I rode for three years at this wonderful ranch in Claremore, Oklahoma owned by my friend Janel. I didn’t realize how much riding would teach me about life until I couldn’t ride anymore. Oh I’ll be back, don’t get me wrong. I’m realizing though that the lessons in the arena carry out to real life when we are open.
I’d shared earlier that I was a mess when I first started taking lessons with Jo. (See post HERE). I was. I’m not sure what happened really to get me there. Well, that’s a lie. I felt pushed around. I felt like the rules I’d been taught to play by in order to keep the peace were actually stacked in the favor of the house not the player. And they were, no doubt about it. Something had to give and so I took my codependent butt to the stables.
More or less anyway.
What I actually did was sign up for my first girlfriends’ only vacation and hadn’t told anyone until it was done and I couldn’t get my money back. I was feeling over run by testosterone and needed something different. A cruise with my girlfriends was definitely something different. I’m even going on the Muse Cruise again this year. You should come.
I freaked everyone out at first. After years of watching my boys play football, soccer, baseball, basketball, you name it they played it, it was MY turn to do something daring and so I signed up to ride horses through jungles of Belize.
I surprised everyone by not dying.
Taking riding lessons first was an afterthought. I hadn’t ridden a horse since I was 22. I was now in my 40’s. That’s a long time out of the saddle.
Janel initially taught me enough so that I wouldn’t die in the jungle and when I came back from my adventure I decided to learn more. We rode trails, ran the arena, climbed rocks, counted cattle, jumped creeks and even chased a can or two.
There is something about knowing how to handle a 1,000 pound animal that is strong enough to kill me and yet doesn’t that builds confidence and speaks to my soul.
At the risk of over simplifying things, I’ve learned:
- How not to get stepped on. – I don’t let the horse I’m riding step on me, nor do I let him back me against a wall while I’m grooming him or brush me up against a fence or can. If he tries to crowd me out, I assertively push his side and loudly say “MOVE.” And he moves. I don’t have to be meek. Actually meek confuses him. I can use the same assertion with people. Speak up, tell them to step off when needed. Making myself small is a great way to get squished, even if it’s just emotionally. Stand up tall, look them in the eye and say MOVE. They usually will and if they don’t, pushing back is a viable option.
- Falling off isn’t the end of the world. – Cowboy and I did a jump, okay it was really supposed to be more of a step over a railroad tie, but he jumped it instead and I fell off. Losing a rider actually upsets horses and he came back to get me. Sometimes people throw us for a loop and don’t mean to, or even if they do so what, get up, assess damages, brush yourself off, get back on and try again. The more you fall, the easier it is to learn how to fall without getting hurt.
- Say what you mean and mean what you say. Don’t be bullied. – Cowboy, one of the stable horses, is the tattle tale of the group. If you hesitate even in the slightest in your commands he’ll jack with you and do something else. He’s the horse who exploits every rider’s weakness. When I was first learning how to lope (Gallop) Cowboy could tell I was nervous about it so he’d rear slightly, shake his mane and act like he was going to do this big bad thing and I’d lighten my grip on the reins in fear and wind up doing this god-awful trot instead. It wasn’t until I found my seat and made him do what I asked that I discover the freedom of riding. To ride Cowboy well is a victory in the arena. He’s an awesome chaser. Lesson – There are people who will try to exploit what they believe to be a weakness in you. Don’t let them. Bullies bluff, call it. They usually back down once you do.
- Bad habits are easy to form – break them straight away. – Stop means stop right now. Not a few steps and stop later. When I was first learning how to stop (whoa) I’d let the horse kinda stop, meaning he’d take a few steps first and then stop. Horses are really good at teaching you what kind of person you are. For me, I learned I was a pushover. Teaching a horse not to get away with something more than once took practice. Lots and lots of practice. Teaching other people the same thing, will take even more practice. Take my name for instance, I get offended if someone who should know me, consistently gets my name wrong. It’s Deena, and yet I let them call me Deanna. Do you know why they get my name wrong? Because somewhere along the line I stopped correcting them. It’s the same deal when we let people put us down or push us around, if you let someone get away with that more than twice, it becomes a habit. Just something they do with you. It works the other way too, if I habitually let someone speak to me in a derogatory way without correcting it, it gets more and more difficult for me to speak up and so I’m the one racing the arena time and time again until my whoa means WHOA.
- If you are afraid of something, consistent exposure will lessen the fear. – Horses can be afraid of so many things, a rock, a piece of paper, a plastic bag and I learned during our rides that the more we go near something they think they are afraid of, the fear subsides. This is true in life as well. The more I put myself out there with things that scare me – like public speaking, playing my banjo in front of real musicians so that I can learn timing, saying no when I mean no, the less afraid I am. How about that?
- Trust is a two way street – horses don’t trust riders who don’t trust them and try to control everything they do, nor do they understand meek. People are no different. Playing small to win them over or playing BIG in order to control is no different than saying one thing and doing another. It just leads to distrust in the relationship.
- Respect matters – You can’t bully a horse into right behavior. Abuse a horse and you will pay for it sooner or later. They are huge, have some respect for that. If you respect a horse’s size, their demeanor, their moods, they will return the favor 10 fold. This is true with people as well.
- If you are centered in your seat you are less likely to get thrown. – Azule is a retired ranch horse. He is a 16 hand high thoroughbred who lived his early life cutting cattle, counting head and running a ranch with his buddies. Now he’s a lesson and trail horse. I think he misses the open field sometimes and when Janel and I took him for his first open field trail ride, I swear he got giddy. He couldn’t get to the cows fast enough. Once he saw the creek he took off and JUMPED IT. He then ran up the hill, did a Hi Ho Silver salute and made a break for the herd. – That would have been an “oh how sweet” moment, had I not been ON him when this happened. I didn’t crouch down and hang on out of fear, nor did I jump off. I sat where I belonged, back straight, head up, heels down, loose reins and I enjoyed the moment.
Sometimes I think I like horses more than people, truthfully though they really aren’t that different. Most people want to be trusted, respected, and loved. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Don’t play small and get squished, speak up. Don’t set others (or yourself) up for bad habits, set boundaries. Reward positive behavior and nip undesired behavior in the bud. Trust each other. Stand tall, keep your back straight, look them in the eye and enjoy the ride.
I am a cowgirl by proxy. These are my people. Let’s dance.