I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with horses. I love the way they look in a field, munching grass, far away from me … but I hate their ability to send me airborne with just a swish of their rumps.
Honestly, they really scare me and they always have. They’re big. They spook easily. They can be moody and feisty. I can count on two hands the number of people I know who have broken limbs while riding … and then they get right back on the horse, which always surprises me.
My husband is obsessed with horses. He loves to ride. He wants me — and our two young daughters, eventually — to ride with him. And why not? We live smack dab in the middle of horse country Virginia, surrounded on all sides by open land, rolling hills and trails. It’s like living in Colorado and not knowing how to ski. Or living in Maui and never picking up a surfboard. I have to learn to ride in order to make the most of my environment and to prove to myself that it’s never too late to learn something new and scary.
So why now, after eight years of marriage to a horse aficionado, am I considering taking up the equestrian arts? Is it to spend more time with my husband on horseback? To spend more time in nature? To show my daughters I’m not a wimp?
No, the reason I’m doing it is because I believe a life well lived should contain a certain amount of fear — fear of failure, fear of uncertainty, fear of looking like a fool, fear of broken bones. And then pushing through those fears, overcoming the doubt and foolishness I’ll invariably feel to become a stronger, more fully actualized version of myself. I want my daughters to witness this, to see that the best life should not be viewed from the sidelines.
We had our first lesson over the weekend, taught by a very nice, knowledgeable fox hunter named Miss Anne. Her farm runs along a river and traverses lush hills and open fields.
I’ve taken riding lessons in the past (from my husband, whose pushy style didn’t exactly mesh with my need for gentle hand-holding) but they never stuck because I could never get past feeling like an absolute doofus in a saddle. It was pure humiliation from beginning to end.
But at Miss Anne’s farm over the weekend, with my 5-year-old by my side, I felt different. Fear was not, for once, the overriding emotion. It couldn’t be the dominant emotion because now, as a mom, I had to set the example. I had to demonstrate that showing fear is not helpful (feeling afraid is perfectly normal and natural … you just can’t show it since the horse typically picks up on that and will try to dominate you).
The way I carried myself had to assuage my daughter’s own fears about getting in the saddle. I found that when I acted unafraid for her sake, I actually was less afraid. I stood taller on the horse. I carefully followed each and every one of Miss Anne’s commands. I even broke into a short trot — !!!??!?!?!?! — as I felt my daughter’s eyes bearing down on me from her perch in the barn.
I wanted her to be proud of me.
And you know what? I was actually kind of proud of myself by the time I dismounted. I had done it! No jitters. No quivering ball of nerves. I actually felt strong and confident and eager to try it again. The hour-long session marked the first time in 10 years I’d managed to dismount a horse and not want to curl up in a ball under a hay bale and die.
As strong as I felt having June by my side, the confidence boost didn’t work both ways. By the time Miss Anne put June on her horse to be slowly led around the ring, my girl couldn’t handle it. She quivered and cried and pleaded to be removed from the saddle immediately. I felt so bad because I knew exactly how she felt — overwhelmed, insignificant, frightened, completely out of control. Been there, done that. But I’m going to keep bringing her to riding lessons with me. It might take her 40 years to overcome her fears, but I know she will.
And as for me, I felt so much stronger having her by my side.More On