As a teenager, I helped a good friend care for his horse Ivy, and in turn, he let me ride her whenever I wanted, which was often daily.
I never lost my love for horses, but as an adult raising four children my own, interests took a back seat. Once the kids were all in school, I began to volunteer at a nearby ranch. I had never taken lessons other than my teenage friend giving me a few pointers about riding Ivy. That didn’t help me much in a facility with fifty very variable horses and Tim, the horsemanship director, knew it. He kept me mostly on beginner horses when I helped with trail rides. Whereas I had cantered Ivy often and loved it, I was now reduced to life at a slow walk.
After a couple of years of assisting with Tim’s riding lessons, he thought I might have gained enough experience to ride Boomer. He was wrong. I knew Boomer was a horse for advanced riders and Boomer could tell I didn’t feel qualified to ride him. He was barn-sour at the best of times and kept trying to ignore my “forward” commands, wanting to head back to join his friends at the barn. As we headed out on the trail, Tim could see I was fighting a losing battle, circling and getting nervous and frustrated. After it was over, I was embarrassed and in tears as Tim took me aside.
“You have no confidence, do you know that?” he scolded me. “Your horse is looking for someone they can trust and you didn’t offer that to Boomer. That’s why he was done before you started. You have to fake it ’til you make it or you’ll always be a beginner.”
Had he slapped me across the face I couldn’t have been more shocked. I was blaming Boomer, but the blame was mine. I knew enough by now to take control, not just of the reins but of my mind and body and let my horse, whichever one of the fifty I rode, know he can trust me.
Tim’s assistant Amy suggested I start riding Belle regularly to make a connection with one of the more advanced horses, so I did, and it was love at first ride. She was beautiful inside and out. Belle was everything I needed her to be, and we clicked. She had a lot of energy, but right from the start, I forced myself to feel competent and make her feel it also. Eventually, I was cantering again and loving it.
When winter came that year, Tim invited me to ride Belle with him and a few other instructors on horseback in the Christmas parade. As we waited for our turn in line, some of the other horses acted up, but I told myself “we can do this!” and stayed relaxed so Belle could too. Once we were on route, the horns of paraded cars honked in front of and behind us, and at one point, an on-duty ambulance actually had to come up alongside us to get through to their destination. A year ago, I would have freaked out and my horse would have followed suit.
But Beautiful Belle took it all in her calm stride, knowing I hadn’t ever, and would never, steer her into harm’s way. I was so proud to show her off, along with my new confidence. And after months of faking it, I had made it.