Riding is Hard
It’s easier said than done. Riding that is, is easier said than done. There are so many little details that all work together in order to ride correctly, it can be all so very overwhelming to think about. The rider needs to know how to utilize their hands, their arms, their legs, their feet, their core, their head, eyes, seat and breathing individually and collectively to truly ride well. Using your legs apart from your hands apart from your seat, is easy enough, but using all those tools together, that is where it begins to get complicated.
I don’t use my legs on Zoey because I don’t know how to use my legs on her without squeezing—actually, I don’t know how to use my legs on really any horse, without squeezing. Because of this, I don’t use my legs when I ride Zoey or keep my legs on her because as soon as my leg touches her she pins her ears, swishes her tail and looks back at me—if I keep my legs on her through all that she then takes it up a level and kicks out and/or bucks and all that does is make me tight and squeeze harder, and, well you get the idea. So I keep my legs off and use my hands for everything—this also irritates her, but not as much as my legs. Things really get complicated when I have to use my legs and my reins on her, at the same time—an example, when loping a circle it’s usually inside rein, outside leg—and when we find our rhythm it becomes inside leg, inside rein to create that circle and that bend, but also outside rein to keep her from drifting to the outside, and for extra reinforcement, outside leg—that’s usually where most of the confusion begins and things begin to crumble.
Riding is Frustrating.
The constant struggle to figure out how to utilize all the tools of riding together as one is a very tedious and frustrating process. There seem to be more days of feeling like you’ve been running into a wall repeatedly, than there are days of feeling like progress has been made. I can honestly say that if you were to ask me if I felt that Zoey and I had made progress anywhere, I’d say “NO” almost immediately. Because it does not currently feel like we’ve made any progress anywhere at all. Have you ever seen a dog chasing it tail in endless circles, it just keeps chasing and chasing and chasing, never really getting anywhere? Or when a bee flies into a room and repeatedly flies into a window-until it either knocks itself out or gives up? That is currently how my riding life feels—there’s an open window that bee could get to, it just can’t quite figure out how, and instead winds up repeatedly flying into the closed window. The dog continues to chase it tail, with the idea that it will end up getting it at some point, but it just can’t quite reach it. That’s where I’m at mentally right now—like Zo and I are chasing our tails and getting nowhere.
Riding is Mental…..
I was at a barn observing a young rider during their lesson, the rider was doing fairly well, but there were a lot of distracting things going on in the arena, and horse and rider became overwhelmed. Horse went a little faster than what the rider anticipated and the rider came off said horse. Both horse and rider were fine and the rider did get back on said horse. While I watched all that unfold I talked to the rider’s parent who explained how happy they were that their child got back on because this was their first fall and they didn’t want the child to have too much time to process what happened and start coming up with all the “What Ifs” and then not get back on. I thought for a while about what the parent said and came to the conclusion that I think, a vast majority of Zo and my problems stem from that second ride last summer. That second ride last summer Zo didn’t lope off as much as she did take off and I didn’t anticipate that. I grabbed with my hands and legs and SHE didn’t anticipate THAT. Everything occurred very quickly, she put her head down low, pinned her ears and kicked up and out with her back legs for all that she was worth. As I went through the air for what felt like eternity two thoughts crossed my mind: “WELL SHIT that wasn’t supposed to happen” and “I’ve only ever seen horses buck that high in movies”, then I hit my head on the round pen panels(hence why I now have to wear a helmet) and landed straight on right leg before slamming to the ground and having the wind knocked out of me(worse feeling ever). When the air returned and my head wasn’t pounding as badly, I glanced at the leg which as throbbing and at an ugly angle—it was hot to the touch, black and my entire calf was swollen and standing up on my own wasn’t going to happen. The trainer was inside giving lesson and I debated yelling for his help or trying to stand on my own—getting up on my own won out—Zo was standing not too far off from where I was currently stuck on the ground, her eyes were wide as saucers and she was breathing hard and looked generally terrified, but for some reason when I stuck my hand out and scooted(painfully) backwards while clucking, she came over to me. I let her sniff my hand before picking up the reins and pulling her closer, one hand grasping the stirrup and the other arm wrapped around her neck, clutching her mane, I managed to pull myself to a standing position. I couldn’t put any weight on my leg at all and essentially used her as a crutch into the barn. The trainer saw us coming in slowly, asked what happed and I told him I wasn’t sure, but I ate dirt and hurt all over. It was a month before I got back on her and I pretty much spent that entire month going over all the possible ways it could have gone worse, trying to figure out where it all went wrong, and worrying over whether or not I’d cause something bad to happen again. Hobbling or not, I sometimes lie awake at night beating myself up for not finding a way to get back on and finish the ride. I sometimes lie awake at night and think it goes back to before I started working with her, to when I was working with V and I came off of him and I never got back on. I was supposed to get back on but for some reason it just didn’t happen. It was always considered a cardinal sin to not get back on a horse if you came off of them, and it was said that if you didn’t get back on ever, then you were going to ruin that horse and chances are you’d ruin every horse you rode after that. It’s been over a year since I came off of that stud and he’s still in my head, not getting back on still resonates inside of me. Being told by other equestrians I enjoy(ed) talking to that I ruined him and would screw up any horse I rode after that, bounces around in my head like a ping pong ball in a table tennis match. It is incessant, it is suffocating and it is overwhelming. Riding is a lot of mental work. It can be mentally exhausting for both the horse and the rider. One of the most important things that occurred with that horse and rider was that rider going up and petting that horse and getting back on. In doing that that rider was able to see that they were both OK and that horse discovered that they weren’t in trouble and it was OK. Had that rider not gotten back on, the mental battle that would have occurred for both the horse and the rider would have been a long and hard one. If you’re not going to the hospital, you’re getting back on, was what a lady I used to ride under would say to me. Holding on to past experiences with past horses, and letting past bad rides sit upon your shoulders will begin to weigh you down and have negative effects on how your riding goes from that point on. It is important not to get too far lost in your head, and if you do wind up in your head, it’s important to work hard to find your way back out before you drown in a sea of hopelessness.
Riding is Soooooo Worth it
I wouldn’t trade riding in for anything. I wouldn’t trade Zoey in for any horse offered to me. Riding is hard. Riding is frustrating. Riding has made me hate everything about myself. Riding has reduced me to tears and robbed me of my sleep. But you know what? Riding has allowed me for to make so many new friendships with so many people who work to help me and each other out in all we do. Riding has helped me to become a better worker and student. Riding has helped me to become more confident, little by little, in all I do. It’s hard, but nothing worth having is easy. It’s frustrating, but nothing worth achieving is simple. It gets hard, it gets frustrating and painful, but you keep working at it. You keep eating dirt, getting up, dusting yourself off and climbing back into that saddle. You wipe off those tears and tell the self-doubt, “Not today” and keep pushing through the bad rides. Celebrate the smallest of victories, praise the slightest of efforts and take any little bit of progress made. Go back to basics and start there, working on re-building the relationship, using trust and respect as your foundation. Surround yourself with riders who are louder than your negative voice within, so loud they eventually drown that voice completely out, leaving nothing but positivity in its path. Why do you do all this? Because riding is soooooo worth it.