouraging, just supporting.  She is careful with the footing, and respecting to my touch.  I whisper, “trot” and she picks up the next gait, covering her legs and mine in a fine grey mud.  She is neither reluctant nor excessively animated.  She is respectful.  I don’t know why this surprises me.  I keep contact and slightly relax on the outside rein; my legs take their position of support and encouragement.  My outside leg slips back slightly and I think “canter” and she complies beautifully.  Mud is flying everywhere but she doesn’t seem to notice and so neither do I.  We do a few single jumps and a very simple course or two in deference to the footing.  An hour has passed.  Our lesson is done.
What was it that was causing my apprehension, my fear, my dread this morning?  I posed the question to Laura, my trainer before the lesson started.  She acknowledged my feelings but did not indulge them.  “Why is this happening to me”? I asked.  “I’m not sure.  But really… who cares?  You’re riding OK.” was her typically succinct reply.  And she was right.  Who cares?  Who knows why the sun and moon and stars and planets lined up to create this unusual lack of confidence this morning?  It might be amusing to try and figure out what causes these momentary blips.  But I probably never will.  I think I’m more apt to find my answers in the saddle than on a psychiatrist’s couch.
Someone gave me some advice long ago that I have re-applied to riding and have made it almost a mantra: “It’s easier to ride your way into correct thinking than to think your way into correct riding”.  Indeed.

One Precious Gem, "Lola"

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