Saturday, February 4, 2012

Shoulders back and stick out your chest...

"Your horse is a mirror to your soul. Sometimes you might not like what you see… sometimes you will.” ~ Buck Brannaman

Not exactly sure where to start this post, really struggling and know I need to write this out, because it feels like one of those moments that others can relate to, but not sure how to say it all yet, so here goes.

When I started riding I worried about the obvious things, mounting the horse, not falling off the horse and doing technical things wrong. I had no clue that this journey was going to be much more about who I am on the inside than what I do on the outside. And there are times, like today, that I wonder if I had known that it would have gone down this road would I have opted in. While I love the new parts of my world, the self discovery is not coming easily. And last night it all felt like it hit me.

I guess first an update is in order, since I havent blogged in a couple months. I still adore riding as much as ever. I am still leasing Joker and couldnt be happier. He is smart, fun and has taught me more faster than I could have learned on most horses. We are cantering, we are working on patterns and the big news, I have decided to try a couple horse shows this summer with him. Our focus is going to be trail class (obstacles) but we are also going to give a shot to some of the pleasure classes (showmanship, horsemanship).  When I first started planning for this Etta (my riding coach) asked me what I was most scared of, my answer, cantering. I thought it was going to be the riding skills I was worried about, but as the days go by that fear fades. My new answer scares me more than loping and has me questioning this whole idea, but I truly hope like trotting and loping I can work my way past this.

My new angst, having to ride in the same arena with other people, particularly people I dont know. That sounds really dumb, but for the last nine months I have worked really hard (even more than I realized) to find empty arenas, to go out on trails or to stay with people I knew. I thought it was all about worrying about my riding ability, but last night I found out that wasnt it, it goes to how I see myself in the world, and have most of my life.

I keep mentioning last night so I guess I need to go there. Etta suggested this week (she is a pretty smart cookie) that maybe I should consider doing some group lessons (in addition to my private lessons) so that I could see how others struggle with some of what I do and also to get practice riding with others. So I gave it a try last night. I knew this was something I wasnt going to love at first, and came into it  with a lot of butterflies, but left more stressed than I imagined possible. The last thing I thought it was going to make me do was question showing, but it did.

It was a group lesson at WL. I knew no one in the lesson. I was pleasantly suprised to find out that even though most of these people had been riding much longer than me I was at least equal to them and in some areas Joker and I were ahead of them (I give him the credit, he makes me look good). I had my panic moment when I knew I was going to have to canter in front of them (this is somewhat new for me on Joker) but even that went better than I anticipated. And as usual Etta was there to keep reminding me I was just fine and she wouldnt let me get over my head.

But for all that I still found my anxiety level off the chart the whole hour. I was getting more and more wound up by the chaos of sharing an arena, of people riding in different directions, cutting me off, my horse reacting differently (wanting to play tag and race with the other horses) and it just all became overload. And the irony is I realize this was really quiet as group riding goes. By the end my heart was racing and I was nearly in tears. Panic attack is the only way I can explain it. Even writing about it the tears are there. I was beyond stressed and wasnt sure why.

I needed to understand this and last night I ripped it all apart and came to the realization that the anxiety comes from the very core of how I have seen myself in life from the time I was very young and the negative messages that were instilled in me from day one. The basic message I came away from my childhood with was "you are in the way, you are unwanted" and because of that I have spent a lot of my life trying to blend in, minimize myself and go out of my way to not get in anyones way and I totally bring that to my riding.

That statement about wanting to hide and blend in might surpise people who think they know me but dont really. Most people in my life if asked to describe me would say...courageous, pushy, harsh, confident, likes to be the center of attention, thinks she knows it all, thinks she is always right. And they would be dead wrong. It used to bother me when people said those things about me, but I have grown to just accept anyone who thinks that has never gotten to know me and is judging their perception of me not who I really am. At my core I am shy, scared, greatly devalue myself and usually put myself last when comparing myself to others.

The way that plays out in my life is I try to stay to myself, in groups  of peopleI hide on the edges, I am the person who if I see a friend in public wont speak until spoken to because I dont want to interrupt or be in the way. I find it very presumptious to show up uninvited somewhere and I dont do it. I start at the assumption I dont belong or am unwanted and dont move from that spot unless pushed to. And all of that played out last night riding.

My lesson from last night is that group riding stresses me out because 1) I spend the whole time worrying about trying not to be in everyone else's way and the more I cant do that the more frustrated I become (the fact that I couldnt just ride the rail and because joker moved faster than other horses was making me nuts, I felt like I was constantly having to move around people and couldnt stay nice and tucked in and hidden) and 2) the big lesson was that people who arent like me, who are ok interrupting, who worry about themselves and doing what they need to makes me really MAD. I am not sure if it is mad because I find it rude (via my messed up mindset of values on this) or because I envy them. Probably a little of both or a lot of both.

I have no clue yet where I go with this new understanding. I feel like I am standing on a fence, run and hide or face it, give up the idea of showing or force myself weekly into this group lesson, find options for riding around others and get past this. I know the latter is the right answer, just not ready to say that is where I will land.


  1. I wish I knew something that would make it all make sense and make it easy for you. But I don't have an answer ... I do know you have a knack for sorting things out in your head and then moving forward. Love ya girl,
    Hugs and purrs from me and the crew.

  2. Whoa there...

    You need to give yourself a break, and step back and take a deep breath.

    If it was so simple and easy, then of course everyone could do it the first time out. Think of how many people can't even ride a horse on a Carousel, and you did it in a ring.

    I can hardly remember my first riding experience or the first time I rode in a ring with a group. I am certain it was full of anxiety too. Yes, I wanted to master it, I am sure I wanted others to acknowledge that I was doing it well, I wanted to be confident that it was a great experience. Instead, I was unsure, somewhat clueless, and I can remember thinking everyone else knows what is going on but me. I hope no one is watching!

    Guess what? I learned that it really didn't matter. I did it. The next time, it will be better. And guess what, the next time wasn't perfect either, but yes, it was a little better, well at least I thought it was :-) I eventually got the point where I could do it, then I could do it well, then I starting showing, and the rest is history.

    You are going to be fine! Don't tear it apart, just let it unfold. It is OK to pass others, yes people will cut you off (I am sure someone has cut you off in a car) - honk your internal horn and just move on. Just remember, what goes around... You can't change the past, but you can have a different destiny tomorrow!

    You will eventually master this. Don't stay on that fence too long, you have to get in that ring to lead! I know you can do it... Joker is counting on ya.

  3. Hope you've worked through this and are showing!

    I started reading your post & thought you were talking about me. I've always been more comfortable in the background. Finally started working my way into the group by focusing on the "mad" you describe. I was tired of being walked over by others and started standing up for myself. It was uncomfortable at first. When I realized others didn't view me as "butting in" or intruding, but just one of the group, it became easier.

    I know you manage to stand in the spotlight on professional occasions. Just carry that same confidence (even if you have to fake it) into other areas of your life. It will start to come naturally. It took me many years after getting "mad" to say that and I still remember my turning point / the particular instance that sent me over the top. But it worked!