Confidence in Action

The last few weeks we’ve been back to renting a Zipcar to get out to the barn, after the unfortunate passing of ‘Betsy’, my riding buddy’s car. This week we lucked out; after she recently drove back from Texas with a friend who is relocating here, the friend graciously let us borrow the car. We’ll see what the transportation situation is in the future; she might get a new car, or maybe my boyfriend and I will finally decide to commit to staying in NY long enough to justify getting one of our own. Until then, it’s Zipcar–adding a good $40 each for every lesson–but it’s still totally worth it, especially for lessons like we had this week.

We finally, finally got to ride outside this week and what a beautiful day we had for it.  It was sunny and warm but with the cool breeze of fall in the air, just about perfect riding weather. My riding buddy continued her streak of riding her new favorite, Malcolm, and I rode my cute little Arabian mare, Summer. I don’t think I’ve ever ridden her outside before and since she’s such a fun jumper that I couldn’t wait to take her on a course.

At the start of the lesson, I was having a little trouble getting in sync with her at the trot. I think it’s just that I’ve been riding Jasper and Max lately, two big, lumbering boys who feel like entirely different animals than compact, sporty Summer. Once we got to the canter, however, I felt amazing. It was the best canter I’ve had since I returned to riding. I felt completely in rhythm with my horse, I felt tall and graceful in the saddle…it was just that wonderful feeling of “I’m doing this RIGHT!” This is definitely a result of all the ab work and upper body weight lifting I’ve been doing. I can daily feel my posture changing as all the little muscles that hold me together become strong again, but it’s even more apparent when I’m on a horse.

I feel like I’ve finally crossed the threshold with working out where my body feels like my own again. I’ve been pretty consistent with exercising three times a week and now it feels like it has been incorporated into my lifestyle. It’s really the only way for me to live and be sane and healthy.

But the more important threshold that I feel I’ve crossed is the regaining of my confidence. I wrote last time about the space that the absence of fear left open in me; this week I realized what it feels like when that space is filled with the confidence I had lost.

It certainly surprised me when after trotting into the first jump in a line, Summer decided to bolt on the landing as if the second jump were the finish line of the Kentucky Derby, but I think what was even more surprising to my trainer was my reaction to it. We landed and I thought, “Holy shit!” but instead of blacking out with anxiety, my mind was able to make rational decisions about what to do. I considered whether I should try to pull her out of the line, missing the second jump, but figured it would be easier and safer just to go with it. While my mind was calmly deciding this, my body was acting on its own through muscle memory, getting into jumping position to be in sync with my frantic mare as she barreled through the second jump. Afterwards, we galloped around half the ring before I was able to wrestle her down to a walk. I looked over at my trainer, who seemed to be holding her breath waiting for the inevitable nervous breakdown that could have ensued. But when she saw me patting and soothing Summer, she just asked, “You all right?” to which I smiled and answered that I was. Then we talked about how to proceed.

She was a bit tentative with me for the rest of the lesson, asking always if I felt comfortable trying something with Summer, asking if I wanted her to get on and school my horse. We have a nice relationship where she’s sensitive to the fact that I’ve had anxiety issues but still wants me to push myself and is very supportive of whatever decisions I make about what I’m up for since, as she says, she knows that I know what I’m doing.  But this time there was no meltdown, there was no helplessness or fear. I knew what I needed to do and I did it.

I took Summer back over the line, bringing her in at an extremely reserved trot and then sitting up and woahing her hard in between. It worked. She wasn’t trying to get away with something; I honestly think she just got freaked out by a noise the first time down. We took it slow for the rest of the lesson, incorporating each jump in the line piece-by-piece just to be sure, but she has such a sweet temperament that it felt like we were working together rather than me schooling her.  There was one jump slightly higher than the rest, a diagonally-placed green jump that we were taking singly at a trot. We weren’t getting it. We’d go to it too deep and that was messing up my timing so I kept getting left back and hitting her mouth over the jump, which was making her land and get a little frenzied again. But the frenzy didn’t worry me, because I was actually confident that I knew what was going on. I suggested to my trainer that even though we were trying to keep her slow, it was working counter-intuitively against us here, since the jump was a little too high for her to take without more impulsion. So I asked if we could do it at the canter instead, which fixed the problem immediately. I was still able to keep her calm and collected before the jump even at the faster gait, she had more confidence in her jump because she had enough speed heading into it, and my timing with my position was right, so the jump went beautifully.

This newfound confidence is giving me a new excitement about riding, so I can’t wait until our next lesson. Unfortunately, my riding buddy is going away for three weeks on her belated honeymoon, so it’ll be a while. But in the meantime I’ll be getting stronger both physically and mentally, getting prepared to go back into it ready to be challenged.

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