Put On Your Big Girl Panties

Put On Your Big Girl Panties

One of the things we face as horse owners of any age, and especially those of us who have spent decades telling everyone around us to “be careful, now”–is the realization of what can happen if we come off a horse. We know we don’t bounce as well as we once did. And grown-up responsibilities and commitments constantly run through the backs of our minds. Under the circumstances, it’s easy to let fear and apprehension (our own and the cautionary words of others) talk us back out of the saddle. But if you love the feeling of riding, and know in your heart that what you get out of the experience is far better than sitting back and wishing, you must learn to minimize risk and maximize joy. Is it a matter of putting on your big girl panties to force yourself through fear? Do you just need that 30 seconds of insane courage to put apprehension in its place? Should you listen to those who advise you to do something every day that scares you to death?? Well, maybe. Sometimes, insane courage is part of the personal courage equation, but you also have to be smart about it. Fear exists for a reason. So do riding helmets. One of the best ways to feel safe in the saddle is by knowing you’ve done all you can to minimize risk. Yes, you definitely wear the aforementioned helmet. But even more important than wearing protective gear is incorporating safe habits into your routines until they become second nature. And you educate yourself (and your horse) on the basics of horsemanship. So, how do you put all this together? I’ve learned that you can’t bluff a horse, so pretending not to be afraid when you are doesn’t serve any purpose. But once you have the safety and education pieces in place, you can call up those 30 seconds of insane courage. It’s called putting on your big girl panties. With well-earned confidence in place, you know that whatever happens when you’re in the saddle, you can handle it, so you swing your leg over with a “Just Do It” attitude that would make St. Nike proud. Here’s a quick story to illustrate. When we were shooting some video to promote The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses, I got on Trace for some footage of me riding him, since my issues with this challenging horse were a major thematic element of the book. I didn’t feel nervous or unsure when I got on him, but he immediately started what I call his “agitated quick-step” that is a precursor to the leap-forward-kick-up “angry dolphin.” (Isn’t it sad that I have names for all his antics? Why I keep this horse is a story for another day). Suddenly, I felt my confidence I had slipping away. And the cameras were rolling. (I’ll put this up on YouTube when it’s ready, so stay tuned if you want a giggle.) “Sit heavy, sit back and push him forward,” Denise called out to me from across the arena. I did. Sure enough, he began walking more normally. But the tension remained in both of us. I tried to breathe deep and relax my hips and legs. It felt better, but still not good. “Still looks like you’re walking on eggshells,” Joyce, the videographer and producer, observed. “It’s OK, though,” she added as she unplugged herself from the camera. “I think we have enough of you riding Rio.” I dismounted and she started packing up her equipment. Then something strange happened. “No, we’re not doing this today,” I said to no one in particular as I turned Trace around to face the middle of the arena. Without any of my usual preamble or the mounting block I use to get on him in a “kinder, gentler way,” I climbed back on Trace. His head went straight up. I felt the familiar hump rising in his back. I squeezed him forward. “You’re going to do this today and you’re going to do it right,” I told him. To my great relief–and more than a little surprise–he did. The smile you see in the video as I reach forward to pat him after a very nice canter is one of those moments with far-reaching implications. Finding my big girl panties at the end of a long, hard fight through fear and uncertainty was a feeling of victory like no other.

This post was originally published by Equisearch.com

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