Know Thyself

Lately I’ve been thinking about a re-centering of values, a return to navigating by my own lights. This has expressed itself often in a game my boyfriend and I have been playing, called, “I’m Tired of Pretending.” Essentially, we take turns saying, “I’m tired of pretending…” and finish that thought with something we’re no longer going to pretend to like, or dislike, accept as true just because everybody else seems to think it is, or accept as true because it used to be true about us before even if it isn’t anymore.

I’m tired of pretending that I love riding Thoroughbreds. They are prized because they are beautiful and athletic, but they are also skittish and high-maintenance and can be downright scary. I have a hard time trusting a Thoroughbred and because of that, riding them becomes a different activity. It’s no longer an athletic partnership, but rather one where I struggle to manage anxiety–both my own and that of my horse. I’m on high alert for anything that will scare her and I’m fighting letting that tension become apparent in my body since that will work her up as well. My equitation goes to hell and the focus in jumping becomes about getting over obstacles without falling off instead of gracefully and effectively flying with my mount.

I’ve come to this realization lately as my riding buddy and I have been trading off on the two ex-racehorse mares, Sparkling Gal and Misfit. Every week I have gone to the barn since I fell off Sparkle, I have had this internal conversation where I know I don’t want to ride her again because she’s so skittish but where I keep protesting to myself about how much I like her. She’s a beauty and she’s a good girl, but she isn’t really a good match for me. Misfit is less anxiety-producing because her temperament is much steadier, but she’s still very strong and a handful in her own way.

What I really enjoy are horses like the one I rode this week. Summer is a small Arabian chestnut who I’ve ridden a couple of times before. While she is slightly smaller than my ideal horse, she is definitely my ‘type’. I love compact, competent, steady-minded Quarter Horses and finely-wrought, willing, and sensitive Arabians. Perfection would be a mix of the two if I could find one close to 16 hands.

Understanding and accepting this about myself is not to say that I don’t believe I should occasionally push myself out of my comfort zone. It all comes back to my lifelong quest to find the right balance. The difference here is really a matter of self-talk. There is a balanced sort of pushing myself and an unbalanced sort of pushing myself. I could say, “Sometimes I should ride Thoroughbreds to challenge myself,” a statement that accepts who I am and what I like and yet encourages behavior that could make me improve as a rider. Instead, I’ve spent a lot of time saying, “I should like Thoroughbreds,” which is a statement that carries self-judgement, saying that who I am is not the person I should be and that I’d be a better rider if I could be this other girl instead.

I’m not looking for a push-button pony. And I’m not going to stop riding Thoroughbreds altogether. But I’ve realized that I have strengths and weaknesses, that I have preferences that are acceptable and yet that I can learn from pushing myself beyond those preferences if I don’t spend the whole time beating myself up. This seems incredibly obvious as I’m writing it now, something that I probably knew unconsciously when I was 5 but which somehow seems to be something I need to keep consciously learning over and over again as an adult.