I’m about five months into taking horseback riding lessons and while it’s much harder than I expected, I love it so much. Here are a few things that I’ve learned that are helping me in real life…
1. “Eyes up!” My instructor has to constantly remind me to stop looking down at the horse. Apparently, wherever you are looking is where you will go. In real life, I spend a lot of time looking backwards and all around me. “Eyes up” keeps us confident and moving forward. It also forces us to be intentional about where it is we truly want to go.
2. Old habits die hard, especially when we get scared. Every single time that the horse starts to speed up even a little, I stick my legs straight out in front of me like I’m a city-slicker cartoon character. The horse is just barely trotting, but my body is screaming, “We’re all going to die!” It takes so much practice to undo things that are deeply ingrained. In real life, my habit is to catastrophize, which takes the shape of me thinking that everything is irreparably broken and that everyone I love is probably doomed. Lately, before I completely freak out, I’ve been practicing asking myself, “Is that really true or am I just afraid?” I have a lot of work to do in this area, but recognizing that I’m spiraling feels like progress.
3. “Stay loose…” At my last lesson, my instructor kept telling me to “stay loose.” As someone who is hyper-vigilant and not known for being easy-going, this feels like all the times people tell me to “just relax.” It’s a big ask for someone riding a huge animal while learning a new skill. Since I don’t know how to be loose in these circumstances, I simply turn into a wet noodle and am like, “Do whatever you want, dude” to the horse. I end up with a very confused horse. I’m learning that there is a sweet spot between taking your hand off the wheel completely and loosening your grip. This is also true with parenting teenagers and young adults; it’s probably true with most relationships.
4. “But also assertive.” This was when I knew I was in big trouble as a rider. Being loose AND assertive is the worst possible combination for someone who moves through the world tight and afraid. How is it even possible to be both? It turns out that some sort of Jedi mind-trickery is involved. You are supposed to be loose with your body, but assertive in your energy. That’s a lot to say grace over. I’ve decided that this is a lofty goal that will probably take the rest of my living days to achieve.
5. We’re all just ridiculous, vulnerable animals. Horses are affected by hormones and weather and family skirmishes; and so are we humans. I know that we can read and live in houses and are all fancy, but at the end of the day, there are so many things in our lives that are bigger than us. As someone who is perimenopausal and living with two teenage girls, trust me when I tell you that hormones are to be respected. Animals aren’t robots and to pretend that our human bodies don’t play a huge factor in how we move through our days feels smug to me.
A few weeks ago, when I was leaving the barn, I remembered the part of the poem Wild Geese by Mary Oliver that says,
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
These words felt like such a relief to me. I know that this is the time of year when we are encouraged by society and social media to increase how many books we read and to start a new cleanse and to become more productive every single day. That just sounds exhausting to me. Maybe it’s because I’ve had COVID recently or because I need more sleep than I used to or because I, like everyone else, am mildly traumatized from the uncertainty of the past few years, but I want to learn things gently and intentionally in this coming year. I want to take cues from nature. I want to trust myself more and look around less. I want to be loose, but also assertive. I want to believe that 2023 can be a gift of a year without being exceptional.
An insightful and helpful message, perfectly timed ( ie, right when I needed it)
Love you dearly- Aunt L
As one perimenopausal mom to another who also has teenage daughters and a young adult, you nailed it! Thanks for helping me know I’m not alone in this interesting (not sure that is the most accurate word) time of life! Peace and hope to you in 2023!
Finally got your blog back on my radar. Will keep it there and look forward to your deep and challenging thoughts each time