Last week, I was taking care of a horse named Dom for a friend of mine. It entailed me going out every day to ride, clean his stall, and provide lots of treats. I’ve taken care of this horse for a long time, whenever my friend goes away, and I even used to ride him before my friend bought him, when Dom was just a school horse at the barn. So I’ve known him plenty long enough to begin to understand his quirks and personality.
I’ve also ridden him long enough to notice my growth as a rider.
I’ve fallen off Dom at least once… probably two or three times, really. And I’ve been on his back when he’s spooked and run around like crazy before I could settle him. But the scariest time I’ve ever had to ride him was while doing cross-country jumping out in the field. There were two key problems with that situation:
- With his original owners, he was taught to fly over jumps as fast as he physically could. That in itself is terrifying.
- He’s also a very shy horse and is nervous out in the field, where a rabbit could jump out of the bushes at any time. Being on a skittish horse’s back in a place that makes them scared is also terrifying.
Combined… it was the jumping lesson from hell. Seriously, I have nightmares of that day. I remember one jump in particular, made of car tires lined up and standing upright, that he was afraid to jump. So not only did he reach a breakneck pace approaching it, but he also unexpectedly tried to swerve away from it. I miraculously didn’t fall off, but there were a couple times when I was clinging to his neck, staring at the ground with horror and struggling to stay on his back.
But that was years ago, and even though he’s still very much afraid of being out in the field and still tries to speed over jumps, I’m not afraid to ride him in those situations. Because I’ve learned what he does and how he handles his fear, and have subsequently learned how to deal with it.
And I expect I’ve become a little braver too.
I’ve been riding for nine years now, almost a full decade of my life, and I started when I was in grade three–just a small little bugger clinging to a massive horse’s back. I remember being so afraid in those days. I didn’t like cleaning the horses’ hooves because I thought I’d be kicked, I didn’t like putting the bridle on because I was afraid of being bitten, and I was afraid to canter or jump because I thought I’d fall off. And when you’re scared, the horse becomes scared as they sense your unease and are wary of it.
But after nine years, you learn a lot of things. You learn to watch the horse’s body language, so you don’t get kicked or bitten. You learn how to keep centred and balanced, so you don’t fall off. You also have to learn to trust yourself. You must stay calm and collected, you must conquer your own fear, so that your horse will be a little braver.
I’ve done all sorts of wonderful things, too, like riding bareback and sidesaddle, and vaulting (gymnastics on horseback), and riding through trees and creeks. Things my eight-year-old self would hate to imagine.
So riding Dom in the field last week, feeling his nervous energy, I stayed calm. I knew he wanted to run but I knew he was obedient and sweet–he would do most anything I asked. I knew that if a bunny spooked him, he would run towards the barn, and I knew that I would be able to sit it out, like I had many times before. Dom had taught me to trust myself, and I had learned to be braver.
I often criticize myself for not being brave. In a lot of ways, I’m right to do so. But it’s encouraging, to see a part of my life where I’ve got this bravery thing figured out. Where I’m able to trust myself as much as I trust my horse.
I’m glad I started riding when I did, partly because it’s a really cool hero-ish thing to do, and partly because I would never have had this opportunity for bravery. I would never have proved to myself that I can do it, that I’m capable of conquering my fear.
Perhaps there’s hope for me after all ;)
What makes you feel brave?
May you never lose hope in being brave.