This post begins with a story and ends with the introduction of a topic I'd like to explore. If you dont feel like reading the story, but are still interested in tomorrow's post, you can skip the story (if you like) and just read the bottom paragraph (in italics).
The day after I rode my new mare ____ (not Pixie, sorry, it just didnt stick) home I went on a little horse shopping trip with a good friend, B, who was (yah! she found her new horse just today!) looking for a new barrel horse. Since returning home I've been consumed with the new pony and so didnt write about my experiences while on that trip and how they effected my confidence in riding and training _____. You see, on that trip that I ended up riding two different horses that were not the ones being tried by B. On the Friday B had tried out a really nice little (14.3HH) mare owned by a nice lady (whom we'll call L.). After she'd finished doing the arena gig L asked if B would like to try her out on the trail. I said I didnt mind waiting and to go ahead but L suggested that she actually had an extra horse, one (she assured me) that she used for lessons and was very quiet- did I want to come along? Having been off for so long (the day before had been my first real ride in nearly six months) and having used up most of my 'cowgirl up" bravado the following day (when I rode a green horse I didnt know two hours down a trail- alone) I agreed to go but with a little trepidation. As we walked back to the barn to get the other horses L asked, "You dont have an issue with riding a really tall horse do you, this mare is over 16HH." To which I gamely replied, "No, just so long as I dont have to mount from the ground (and make an ass of myself in the process)." Within no time I was happy to have made this stipulation as L brought in the mare. Well, if that behemoth bay was any LESS than 16.3HH I would have ate my hat. Having saddled and assessed the stirrup to be hanging approximately at the height of my bosom I walked out of the barn with high hopes of finding a really tall mounting block somewhere nearby. As I walked around the barn, towing my elephant, I was surprised when suddenly my "super quiet lesson horse" made a big show of spooking at the shuffling colts inside a parked horse trailer. Hmm... not a good sign. I continued on anyways to where an actual step-up mounting block (bless it's heart) stood beside the round pen. My would-be-mount, with her piggy eye and long thoroughbred body, wasnt keen on standing quietly but nonetheless, with My Big Girl Panties firmly in place, I hopped on. As we headed out of the yard I looked to B and shot her a "what the f- have you gotten me into" look but when she mouthed "are you okay" I smiled and made some joke about being the shortest girl on the tallest horse. The first part of the ride was alright, I relaxed a little as we chitchatted and started to get a feel for my mount. She wasnt all bad, I thought charitably as she stumbled over some non-existent rock for the eighth and not-nearly-last time. The wide trail (or narrow road) wound it's way through a tightly knit pine grove and there was little "hazards" to worry about. L pointed out that ahead we might see a couple of loose horses who were once owned but had escaped years ago to become wild horses that had lived in this patch of bush having survived through rough winters and sparse vegetation with a resiliency that seemed to directly mock all the effort that had once gone in to their keep. Sure enough we did catch a glimpse of them just before we turned from the main trail to make a loop back towards the barn on a narrow trail with plenty of (now at least apparent) rocks for my mount to trip over. Both L and B's mounts seemed to pick their way effortlessly while mine slipped down hills, stumbled over rocks and jumped over even the little sticks of timber laid over the trail, all the while becoming more and more worked up at the prospect of heading for home. I constantly worked to check her back to walk and to talk her calm. L seemed not to notice any difficulty at all while B kept checking back every minute or so as if to check if I was still there. As I caught sight of the barn I sighed a breath of relief but it was too soon. There, across the fenced pasture (which this mare had seen no doubt a dozen times or more) she spied a herd of horses walking towards us through the shadows of a thicket of trees. Well, this was too much. While B and L's mare's didnt so much as turn a hair my mare snorted and shied and her whole body locked up into a bundle of muscle ready to sprint home. The end result was that we didnt sprint home and I didnt get off and walk her as I once would have. I rode her home at a walk.
I rode her home at a walk because I kept it together and continued to do what I had been going through the entire ride- I rode her using ability and confidence. I rode her with confidence in my ability to get the job done.
I remained calm by pulling out the tools I thought I had forgotten. When she got upset I'd sit low and quiet, putting my weight in to the saddle and taking low, slow deep breaths. I talked to her in a steady, confident voice and kept my hands and legs light and slow. I did what I was suppose to do and what I know how to do (but what I sometimes have trouble doing) and that is that I stepped up and actually became the horse(wo)man that I am. I have experience, training, knowledge and ability. I am not a great horseman but I am a horseman. I have a ton to learn but I can ride. Maybe a little or maybe a lot depending on who's doing the judging.... but I can ride. That is something that I really haven't felt in a loooong time. I lost that when I lost my confidence in handling horses but never regained it when I regained some of my confidence in handling some horses...I thought that I would get my confidence back by getting help and I did. I thought I would get my confidence back by learning more about horse training and I did. I thought that I would get my confidence back by spending time on horses that were worthy of my confidence and trust and I did. But what I know would make such a profound difference in my confidence riding and handling horses was believing in my own ability. For some reason I used to think that being confident in your experience and knowledge was to discount the amount of knowledge and experience you had left to gain....