Thursday, July 4, 2013

Keep on moving on: what I learned from my horse ride

(I revamped a piece I wrote a few years ago about my horseback riding lessons. I needed to remind myself of this lesson & interestingly enough, it perfectly fits the themes of this July 4th Independence Day!)

Don’t fall off -that's the sage advice I learned when riding a horse.  I had signed up for horseback riding lessons a few years back to get over a childhood fear of  riding horses.  As a kid, I didn't glow in confidence. I felt run down quite often and getting on top of an animal so strong and seemingly uncontrollable scared me. 
As an adult, I wanted to correct  my insecurities but I had to deal with my doubts that I lacked the will or commanding presence to ride the horse and get it to “listen” to me.  But I wanted to learn if I could, or at least what it took.  

On my first lesson, we didn't get on the horse.  Instead, we learned about them, how they responded to us, where their blind spots were.  Once we learned what their needs were, and how to control them, then we got to go for a ride.  Oh, and also, the teacher stressed we really needed to pay attention and be present.

Being present hasn't been easy for me. I've often escaped into being "elsewhere", not always interested and comfortable where I was. If I wanted to get on a horse, I didn't have that luxury of escapism. I had to pay attention or else I might find a tree branch in my face at best or being kicked onto my behind at worst. So I paid attention to what the teacher said as best as I could trying to hold back my anxieties.

I took a brief hiatus after my first lesson. (I got offered a contract job I felt I couldn't refuse). When I returned to the lessons, I got put into a class full of advanced students. This both intimidated me & inspired me. I knew I wasn't going to be as good as the other riders but I felt comfort that they knew what they were doing & they could help me. And they did. 

One of the woman I bonded with talked about riding as being her one Zen day amidst her hectic schedule.  Riding to her was meditation. This Zen feeling took awhile for me to figure out;  I was too busy hanging onto the horse, my back in knots.  However,  I did manage to figure out that staying in the saddle was not just a matter of thighs clenching the saddle but also the balance of the hips swaying back and forth.  It was a start from getting my thinking out of my head and into my body. 

Once I figured out that I had to both relax but also grip the saddle, I let go in my next horse ride. My teacher instructed that as the horse runs, its back flexes up and down so we had to follow that movement. (If we didn't go with the flow, then we would make the ride bumpy & uncomfortable). When it was my turn, I shut my mind off, responded to the horse’s movement, feeling a oneness with him.  My grip lessened on the reigns, holding just enough to guide my horse. Because I let go enough, the horse could feel free to run. I didn't fear falling off; I put trust in myself that I wouldn't. I remained present &  I could feel the true power & strength of the animal beneath me. Running this free was one of the most exhilarating feelings I’ve ever had.

As the lessons continued I learned this: At all times, I needed to keep my focus ahead of me.  I had to navigate the reigns and lead the horse or the horse would lead me -but not to tightly - if the reigns were held too tightly, the horse would try to break free. I could understand how the horse felt. Isn't that how humans react too? As a person, I like to feel free, and give others free reign. But in not wanting to be a person who seemed "bossy" I also didn't state what my needs were. Could there be a possible balance in life where you could state what you want, give direction to others but also help maintain freedom for myself and for them? I was learning I could.

Riding a horse is a balance act, like life is. And having a relationship with a horse is similar to any type of relationship. I had to learn what the horse responded to so I could get what I wanted - a fun ride. I'm still learning how to navigate life - where I need to give direction &; where I need to learn to let go. It's a work in progress; but what I got from my lesson is this: once I learned how to really ride, the ride took me places I've often wanted to go. This is the lesson I need to remember so I can keep on moving on!

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