As a little girl, my father was my instructor. In Massachusetts, you need to obtain a teaching license before you can teach lessons. After falling in love with horses shortly after I did, my dad studied for the license exams and was certified to teach! How many kids get that experience? Instead of having to plead with my parents to go to the barn, he was already there. He took lessons too so he could teach me and my brother current information and appropriate skills.
Some people would think this is a recipe for disaster. Frankly, it was at some points but my father knew and knows me better than anyone. He came up with lesson plans that were tailored to my needs, to how I learned best. They were tailored to combat my knack of making up excuses for why I can’t do something. And he put up with absolutely none of my nonsense (let’s face it, there’s a lot of that).
I’m a chatterbox. My mouth runs away with me before I even realize I’m along for the ride. I’d want to know why I had to hold the egg on my plastic spoon while I trotted. I would need to tell him that there was something on the ground that I was staring at; no, I wasn’t just looking down. I needed to tell elaborate stories regarding why I was nervous to jump that itty-bitty vertical. Couldn’t he see that the 18″ vertical was terribly tall for my little pony?
“Two eyes, two ears, one mouth,” He’d tell me, “Do you know what I mean by that?” I’d heard this before. It was my father’s gentle way of saying “hush” without actually saying the word. So naturally, I’d sigh and nod. But he’d explain anyway, telling me to “Be quiet, open your eyes and ears. Your pony will not run away with you. She can jump this high.”
While I’m a chatterbox regularly, I’m very quick to open my mouth when I’m nervous. And as I’m pretty high strung, before I knew how to handle my anxiety I’d open my mouth a lot. It’s easy to think you know better when you’re nervous; it’s easy to let your nerves suggest you don’t listen to your instructor. That rude little voice that speaks up when you’re facing a new type of jump, when you’re facing a longer cross country course than you’re used to… You know the one I mean. That voice finds itself taking over me sometimes.
“Rebecca,” my trainer admonished, calling me into the center of the ring after I’d told her I couldn’t make my mare, Bella, bend. “You’re making excuses instead of focusing your energy on making a change on the horse beneath you. Shut your mouth, sit up, and ride.” Truer words haven’t been spoken, and it hit me that she was right. Frustrated and feeling inadequate, I offered all kinds of explanations for why I hadn’t relaxed. I was so focused on what was going wrong that I forgot to ride.
If I trusted her wisdom and her knowledge, Bella would have been encouraged to bend better. She might have sighed and melted like butter around my inside leg, but instead I fought her because I was frustrated and worried I wasn’t doing enough to promote good training.
I took a deep breath, loosened my reins some because I tend to choke up when I’m frustrated, and tried to channel my trainer’s words. Bella even stretched her neck down through the next turn. What do you know, it worked.
And for the record, that little pony cleared the 18″ vertical like she was a short stirrup champion. The dirt was still the same color, even if I didn’t stare at it during the entire ride. The horse went better when I rode quietly.
Even so, years after someone told me to be quiet and ride, I remember that riding doesn’t take explanations. It doesn’t take excuses. Riding well only takes effort and a willingness to listen, grow, and trust.