This morning I headed over to Hobbs Hollow for my weekly riding lesson. The weather was absolute shit—teeming rain, temperatures in the 40’s (hey, weather gods: it’s mid-May!), groaning winds. I knew I’d be riding Chandi, the horse that spooks at everything, so my enthusiasm was close to zero. I didn’t want to spend the hour wrestling with him, trying not to get bucked off, managing his every sidestepping, rearing refusal to go forward and around the arena. What I wanted was an easy ride, the seamless trot, the in-time canter. I wasn’t going to get this with Chandi, not today and so I even contemplated calling Lee and cancelling—I could blame it on my occasional runner’s knee flaring up. Sorry, no can do. See you next week when the sun is high and the world is dry.
But I couldn’t do that. I’m not someone who simply folds in the face of fear or physical demands. That’s probably why I’m “good” at the Eating Disorder—IT won’t let me cry UNCLE. IT uses (and abuses) language that makes it nearly impossible for me to surrender. IT says: “You will not give up. You will not capitulate. You are not weak. You must see this through to the bitter, deadly end.” Insane, I know. But that’s how insidious IT and the Eating Disorder are: they (mis)appropriate words of courage and conviction and perseverance so that I come to believe that I am strong, filled with righteous determination in following ITs rules.
But as I considered cancelling my riding lesson, I realized that that is exactly what IT would want me to do. Give in to my unfounded fears because that is what they are, at least in connection to Chandi. I am a good horsewoman; I know how to stick my seat; I know how to stay composed even when Chandi would like to chuck me off. What I do best? I ride through my fear.
So I kept my lesson. As expected, with the rain pounding the arena ceiling, the wind howling outside, and the barn sparrows flitting and darting all over the place, Chandi refused to go near the mounting block, snorted and hopped away from the jump wings that were set up around the arena, and when we trotted? He bolted into a fast canter. What did I do? My first instinct was to go around the jump wings. Why court trouble? Just bypass them.
But Lee stopped me. “Of course it’s easier,” she said. “But you haven’t tried to go through them yet and you don’t know how he’ll react.”
So I calmed him down through strong but careful leg and rein aids, bent him around the corners that terrified him so, then flapped my calves to keep him moving through the jump wings, and by extension, through his fear. A snort, a sidestep, and then we were through and through again and again. When he got all crazy in the trot and ran into a disorganized canter, I kept my head, despite my fear, and allowed him to go fast once around the arena to work out the manic tension. I pulled him back into a more collected trot.
“That was smart riding,” Lee said. “You kept your cool and didn’t get all unbalanced and you let him get out some of that nervous energy. Look at how much more supple he is, extending his neck for you, and his trot has settled. Really good there.”
So once again, my riding lesson offered a lesson for recovery. IT feeds on my fear—my fear of becoming unhinged once again, of losing control of both body and mind. So IT says, “Follow me and my rules, listen to their perverse comfort and there’s no need, then, to acknowledge any fear. You can step around it, allow the obsessive thinking and the mania to crowd out everything else.” But what I’ve learned is that I need to walk through the fear, keep on appropriate pressure in order to arrest any back stepping, in order to counter any refusals, in order to keep moving freely forward. And when I feel like bolting? Remember that a balanced seat will influence a balanced mind and a balanced mind will keep the wicky wackies from running more than once around the track.